N.J.’s 40 best hot dog joints, ranked, for National Hot Dog Day

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NJ.com 21 July, 2021 - 12:04pm 22 views

What day is National Hot Dog Day?

National Hot Dog Day, on July 21, celebrates the beloved hot dog, and many national chains are joining in on the fun with special deals and discounts. NBC 10 PhiladelphiaHere's Where to Score Free Hot Dogs and More on National Hot Dog Day

New Jersey is the center of the hot dog universe. New York City or Chicago? Distant runners-up.

There are probably more hot dog trucks, carts and storefronts crammed into Passaic, Essex, Bergen and Union counties than any comparably-sized area in the country.

Birthplace of the Italian hot dog? Newark, Jimmy Buff’s, 1932.

Birthplace of the chili dog or Texas weiner? Paterson or Plainfield, take your pick (both cities claim the honor).

Sabrett, found at hot dog carts and trucks across the country, is headquartered in Englewood.

Best Provision, a major supplier of hot dogs to supermarkets, is headquartered in Newark. Here’s my behind-the-scenes profile of this low-profile company.

July 21 is National Hot Dog Day, so there’s no better time for an updated list of the state’s best hot dog joints. Fifteen hot dog joints have been added to the previous list.

The ranking is based on my not-inconsiderable hot dog experience. In 2006, I led the six-member S.W.A.T. Dog Patrol in our statewide search for Jersey best dogs. In 2014, hot dog expert extraordinaire John Fox (check out Hot Dog Nation on FB) and I visited 92 hot dog spots around the state for the Hot Dog Heaven issue of Inside Jersey magazine.

In 2019, our NJ’s best hot dog showdown drew nearly 30,000 votes from readers; I visited the 50 semifinalists, picked ten finalists, re-visited those, and picked a winner.

Over the years, I’ve wandered from the top to the bottom of Jersey sampling chili dogs and dirty water dogs and Italian hot dogs, every type and topping imaginable.

This ranking is not just about the quality and brand of the hot dogs, but history, tradition, atmosphere and overall dining experience.

Chicago dog. Mr. Bill's, Winslow (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

You really can’t miss Mr. Bill’s. Look for the 25-foot-high statue of the big-eared kid with the goofy grin. The restaurant was originally called Bill’s Drive-In. A former owner, Ray Giannascoli, re-named it Mr. Bill’s after the “Saturday Night Live” character who kept getting smacked around. (See my book Roadside New Jersey for the full story.) Mr. Bill’s is one of the few places in New Jersey to get a true Chicago-style hot dog, with relish, tomatoes, pickle, onions, peppers and mustard (see photo). They use a Vienna brand all-beef dog, with Vienna buns, too.

Galloping Hill Inn at Five Points in Union is a Jersey hot dog landmark; it opened in 1925. Old-timers and locals still call it Peterson’s. You can get burgers and cheesesteaks, but Galloping Hill made its rep with dogs. Get one with the sweet or hot relish.

Hot dogs, Jersey Dog, Newton (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Jersey Dog isn’t your grandmother’s, maybe not even your aunt’s, hot dog joint: Apart from dogs with the usual toppings, there are 16 kinds of “signature dogs,” including the Jersey Dog, a Taylor ham-wrapped dog with sliced American cheese and topped with crumbled hash browns. Hot dog purists just read that sentence, and fainted.

Most hot dog joints offer one brand of hot dog. Jersey Dog offers three: a Sabrett dirty water all-beef, a Thumann’s deep-fried beef and pork, and a Schickhaus foot-long beef and pork. Must-try: the homemade “dirty Jersey” mustard.

Frankfurter funny man and longtime owner Tommy Snyder is no longer behind the counter, but Hot Dog Tommy’s lives on in its hole-in-the-wall location a half block from the beach. The menu — it may be the state’s most expansive —includes the Big Bad Dog (all-beef hot dog on a deli bun) the Leaner Wiener (pork and beef dog on a steamed bun), Messy Bessy (BBQ sauce and shredded cheddar cheese); and the Tornado, an improbable mix of mashed potatoes, chili, shredded cheese, salsa, banana peppers and sour cream.

Hot dog with sauerkraut, Hot Dog Johnny's, Buttzville (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Best-known hot dog stand in New Jersey? You could easily make a case for Hot Dog Johnny’s in Buttzville, the state’s most colorfully named town.

No Jersey hot dog business has a more bucolic setting than Hot Dog Johnny’s, nestled along the Pequest River. John Kovalsky opened it in 1944 and the tiny original stand can be seen on the grounds. No designer toppings at Hot Dog Johnny’s; you can get mustard, ketchup, onion, pickle or relish and that’s it. Oh, and don’t forget to try the buttermilk with that dog.

Hey Dude dog, Weenies, Denville/ Madison (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Michael Dey, co-owner of Weenies, says hot dogs are his “absolute favorite food." He opened Fattys, dedicated to fat sandwiches, then Weenies, where the theme is “family friendly gluttony." Indeed. There’s a Maple Bacon Kraut Dog, a Triple Cheese Dog (cheese, crushed Cheetos, mac n cheese), and the Hey Dude Dog (photo), with pulled pork, crushed Doritos and ranch dressing. For every TC dog (named after a WDHA DJ) sold, Weenies donates $1 to the Denville Animal Shelter.

“Oral satisfaction guaranteed’' is the motto at Joey Mac’s. It’s a hot dog truck behind a fenced-in lot at the corner of Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. and Jersey Street in Harrison. Sabrett’s dogs here. I like the Sexy Kraut, with bacon, onions, and a spice blend. While you’re there, check out the “pot garden’' - mint, pepper and other plants growing in ... pots.

Legendary Shore hot dog joint Max’s underwent a major renovation in 2018. The new Max’s boasts a 10-seat counter, bar and expanded dining room, but the Schickhaus brand of hot dog (80 percent beef, 20 percent pork) remains. The business is named after Max Altman, who started selling foot-long hot dogs in 1928 on the Long Branch boardwalk. He had opened a small restaurant there in 1916.

The WindMill, Long Branch (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Best place to eat a hot dog in New Jersey? The deck at the WindMill in Long Branch. Grilled dogs are the draw. Try the chili dog, or the hot pepper relish.

Chicago dog, Moon Dog Grill, Moorestown (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

South Jersey, sad to say, is a hot dog wasteland, or at least compared to North Jersey, where there seems to be a hot dog joint or cart on every corner. Ira Gutman, of the MoonDog Grill, formerly owned the Cool Dog Cafe in Cherry Hill. MoonDog offers a similarly eclectic menu, and yes, you can still get the Anthony Weiner Wiener. Feeling brave? Try the Atomic Terminator, with spicy red pepper relish, jalapeños, spicy mustard and Kaboom Sauce.

Hot dog with relish and onions, Munce's, Rahway (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Munce’s, a hot dog truck parked alongside Rahway River Park, has been dishing out dogs since 1963. Their chili is distinctive, sweet and tomatoey.

Dave La Tempa, owner, Sonny's Grille, Belmar (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Sonny’s Grille, formerly in Neptune and now in Belmar, is among the new wave of Jersey hot dog joints: dozens of hot dog options, enhanced with neon, celebrity photos and sports memorabilia. The menu offers the requisite Boss Dog and Bon Jovi dog. There are 30-plus kinds in all, from a Jersey dog (chili, kraut, sport peppers, dill pickle, mustard) and Texan (bacon, baked beans, BBQ sauce) to the Mac Piggy Dog (homemade mac and cheese) and the Volcano Dog (chili, crushed cherry peppers, jalapeños, cayenne pepper sauce). Sonny’s is located in Belmar Mall, the best strip mall for food in New Jersey.

Hot dogs, Jerry's Famous Frankfurters, Elizabeth (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

The “dirty water dog” — a boiled hot dog — is a North Jersey tradition, and Jerry’s Famous Frankfurters offers an interesting twist — a boiled water dog (in this case, from Best’s in Newark) finished off in a pan. The original owner started selling dogs from a cart at the Peterstown market and the storefront opened in the ’50s.

Delores Antonucci probably wins the hot dog longevity award; she’s been working her Dee’s Hut truck since 1973. There are a million (okay, maybe not quite that many) hot dog trucks in New Jersey, but Dee’s manages to stand out for her dogs, good and snappy. She keeps them in the water for “five, ten minutes, no more,” she once told me.

Chicago dog, Yummies, Scotch Plains (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Yummies is on Route 22 west, in a space formerly occupied by Jimmy Buff’s and Red White and Cue Smokehouse. I ran into the owner when I was there this week (I never identify myself during these missions). He said of the 70 chili competitions he’s entered, he’s never finished lower than third. He also is scouting more locations; Garwood is a possibility. The chili dog is commendable, although I wish there had been more chili on mine.

Nick Cocchi makes up hot dogs at The Curbside Cafe in ParsippanySL

One of my favorite chili dogs can be found at Curbside Cafe, run by two ex-cops and located next to an adult book store, of all things, in Parsippany. The first truck Gene DiGiacomo and Frank Cocchi acquired was a lemon. The second one, a former DHL truck, turned out better.

David Guiotto works the grill as a customer looks on as his Italian hot dog is put together.SL

It’s busy, it’s noisy, it’s cramped, it’s a food legend. Dickie Dee’s, open since 1958, would be in the charter class of the New Jersey Hot Dog Hall of Fame. The Italian hot dog, cooked in bubbling hot oil right in front of you, is justly famous. Yes, there was a guy named Dickie Dee — he and his wife Toni Dee were former owners.

Bubba Dogs nearby gets all the publicity, but Lou Dogs is better. Try the LouDog, with German mustard, ketchup and diced onions, or the HankDog, with cilantro sauce, mango chutney and diced red onions.

The hot dogs at Designer Dawgs — all beef from Chicago-based Vienna Beef — are first steamed, then grilled. The menu board lists 28 creations, including The Mastiff (two hot dogs, pork roll, bacon, ham, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, Russian dressing) and Al Capone (mustard, relish, pickles, sauteed onions, sport peppers).

Sign, Hot Grill, Clifton (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

The Hot Grill offers the “World’s Tastiest Texas Wieners" (outside sign) or “World’s Testiest Texas Wieners" (inside sign). Call me crazy, but I prefer the former. You could call Clifton the hot dog capital of New Jersey, with New Corral and Rutt’s Hut also on this list. I’m not a big fan of the Hot Grill’s chili, but you can’t argue with the place’s popularity. The Hot Grill opened on Friday the 13th in 1961; guess the owners weren’t superstitious.

Texas Weiner I, Plainfield (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Texas Weiner I is granddaddy of the state’s Texas weiner joints; it’s been open nearly 100 years. The diner-like counter and stools remain, and a nighttime photo of the neon-lit storefront, with the grill visible from the sidewalk, makes for an Instagram-ready classic.

Chili dog, one with relish, Johnny & Hanges, Fairlawn (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Another Jersey hot dog legend, Johnny & Hanges opened in Paterson July 4, 1939, the same day Lou Gehrig made his unforgettable retirement speech at Yankee Stadium. Johnny was Johnny Scovich and Hange was Angelo Mariano. The business moved across the river to Fair Lawn in 1999. A Texas weiner “all the way” (mustard, raw onions, chili) is what you need to know at Johnny & Hanges. A chili dog with raw onions is at left in the photo, a dog with mustard and spicy relish is at right.

Italian Hotdog, Jimmy Buff'sSL

The Italian hot dog started at Jimmy Buff’s, 9th Street and 14th Avenue in Newark, in 1932. That location is home to another hot dog stand (temporarily closed), but Buff’s still remains, with locations in Kenilworth and West Orange. The latter is a trip, a hot dog diner where you can see and hear the hot dogs and potatoes popping in the hot oil.

Hot Diggidy Dog, Chatsworth (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

A hot dog cart in the middle of the Pine Barrens? Hot Diggidy Dog does a brisk business in what many big-city folk might consider the middle of nowhere. Robin Bednar opened for business in 1989 outside her parents’ house, putting herself through school in the process. She uses Dietz & Watson beef/pork dogs. The jalapeño cheddar chili dog is a juicy, cheesy delight, and the cranberry hot sauce, from a local purveyor, may be my new favorite topping.

Dog with mustard, chili dog, Lover Dogs, Passaic (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Lover Dogs, open about a year, is the only hot dog joint in the state to air-fry their dogs, according to hot dog expert John Fox. The result: a hot dog with a slightly smoky snap (and 65 to 85 percent less fat than your usual hot dog, according to Lover Dogs). Good chili, too. They use Hofmann’s franks, used by only one other Jersey hot dog joint — Maui’s Dog House in North Wildwood — according to Fox. Love Dogs also has a gelato counter, stocked by Gelotti in Paterson.

Dolores Santucci making hot dogs outside Karl Ehmer, Hillsdale (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

I don’t know about you, but I think every deli or meat store should have someone grilling hot dogs out on the sidewalk. That’s the charm at Karl Ehmer Meats, celebrating its 89th anniversary this year (it started in NYC). The beef/pork hot dogs are made by Kocher, a German butcher in Fort Lee. The park across the street makes for a great lunch spot.

It’s all about the hot onions — red hots — at Chris’ Red Hots, open 50 years, in the same family for 30 years. There’s a cheeseburger dog, a Sloppy joe dog, and a penne vodka dog, among others, but stick to the classic, one with hot onions.

New Corral. Clifton (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

The New Corral looks like a typical Greek diner, with counter, swivel stools and abundant stainless steel, but their chili dog is top-notch. It’s not the usual nutmeg/cinnamon-tasting Passaic County chili. The Corral’s is spicier and more tomatoey. And better than the Hot Grill, in my mind. They were named the state’s second best chili in that 2014 Hot Dog Heaven issue of Inside Jersey magazine.

Designer Dogs, New Brunswick (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Probably no other place in New Jersey pushes the hot dog envelope quite like Destination Dogs in New Brunswick, which started as a small storefront on Spring Street and now commands prime space at the corner of Paterson and Joyce Kilmer. The attraction here: hot dogs inspired by global cuisines — Spain, Chile, France, Argentina, Greece and more. My favorite is probably the Vietnamese-influenced Bun Mi, a sausage with shaved foie gras, pickled vegetables, fresh jalapenos, cilantro and srirachi mayo.

Boulevard Drinks is a hot dog joint right out of Hollywood Hot Dog Central Casting, with its walk-up counter, bright orange/yellow interior and a flickering red and green neon sign. The booths and lighting are so bright they might hurt your eyes. Located across the street from Journal Square, Boulevard Drinks is an essential Jersey food experience, the kind of place where the hot dog itself plays a supporting role, at best.

Toby's Cup, Lopatcong (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Toby’s Cup, on Route 22 in Lopatcong, looks more like a carnival fun house than hot dog stand, with its sputnik-like globe (what the heck is that?) atop the roof, and cramped, low-ceilinged interior more reminiscent of a drive-in movie snack bar. Its new owner promises an expansion, which hopefully won’t mar Toby’s considerable charm. They use a Berks beef/pork dog, a rarity in NJ. Oh, and it’s better than the much more heralded Hot Dog Johnny’s in nearby Buttzville.

Tony's Specialized Hot Dogs, Newark (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

There will always be a soft spot in my heart, and stomach, for Tony’s Specialized Hot Dogs, which was the first Eat with Pete column I wrote for The Star-Ledger back in 1998. Tony Cavallo started with a three-wheel scooter, roaming the streets of Newark until late at night.

The truck has been in a fixed spot in Branch Brook Park since 1968, which might be a record in the hot dog business. Tony has since sold the truck, but the hot dogs remain. Try the Super Dog, with mustard, ketchup, chili, hot onions and cheese. You’ll thank me later.

Maui’s Dog House in North Wildwood offers a head-spinning variety of dogs (try the Horsey dog, with ground horseradish and spicy mustard) and toppings. The place gets so busy it advises reservations on summer weekends. It’s a fun, open-air hangout. One must-try: the salty balls, small potatoes cooked in brine and spices. Bet you can’t eat just one.

Andy Patin, owner, Andys' Roadside Dive, Mt. Arlington (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

A stop at Andys’ Roadside Dive is a visit to the outer reaches of the hot dog universe. About the “Andys’ in the name? There were once two guys named Andy running the trailer, parked on the shores of Lake Hopatcong; now there’s just one, Andy Patin. You could just get a chili dog or one with mustard and kraut, but you can get those anywhere. These are definitely not your grandmother’s hot dogs; toppings/fillings include nachos, Cajun coleslaw, and spicy beaked beans. My favorite: the Nacho Dogito, with chili, cheddar sauce, crumbled Doritos and sliced jalapeños.

Randy Pollack, aka Randy the Hot Dog Guy,SL

There is no more colorful hot dog vendor in New Jersey than Randy the Hot Dog Guy in Hillside. Lovably nutty Randy Pollack is a self-described “oddball with a hot dog truck" and “God’s gift to capitalism."

Pollack sells a variety of hot dog brands, which separates him from most others, but the schtick is priceless. Here’s my profile of him, aptly titled “An Underdog with Relish."

Chili dog, one with mustard and sauerkraut, Hiram's, Fort Lee (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

American flags fluttering out front, well-worn signage, beer on tap, vest-pocket picnic area, and maybe the state’s smallest men’s room: That’s Hiram’s, which opened in 1932. There apparently never was a guy named Hiram at Hiram’s, which started as a shack that started selling hot dogs in the 1930s. This was once Jersey’s hot dog crossroads, with legendary Callahan’s right across the street. Hiram’s chili dog is one of my two or three favorite in the state. They use Thumann’s beef and pork dogs. Did I mention there’s beer on tap?

The state’s most perfect potatoes — deep-fried, crunchy perfection — can be found at Tommy’s Italian Hot Sausage & Hot Dogs, which won our statewide best hot dog showdown in 2018. Instead of being cooked in a sizzling pool of oil, the thin-sliced potatoes are cooked in a deep fryer, then stuffed, with hot dog, peppers and onions, in a wedge of pizza bread.

The potatoes are so good they’re sold by the cup. Tommy’s opened in 1969; steps away is Jerry’s (see above). The two make for a great hot dog daily double.

An array of dogs at Relish, Belmar (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Relish opened in 2018. No hot dog stand in New Jersey has quite the range of creative condiments as Relish. House pickle relish, roasted pepper relish and beer kraut are among the options. Another difference: The buns are placed on warming spikes, creating a hollowed-out roll. In the same-same New Jersey hot dog world you need to stand out, and Relish does.

One with mustard, one with relish, Rutt's Hut, Clifton (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Rutt’s Hut in Clifton is the total hot dog package — a brick-walled roadhouse oozing history and atmosphere. Abe Rutt started the restaurant in 1928 and the current owners bought it in 1975. Nothing has changed over the years — tile floor, fluorescent lighting, guys behind the counter talking hot dog code — “traveling” means it’s a takeout order.

Get the fabled Ripper, a deep-fried hot dog, so-called because it splits apart while cooking. Brave? Order a Weller, a well-done Ripper, or a Cremator, which is well beyond well-done.

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National Hot Dog Day

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7-Eleven Selling $1 Hot Dogs — Plus More Restaurant Deals for National Hot Dog Day Today

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7-Eleven isn't just celebrating for one day only. The convenience store is selling their Quarter-Pound Big Bite beef hot dogs for $1 through the end of July. Top it with a variety of free condiments like chili, melted cheese, onions, relish, diced tomatoes, or sauerkraut.

The chain is also still celebrating their birthday month (they normally only celebrate on July 11 but are extending things this year), so that means you can also pair your hot dog with a free Slurpee with a coupon on the 7Rewards app.

Not a meat person? You can still get in on the fun. Field Roast is giving out their plant-based stadium hot dogs for free when purchasing any two Field Roast items at Sprouts retailers nationwide.

And if you just prefer the classics, Nathan's Famous is selling 5¢ hot dogs from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm at participating locations.

National Hot Dog Day

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