For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
Listen, you guys. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen.
I don't give a shit what anyone says. The best hot dogs in the city, for my money, are at Costco. I don't have a Gold Star Membership that I split with my hetero-life-mate for the bulk socks or vats of hummus. I have it so I can get cheap eyeglasses and $1.50 Kosher, all-beef, foot-long hot dogs. For your $1.50, you also get a super-size cup of soda (with free refills!), but I'm just here for the hot dogs.
The original $1.50 price of the combo hasn't changed at all since its inception in 1985. Now, I realize that IKEA, down the road on the Katy Freeway, offers a hot dog combo of its own for $2 that's pretty damn good: two hot dogs, a bag of chips and another soda with free refills. But the Costco dog is better.
Granted, they're no longer using the Hebrew National all-beef dogs anymore, but Costco has developed its own in-house brand (Kirkland's, like you didn't know) that tastes identical. And that's all I care about. That and a drizzle of mustard on top.
But since the Houston Press doesn't have restaurant listings for home furnishings stores, this week's Top 10 list will have to focus on restaurant hot dogs only. And here they are.
10. Happy Fatz
This adorable Heights eatery is located in an old house, which only adds to the homespun charm of the place. Happy Fatz specializes in two things: baked goods and hot dogs, meaning that no meal here is complete without a mini cupcake to go. The all-beef dogs, served in Slow Dough buns, come covered with plenty of fresh and inventive toppings such as the breakfast-for-lunch-style Clucker topped with hashbrowns and a fried egg.
Whether you get a venison dog, a pheasant dog, a buffalo dog, an antelope dog, an elk dog or even just a plain old beef hot dog, all of the sausages here come wrapped in a soft Slow Dough pretzel bun with your choice of toppings: cilantro, sauerkraut, a tangy remoulade -- the choices are as numerous as the types of wild game dogs.
If you think the burgers at this friendly Brazilian joint look like bedlam on a bun, that's nothing compared to the hot dogs. The Brazilian-style dog here is strewn with tangy, warm marinara sauce and crunchy potato sticks, just as owner Ronaldo Gomes likes it. This is how he grew up eating the traditional fast-street food growing up in a small town in Brazil, and how he now serves them in his own restaurant here in Houston. You can also get them "Mexican" style, with guacamole and chopped onions , among many other toppings.
Max's is known for its signature hot dog -- the Texas Haute Dog -- an all-beef dog topped with onion strings, house-made jalapeños, cotija cheese and a special "Prairie Fire" venison chili. (We have the recipe, by the way.) When it first opened five years ago, the concept of gourmet comfort food in an upscale, wine-drenched setting was cutting-edge. The "wine dive" has since expanded to include locations in Austin and San Antonio. It's no longer the newest thing, but that doesn't mean the dogs aren't still as damn good as ever.
Nick Hall once remarked that the Revival Market Mangalitsa hot dog is "a pure representation of place." And it is: This hot dog embodies everything the little butcher shop/grocery store in the Heights stands for, incorporating local products and ingredients as well as a lot of pork. Mangalitsa refers to the type of ultra-fatty heirloom hog that's raised by co-owner Morgan Weber, and all the tasty parts from that pig go into making an incredibly meaty dog that's amped up even further by a topping of chicharrones (yes, from the very same pig).
The Burger Guys don't do anything by halves, and that includes their monster hot dogs. The one you see above is one of the restaurant's signature Akaushi beef hot dogs, battered in tempura and fried up to four times to achieve the perfect crunchy consistency. These monster dogs are served with house-made Dr Pepper ketchup and Shiner Bock mustard. (But if you're weak of will, you can order a regular hot dog or Chicago dog too.)
It would be a travesty not to list JCI among the Top 5 on this list. After all, it's an important piece of Houston's history, one of the oldest restaurants in town. The original JCI was opened in 1923 at Walker and Main, and while that store is now closed, the old-fashioned hot dogs and Greek-style chili live on at its 21 Houston-area locations. My favorite meal here combines both dogs and chili: the Houstonian, which comes with a messy tumble of diced white onions on top and a pile of chili-cheese fries on the side.
3. Hot Dog Shop
Does your favorite hot dog place also serve breakfast? And have huge annual hot-dog-eating contests? And host punk and rockabilly bands at night? That's because it's not Hot Dog Shop, a manically fun little West Houston joint that serves all-beef Vienna dogs (just like the No. 1 pick on our list) and Chicago dogs with real sport peppers on top. You can get a regular dog too, of course, and your first four toppings from its large list are free.
This roving food truck sets up shop all around town, but my favorite place to catch them is during the sunny days they're stationed outside the Menil. The museum's lush lawn practically begs to be sprawled upon, picnic-style, with a good book and a good dog. In keeping with that idea, the Sunshine Dog is my go-to, topped with unlikely combination of cream cheese, pickled red onions and fresh dill relish that imparts a nearly lox-like appeal to the dog.
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Everything at this tidy little restaurant run by husband-and-wife team Charles and Brenda Rivers is a Chicago specialty, from the pizza puffs to the hot Italian beef. So you know that the Chicago-style hot dogs they serve -- dragged through the garden on a steamed poppyseed bun with a thick Vienna beef dog tucked inside -- are the real deal. The dogs here are fresh and lively, with just a bit of heat from the sport peppers that is best cooled off by another Chicago specialty: Italian ice.