HOT DOGS!!! - Part One


Papaya Dog
Papaya King
Gray's Papaya

The hot dog. Much like the hamburger, it's one of the original American fast foods. Unlike the hamburger, no one has figured out how to make it classy without being laughed at. The hot dog is a staple of the ballpark and the carnival, Coney Island and Times Square. It's enjoyed by so many Americans that even vegans created their own clone to avoid feeling left out of the fun. And yet it's a publicly derided staple. One need only recall The Simpsons episode where Lisa imagines a hot dog being pieced together from the remnants of roadkill and a hobo shoe. Still, the hot dog endures.

The hot dog and New York. It fits in its own nook between a slice of pizza and a soft pretzel. And from Nathan's on Coney Island to the ubiquitous Sabrett cart, the hot dog is everywhere. In the middle of everywhere are the rivaling Papaya micro-chains.

Hot Dogs and papaya juice. Not the first combo I think of when I think of phallic-shaped processed meat products, but clearly a popular one.

239 First Avenue
New York, NY 10003
no phone (?)

Papaya Dog is the closest of the seedy hot dog joints to where I grew up, so I figured that this would be a good place to start.

Whenever I'm in the East Village, and it's three in the morning and I'm drunk and I'm hungry, I go to Papaya Dog. I always order the same thing, the hamburger combo. They have pretty good hamburgers, especially at three in the morning. I also get a hot dog to nosh on while I wait for the hamburger to cook. This time, it seems more fair to review them sober.

There's always a crowd at Papaya Dog, regardless of the time of day. In the daytime, students line up to get cheap eats and annoy me with their tweenage banter. Later on, they come back for a post-school snack. As the day gets later, the crowd evolves into the more hipster population that has become the new Alphabet City demographic. Followed later still by everyone who just finished partying.

This time around, I skipped the burger and went for the regular hot dog and one with some added stuff, in this case, cheese and chili.

In theory, the cheese and chili hot dog was a good idea. After all, I like cheese and I like chili. Ipso facto, cheese and chili on a hot dog must be a winning combo. However, that logic can also be extended to liking Rice Krispies and Coors, which is not quite as winning. It was like eating a chunk of lead and I could taste it for the better part of an hour. Plus I couldn't taste the hot dog. I could have easily asked for chili, cheese and a bun and saved some money.

Still, their plain Jane hot dog was really good, so stick to those.

539 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
(212) 904-1588

Gray's Papaya is the most famous of the trio, and based on my experience standing on the long line at the upper west side one, it's the most popular. This time, I chose to visit the one in the far more colorful neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen. If the motto of real estate is location, location, location, then Gray's Papaya must be targeting the "need more porno" demographic.

Gray's Papaya is small. In fact, if it got any smaller, you'd be standing outside. Tables shmables. "Eating in" means propping your dogs and drink on a five inch wide ledge by the window. Unlike Papaya Dog, there's no menu. Hot dogs or nothing. And there aren't that many to choose from. I ordered one plain hot dog, which I then put ketchup and mustard on, and one with some sort of onion glop. It was the glop or sauerkraut. Glop me.

I actually expected the onion glop to taste vile. But no, it was pretty good. I think that I might glop all of my Grays Papaya dogs from now on. New York magazine thinks that the Gray's dogs are the best of the Papaya offerings, and I think that they were fine, but somewhat small. The meat got lost in the bun. As for the best, I dunno. Maybe I'm not enough of a connoisseur. I won't argue with the cost though. The two dogs and a papaya juice (which was very good, by the way), was under $5.

200 14th Street
New York, NY 10011
(212) 367-8090

Papaya King was the first of the three, and always seemed to be one step up from grungy Gray's Papaya, which seemed to be to raison d'etre for the random-meat hot dog. At least in the 1980s when I was growing up. Papaya King was, like, real food.

Similarly to Papaya Dog, I opted for the regular good ol' hot dog and a chili-topped one. But for the chili-topped one, no cheese this time. Onion instead. And what a difference! I could actually taste the meat. The chili and onion complimented the hot dog rather than drown it out.

The regular hot dog, as you can see in the photo, is somewhat on the thin side. The hot dog is longer than the competition's, but this being the Chelsea location, you think that they'd know that it's really the girth that matters. Still, I can't argue the taste, which was moderately better than Papaya Dog's, though not enough to make me cross town for the difference.

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