If you need proof that Long Island is the one of the great hotdog capitals of the world, look no farther than a single South Shore neighborhood by the Valley Stream train station. Walking a five-block stretch of Rockaway Boulevard, you’ll find not one, but two Chilean establishments serving the iconic completo; a Polish market with light-skinned Parowki wieners made from veal; packets of Filipino hotdog spaghetti; Salvadoran salchipapas (sliced franks with fries); and a classic New York City dog topped with deli sauerkraut or served with a malted milkshake at a 55-year-old luncheonette.
None of these delicacies are “dragged through the garden,” unless you count the bountiful harvest of fresh avocado that sits on top of the Chilean completo at Juanito’s Bakery and Cafe. The mashed avocado flows together with the creamy mayonnaise for a topping so luscious it overshadows the hotdog itself. And on this downtown street, ketchup is not only permitted but celebrated—even when it’s made from bananas and sold as spaghetti sauce at the Filipino Fiesta Food Mart.
It's not just a Nassau County or even a South Shore thing. Global hot dogs exist in pretty much in any town or neighborhood. Take Ronkonkoma, for instance, where you’ll find a Colombian restaurant tucked between a laundromat and an antiques shop on the main street. Cumbia music blared inside La Fonda Latino Grill as a server delivered a massive hotdog covered in a thick bed of melted white cheese and potato sticks. There were barely room for fries on this plate, as the Colombian perro caliente took up most of it. This dog tasted sweet because somewhere under the melted cheese was a squirt of pineapple sauce, along with mustard and a “pink mayonnaise” made from mayo and ketchup. The mixto variation included chicken breast, slices of Spanish chorizo and bacon, making it less about the frank itself than an entire symphony of meats and sauces.
The same was true of the Guatemalan shuco at Garcia’s Taco Bar (actually, a bus), which parks round the corner from a Target in Central Islip. “Shuco” is slang for “dirty,” which shouldn’t put off those who swear by the “dirty water dogs” of Manhattan. In Guatemala, a shuco is typically a humble affair, but co-owner Jennifer Arguello celebrates New York’s abundance by filling the hotdog sandwiches with chopped carne asada, bacon and chorizo as well as avocado and cabbage.
As a genre, Latin dogs don’t tend to emphasize the links themselves, which are often made from pork, and their inherent fattiness is amplified by other savory meats and bold vinegary or spicy sauces. In Mexico, for instance, Sonoran hotdogs (wrapped in bacon and served with pinto beans) don’t really come out to play until the evening, when patrons stream out of bars, their inhibitions mellowed by an alcohol buzz. You won’t find many Mexican hotdogs on Long Island—at least, so far—but you will find hotdog-stuffed tortas at Homemade Taqueria in Hempstead.
Yeah, yeah, I know—there’s space on this continuum for fancy all-beef dogs topped with truffle honey, lobster or caviar. Looking at you, Rock City Dogs in Bay Shore. But, at its heart, the hotdog will always be a value food, an inexpensive protein used to bulk up meals, especially when paired with bread or pastry. One such example is found inside the Tri-County Bazaar flea market in Levittown, where Knot of this World serves some of Long Island’s best hotdogs stuffed inside pretzels. On a recent visit, their hotdog was encased in a long, twisted pretzel log that was coming apart in the middle. Ask them to reheat it for you, even though it’ll probably be so hot that the steaming dog will sear your mouth and make it difficult to carry as you walk through the halls of jewelers, psychics and baby-doll shops.
Another stuffed specialty consists of a kosher hotdog in a potato knish, typically (if confusingly) described as a “hush puppy.” At the old-school kosher deli Shop Glatt Mart in Long Beach, this oblong mashup is everything you want it to be: The mashed potatoes and beef dog are married together by a flaky pastry crust wearing a squirt of brown mustard.
The award for the prettiest hotdog in pastry, though, goes to the Chinese flower bun, which consists of chopped-up hotdogs in wheels of dough that resemble flower petals. It’s much easier to find one of these delights at the many Asian bakeries in Flushing than on Long Island, but brewer Paul Dlugokencky was inspired to bake his own and serve them at his tiny Blind Bat Brewery Bistro in Centerport. He prepares a Japanese milk-bread dough and stuffs it with organic grass-fed beef dogs that pop out the top with their crunchy edges. This Hong Kong Hot Dog goes well with a pint of the German-style lager Bat Outta Helles, and I credit the zippy hoisin mustard.
Korean corn dogs (gamja dogs), with their wild flavors and textures, are all the rage right now. Made with a rice flour batter instead of a cornmeal batter, the dogs know no boundaries, topped as they are with everything from dried ramen crinkles to Hot Cheetos powder. At the Broadway Commons mall food court in Hicksville, the Chicago-based Kong Dog serves its gamja dogs stuffed with mozzarella, which stretches out from the crust as you take a bite. The best dog in their lineup, however, is the classic potato, featuring cubes of home fries built into the crisp crust. Get it with the whole beef frank.
When it comes to regional Americana on Long Island you’ll find Chicago dogs, Coney dogs, the deep-fried New Jersey Ripper (at Chiddy’s Cheesesteaks). But my personal fave is the chili cheese dog, which is what I ate as a teenager at Sonic. Can a local Long Island spot beat the nostalgia factor? I tried a couple chili cheeses to find out—you might say I’m gearing up for National Chili Dog Day, this year on Thursday, July 27—and Moo Burger in Island Park was the clear winner.
The link itself was not fancy, just a Sabrett hotdog griddled for a little char and tucked into a potato bun. But the chili on top was a fine effort, a chunky tomato sauce of beef and beans that was stewed for three or four hours by co-owner Shane Kavanagh and his wife, Karen. The Cheddar topping here oozed like nacho cheese, and thin whispers of white onion added pop. It was messy, almost a knife-and-fork situation. But the dog was so good I couldn’t help but polish it off.
Later, I asked Kavanagh why he loves hotdogs. Owning a hamburger joint, he said he has to limit his consumption of meat, so it doesn’t get out of hand. But every once in awhile he gets a craving and goes for it. “It’s classic American good-mood food,” he said. “It brings you back to a memory of your childhood. And it’s just something that everybody can always relate to.”
BLIND BAT BREWERY BISTRO: 94 Washington Dr., Centerport; 631-944-3333, blindbatbrewery.com
GARCIA’S TACO BAR: 555 N. Research Place, Central Islip (around the corner from Target)
HOMEMADE TAQUERIA: 243 Fulton Ave., Hempstead; 516-483-6151, homemadetaqueria.com
JUANITO’S BAKERY AND CAFE: 113 Rockaway Ave., Valley Stream; 516-812-0935
KNOT OF THIS WORLD PRETZELS: 3041 Hempstead Tpke., Levittown; 516-238-0382, knotofthisworldpretzels.com (inside Tri-County Bazaar fleamarket)
KONG DOG: 358B N. Broadway, Hicksville; 347-523-0016, kongdog.us (inside Broadway Commons mall)
LA FONDA LATINO GRILL: 426 Hawkins Ave., Ronkonkoma; 631-467-3278, lafondalatinorestaurant.com
MOO BURGER: 4455 Broadway, Island Park; 516-432-2482
ROCK CITY DOGS: 3 E. Main St., Bay Shore; 631-876-2530, rockcitydogs.com
SHOP GLATT MART: 172 E. Park Ave., Long Beach; 516-897-8657