GET YOUR FILL FOR LESS
Franks, wieners, weenies, or red hots — whatever they're called and however they're topped, hot dogs are a perennial favorite of Americans across the country. They're also a classic staple for those on a budget — even when dining out. Hot dogs are often one of the least-expensive options on the menu. In celebration of tubed meats, Cheapism is featuring 25 highly rated hot dog joints that offer a basic dog for $5 or less — in most cases. The result is a mix of classic shacks and shops that have survived for more than a century, along with newcomers that are testing diners' palates with unique flavors and exotic meats.
EL GUERO CANELO | TUCSON, ARIZONA
El Guero Canelo has four locations in Tucson, serving traditional Mexican cuisine along with a Sonoran-style hot dog ($3.50) — a hot dog wrapped in bacon, grilled, and topped with pinto beans, tomatoes, onions, jalapeño salsa, mustard, and mayo. It's served stuffed inside a bun so that even the ends are covered in bread.
TOP DOG | BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA
Top Dog opened in 1966 and has been serving the Bay Area ever since. It offers up a selection of German, Polish, Italian, American, Portuguese, and veggie sausages and hot dogs for $3.50 to $3.75 each. Grilled and served on a toasted French roll, a Top Dog hot dog isn't fancy, but it is a local favorite.
PINK'S | LOS ANGELES
Pink's started as a hot dog cart in West Hollywood nearly 80 years ago. Over time, a storefront replaced the cart and Pink's also makes appearances at county fairs and amusement parks across the country. There are several options to choose from within a $5 budget, including a chili dog (with or without sauerkraut), a chili cheese dog, and a Guadalajara dog. Standard dogs are 6 inches long, but stretch dogs, in 9- or 12-inch lengths, are also available, along with burgers and plenty of sides.
THE WIENERS CIRCLE | CHICAGO
This landmark in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood is as famous for its surly atmosphere as it is for its Char Dog, Char Cheddar Dog, and Char Polish, all under $5. It's been featured on both the radio and TV versions of "This American Life," on the Travel Channel's "Extreme Fast Food," and other TV shows. The Wieners Circle's clientele can include many drunken diners owing to its extremely late hours. It stays open until 4 a.m. most days and until 5 a.m. on weekends. Whenever you go, you can leave your credit cards at home as this no-nonsense establishment is cash only. But hurry, The Wieners Circle may be cooking on borrowed time: The property where it currently stands was recently put on the market.
SUPER DUPER WEENIE | FAIRFIELD, CONNECTICUT
Super Duper Weenie has its own costumed superhero mascot and serves seven specialty dogs ($4.70 to $5.70 apiece). Each is decked out with a regional taste, such as the Chicagoan, Cincinnatian, or New Yorker. Reviewers delight in the flavors, prices, and service, although they note parking can sometimes be a challenge. A basic dog is $3.50.
ORIGINAL TOMMY'S HAMBURGERS | LOS ANGELES
Tommy's may have hamburger in its name, but don't let that fool you. What makes the burgers great is the same thing that makes the dogs great: the chili -- and the fact that the place is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Chili dogs start at just $3.80. Add 50 cents for cheese.
BIKER JIM'S | DENVER
A little above our $5 target, Biker Jim's serves a $6 all-beef hot dog. But that’s just for openers. Its menu of exotic dogs makes it a “must” for our list. Diners can splurge a little more and grab one of the hot dogs that have made the shop famous. For $7.50, try Alaskan reindeer, wild boar, elk jalapeño cheddar, duck cilantro, southwest buffalo, or a rattlesnake and pheasant combo.
BLACKIE'S HOT DOG STAND | CHESHIRE, CONNECTICUT
Blackie's opened in 1928 and has kept things simple since. The menu has just the basics: hot dogs, hamburgers, a few drinks, and ice cream cones or shakes. Locals love it, especially the homemade hot relish, and cheap meal enthusiasts will find it hard to argue with $2.25 hot dogs and $4 shakes.
NATHAN'S FAMOUS | BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Nathan's is a 102-year-old hot dog shop that's hit it big, with franchise locations across the country. The company's hot dogs and other foods can also be found in grocery stores nationwide. Wait with the crowds at the original in Coney Island to grab a plain hot dog, or a dog covered in cheese for under $5.
GENE AND JUDE'S | RIVER GROVE, ILLINOIS
In this Windy City suburb, Gene and Jude's makes the bare essentials — hot dogs and fries — and makes them well. A dog with fries costs $2.99 while a double dog with fries is $3.79, and comes with a choice of mustard, relish, onions, and sport peppers. But don't bother looking for ketchup. As is Chicago's tradition when it comes to hot dogs, Gene and Jude's doesn't offer it — and hasn't since opening more than 60 years ago.
CAPITOL LUNCH | NEW BRITAIN, CONNECTICUT
Hot dogs typically aren't expensive, but at $1.90 for a dog with mustard, onions, and "famous sauce," Capitol Lunch may strike some as downright cheap. Cheese, sauerkraut, and extra sauce are 60 cents each. But it's not the prices that make the shop a local landmark. It's the dogs from Martin Rosol (a local meat shop), the homemade meat sauce, the friendly service, and the nostalgia.
AMERICAN CONEY ISLAND AND LAFAYETTE CONEY ISLAND | DETROIT
Coney Island dogs in Michigan are topped with chili, cheese, and onions. American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island are two of the best known purveyors of this local classic. They're long-standing rivals set next to each other in downtown Detroit. Which is best? With prices of just a few bucks apiece, grab one from each shop and conduct your own taste test.
DOG HOUSE DRIVE-IN | ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
A hot dog shack that fans of "Breaking Bad" may recognize, the Dog House Drive-In keeps things simple and cheap. Foot-long hot dogs with cheese are $3.90, corn dogs are $1.55, and shakes start at $2.60. The grilled dogs are split, and topped with cheese, chili, and onions before being served on a fresh bun.
RUTT'S HUT | CLIFTON, NEW JERSEY
Rutt's Hut is known for its mustard and as the home of "the Ripper." The dogs' casing is cracked and split open when the shop deep fries the dogs, making it look as though they're ripped. Rippers start at $2.20, with cheese an additional 45 cents. Side orders of fries, potato salad, vegetables, or sauerkraut are $1.70 to $2.20 each.
CRIF DOGS | NEW YORK CITY
Crif Dogs serves all-beef, beef and pork, or veggie dogs topped with an assortment of condiments and sauces -- and lays claim to being "New York's No. 1 Weiner." Its eponymous Crif Dog and New Yorker dogs both check in at less than $5, while other signature concoctions are in the $5.50 to $6.50 range, including the John-John Deragon, a pork and beef hot dog topped with cream cheese, scallions, and everything bagel seeds. As a side note, if you visit at night, you may notice that people seem to disappear from the restaurant. The phone booth inside this hot dog hotspot is actually the door to speakeasy bar PDT.
DICK'S HOT DOG STAND | WILSON, NORTH CAROLINA
Dick's Hot Dog Stand has been in the family since 1921 and is currently run by the founder's son and grandson. Unlike some stands that have just a few items on the menu, Dick's also makes sandwiches, gyros, and omelets. Newcomers, however, may want to start with the classic super dog, a quarter-pound hot dog topped with mustard, onions, and homemade chili.
HAPPY DOG | CLEVELAND
Past patrons of Happy Dog's original location on Detroit Avenue (a second location at the historic Euclid Tavern opened in 2014) say it isn't a particularly fancy place -- more like a dive bar, actually. But that doesn't keep them from coming back for more. The dogs are $6 each, stretching past our budget, but Happy Dog deserves mention because the price includes as many toppings as you can stack on top, and there are 50 from which to choose, including oddities such as fried eggs and cereal. Tater tots, also available with toppings, start at $4.
SUPERDAWG DRIVE-IN | CHICAGO
Dating back to the late 1940s, the Superdawg Drive-In is known for the welcoming mascots atop its building and its signature dish, the Superdawg, a 100 percent beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun served with golden mustard, tangy piccalilli, kosher dill pickle, chopped Spanish onions, and a hot pepper. At $6.15, the Superdawg is a bit above our price point, but this local landmark is worth every extra penny with its carhops, neon lights, and enduring menu.
ROAKE'S | PORTLAND, OREGON
Roake's has had several names over the years, but this hot dog stand has been a local hotspot since 1937. The menu offers a variety of dogs, burgers, and deep-fried sides, and most items are under $5, including a foot-long with all the toppings.
ESSIE'S ORIGINAL HOT DOG SHOP | PITTSBURGH
Known as the "O" by locals, Essie's Original Hot Dog Shop sells hot dogs for $4.26, which may seem pricey. But toppings, including mustard, relish, onions, mayonnaise, pickles, chili, sauerkraut, and ketchup, are free. A Hot Dog Parmesan is $4.99. Hungry diners can save by purchasing a second hot dog for 25 percent off every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
OLNEYVILLE N.Y. SYSTEM | PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
This hot dog shop may have a clunky name, but it won a James Beard Foundation award in 2014 for its classic American food. The Providence location is the original and dates back to the early '50s, but Olneyville N.Y. System also has a second location in Cranston. Order the hot wieners, served with onions, mustard, and meat sauce, and pair with coffee-milk, a glass of milk flavored with sweet coffee syrup that's a local favorite.
CORI'S DOGHOUSE | NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
Close to Centennial Park and Vanderbilt University, Cori's DogHouse features an expansive menu. More than 30 different signature hot dogs are offered, distinguished by region of inspiration, and each is $4.19. Opened in 2009, Cori's has quickly become a local favorite.
DIRTY FRANK'S HOT DOG PALACE | COLUMBUS, OHIO
Open from lunchtime till past midnight, Dirty Frank's starts with either a basic Vienna all-beef hot dog or a Tofurkey veggie dog on a steamed poppy-seed bun. A basic hot dog is $2.75 while the menu's most expensive dog ($6) is wrapped in bacon and topped with beef brisket, cheddar cheese, onion rings, and barbecue sauce. Choose from another one of the many menu options, or make your own by choosing from a variety of more than 25 toppings and sauces.
BEN'S CHILI BOWL | WASHINGTON, D.C.
A well-known counter restaurant in northwest D.C., Ben's Chili Bowl is a popular late-night hotspot (made a bit more famous when Barack Obama stopped by in 2009 just days before his presidential inauguration). Take a bite into the messy but delicious pork-and-beef chili dog topped with mustard, onions, and chili and served with fries ($4.40). Or try the half-smoke with a quarter-pound pork and beef smoked sausage ($5.95), a jumbo quarter-pound turkey dog ($5.95) with similar toppings and sides, or a veggie dog ($4.40).
THE VANGUARD | MILWAUKEE
The Vanguard serves its share of hipster sausages, but it also has a classic pork and beef hot dog that can be dressed to suit your taste. Starting at $5, it's served on a warm roll with a choice of onions, sauerkraut, hot giardiniera, sport pepper, and relish. For an extra buck or two, style your dog based on six different locales: Milwaukee, Seattle, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tijuana, or Buffalo. Pork brats and vegan chorizo or Italian-style sausages are $5 each before toppings.