Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Top Dog? DC's Best Hot Dogs

Hot dogs have always been an enigma to me. Beef, pork... even chicken and turkey: Take your pick. Usually I avoid them altogether (especially the street vendor variety... don't ask;) but operating DC Outlook means trying everything, even frankfurters. Who knows, maybe I'll find one worth recommending. Without further ado...

: The Big Bite costs $1.39 (or $2.29 for two) and turns (and turns and turns) on a hot-dog roller for... God knows how long. The buns are cold, straight out of the bag. Need I say more?

Grade: D (I suppose at 3 AM, it's not that bad.)

7-Eleven's Big Bite

AMC Theatres: Man doesn't live on popcorn alone: Bottom half of bun was hard (stale or overcooked? Not sure.) Dog itself was darn tasty, perfectly cooked and juicy. Obviously overpriced at $4.75, but in line with other movie concessions.

Grade: B- (Hard to look past the price, but nice & tasty.)

Hot Dog at AMC Theatres

The Bottom Dollar Dog: Off the beaten path, at 723 Wilkes Street in Olde Towne, Alexandria, the Bottom Dollar Dog is one of those rare places that benefits from not caring about aesthetics. Two windows are all that separate the customers from the cashier and cooks: You literally pass your money through a curtain. They sell typical grill fare (breakfast, hamburgers and hot dogs.) I had the latter, plain. A single dog costs $2.75 and comes wrapped in foil.

The first thing I noticed was how incredibly small my dog was. Butterflied with a deep char inside, and a bright red exterior... it had a definitive crunch, but not much taste. The bun was nicely grilled, but I couldn't tell if the meat was cooked all the way through. I took two bites before tossing it away. I could do better with a grill pan, a cheap bag of buns and a pack of Ball Park Franks from my local grocer.

Grade: D-

Hot Dog at the Bottom Dollar Dog

Five Guys Burgers and Fries: Better known for its burgers and fries, Five Guys makes a pretty mean hot dog too. A bit pricier than some at $3.79, Five Guys' dogs are nicely sized and perfectly cooked (right down to the bun.) They use Hebrew National all beef dogs, and the quality shows. Packaging is simple (just foil) but does the job. Toss in some free shelled peanuts while you wait, and this dog can hunt.

Grade: B

Five Guys' Kosher Style Hot Dog

Bold Bite Dogs & Fries: Bethesda's big dog on campus is OK, I suppose. Fairly priced at $2.99 ($3.99 with unlimited toppings) the Naked Dog has plenty of natural flavor, but curiously arrives in a steamed bun. Who steams a hot dog bun? It winds up soggy and unappealing (with no grill marks.) Considering dogs are the main attraction here, I couldn't help but walk away disappointed. P.S. Stop steaming your hot dog buns!

Grade: C

Bold Bite's Naked Dog

Costco: There's no singular greater experience than one's first visit to the Costco food court. OK, perhaps I'm reaching a bit... but where else can you get a 1/4 pound all-beef hot dog and 20 oz. soda (with free refills) for $1.50? Think I'm alone? Guess again. Last year, the warehouse giant sold 109 million combos across its 600+ locations worldwide. Value aside, the Kirkland brand dog is darn tasty and a worthy competitor for the area's best.

Grade: B

Costco Hot Dog combo

: Price isn't everything; but I draw the line at five bucks for a run-of-the-mill hot dog. That's the case with DC-3, located near the Eastern Market at 423 8th Street, SE. I walked in on an elaborate photo shoot (sadly of hot dogs, not supermodels) and ordered an all-beef dog (you can order veggie too) for a whopping $4.99. There's a ton of topping choices, but I went with (boring) ketchup and mustard. My dog arrived (via tableside service) a couple of minutes later, and was cooked well/flavorful. Unfortunately  the bun appeared to be straight out of the bag (and not heated.) Who doesn't heat up their buns? I dug the aeronautical vibe, but five bucks for a hot dog and nothing else is highway robbery (especially near Eastern Market... It ain't Georgetown.)

Grade: C-

All-beef hot dog at DC-3

Shake Shack
: Shake Shack's Vienna all-beef dog beats Five Guys by a narrow margin to rank as the area's best hot dog... but not enough to change my mind about frankfurters, hot dogs and wieners in general. DC's top dog has a nicely grilled bun and the juiciest meat in our little taste test. It's a bit smaller than Five Guys but almost a dollar cheaper ($3) and comes smartly packaged in a nice travel box.

Grade: B

Shake Shack's Hot Dog

Ben's Chili Bowl: I have to admit, I didn't visit Ben's beloved 1213 U Street, NW location for their signature half-smoke. This one came from the Ben's food truck at the National Cathedral's Flower Mart. I couldn't resist forking over six bucks for the 1/4 lb. beef and pork smoked sausage (sans chili.) That's a lot to pay for a dog/smoke; but I have to admit it was pretty tasty. The buns are steamed, not grilled at Ben's; but this one came out cold, straight from the bag. Thankfully the beef/pork combo was bursting with flavor and had a crispy, delectable char. I had to set it down atop a napkin on the Cathedral's grassy knoll to take a picture, but it didn't take long to devour. Can't go higher than a B- due to the cold bun and high price. If you've never been, you simply must visit Ben's once in your life (food trucks don't count.)

Grade: B-

Ben's Chili Bowl Half-Smoke

: For $1 (the least expensive dog on our list) you get a pretty good frank. The beef is juicy and tasty; and the bun is grilled (score) but soggy. It doesn't scream fast food, but it makes a good option if you're looking for an alternative to the usual burgers and chicken.

Grade: B (Earns a boost, based on its $1 price tag)

Frozenyo: Frozenyo? Hot dogs don't necessarily "go" with frozen yogurt; but the quality is good (Nathan's Famous) and the (self) service, clever. The latter is especially novel... Lift the lid, pick your dog, then dress it with your choice of half-a-dozen toppings. Even the buns are self-serve, tucked neatly (but cold) in aluminum foil. My only problem? The price. $3.58 (including tax.) Two doors down, you can grab two dogs for a dollar less (at 7-Eleven.) That said, these taste better.

Grade: B-
Nathan's Famous Hot Dog at Frozenyo

and click below to see...

Bender Arena
BGR: The Burger Joint
Charles E. Smith Center
DC Armory
Regal Cinemas