Thursday, October 06, 2011

Chili Dog Smackdown Part II

At the end of my recent post on L.A. chili dogs, I asked you, my readers, if I'd left any of your faves off the list. Thanks to responses on Facebook and Chowhound (no one comments on actual blog posts anymore!), I was forced out of journalistic duty, to try all of your recommendations. Here's the roundup of other places I visited, and my final rankings. Will Carney's reign supreme?

Original Tommy's
2575 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 389-1682
Yelp It

And by Original, I don't mean any old shack that claims to be an Original Tommy's, even if it is part of the same chain; I mean the one and only original location of the Original Tommy's, on First and Rampart, in the no-man's land between Silver Lake and downtown. I've had a few dozen burgers here in my time, but it had never occurred to me to try their chili dog (in fact I don't think I knew they made one), recommended on Chowhound by malibumike.

Now I have. It's... fine. The chili is Tommy's: say no more. They make the perfect chili for dogs and burgers, dense but still fluid, full of all those secret savory spices that are a chili-maker's heart and soul. Simply delish. As for the rest of the dog, it didn't quite carry its weight. It's possibly the largest, messiest of the dogs I tasted. While it was flavorful, it was a little bit on the tough side, without being snappy. In a dog, one wants the resistance on the outside, tender juiciness in the middle. This was curiously reversed on my Tommy's dog (sounds weird, saying that!) Also the bun was a little stale... as if it had been sitting in the sun behind the streetside shack... oh wait, it probably had been. A possible disadvantage to the "original" location, or at least of the streetside service area as opposed to separate one set back from the street.

Cupid's Hot Dogs
9039 Lindley Ave
Northridge, CA 91325
Yelp It

This was by far the most-recommended other dog, and with good reason. I was told to go to the original branch across from the entrance to Cal State Northridge. On approach, I was immediately comforted that they make hot dogs, and nothing but hot dogs. This is the entire menu:

Hot Dogs - 2.50
Cheese - 0.25
Everything is - Mustard, Onions & Chili
Upon Request - Ketchup, Relish, Cheese

Chips - 0.75

Small - 1.00, Medium - 1.25, Large - 1.50
Refills - 0.50
Bottled Water - 1.00
Milk - 0.75
Instant Coffee - 0.40
Hot Tea - 0.40

***Tax Included On All Items***

I love that when Cupid's makes you "One with everything," it's just the way I like it: mustard, onions, chili.

This is bare bones doggery, man. No indoor seating; three outdoor picnic tables. And it's an excellent chili dog. If I lived in the northeast reaches of the Valley, it would be my go-to. Cupid's chili is unique in this group. I'm no expert on chili, but this one is more of a fluorescent orange color than a brick red. My guess is it's greasier. It's also got more of tang; perhaps the presence of more tomato in the sauce? And although there isn't a lot of beef in it, it's what I consider a delightful texture: creamy. Mind you, this isn't the type of meat-forward chili you'd want to eat a bowl of; it's strictly a hot dog topping. The dog itself was good, but (especially after Tommy's" it seemed a little small; you'd definitely want two to make a meal here, where I'm usually good with one. The bun was steamed to perfection.

6654 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 468-3647

This is also a dogs-only joint, a couple of years old, on Hollywood Blvd. It's a hipster/retro version of the Cupid's vibe. Which is fine.

What's unique and delicious about Skooby's is their buns: more a French sandwich roll than a bun, nicely steamed to a chewy but not difficult texture. The dog is snappy, tasty, but unfortunately, the chili here isn't in the same league as the others on this quest. It's bland and watery.

Papaya King
1645 Wilcox Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Neighborhood: Hollywood
(323) 871-8799
Yelp It

The new kid on the block in Hollywood, and the current "it" dog. A New York institution, but I gather it's more because of their papaya drinks and shakes (I tried one, too sweet for me!) than their dogs.

Their chili dog (by far the smallest of the group) is okay, flavorwise, but somehow it doesn't have the left coast balls to the wall panache that homegrown chili dogs do; chili is not, after all, a New York calling card. This pup just doesn't stand out against the rest of the group here. I plan to come back, though, and try a New York style dog along the lines of the ones to be found at the original Nathan's on Coney Island, with those orangey grilled onions. (Perhaps the next quest...after my triglyceride levels have recovered from this one.)

Fab Hot Dogs
Loehmann's Plaza
19417 1/2 Victory Blvd
Reseda, CA 91335
(818) 344-4336

This place makes a big to-do about hot dogs, with a vast menu of replications of regional hot dog types and toppings. As I say in my reviews, I don't post negative reviews, but I thought readers would like to know that I did order a dog here. Suffice to say I didn't finish it.

And finally, after all this tasting, I went back to Carney's on Sunset Strip, just to make sure. Yeah, I'm sure.

My final rankings in the great Chili Dog Smackdown of 2011:

1. Carney's
2. Cupid's
3. Pink's
4. Coney Dog
5. Original Tommy's
6. Papaya King
7. Skooby's
8. Fab Hot Dogs