There is no sophisticated way to eat a hot dog. By definition, it is a wiener-shaped meat product purposefully designed for easy consumption. Consisting of salted ground pork and/or beef and wrapped in an animal-derived casing, these cylindrical meat rods can accurately be called “tube steaks.” To consume them, no fancy utensils are required — only an operable jaw and some teeth. You simply stick one in your mouth and bite off as much as you can chew.
Hot dogs can be served in an expansive variety of styles and take on a wide swath of flavors — with toppings inspired by cities ranging from Chicago to Seoul. It’s a big part of what makes this simple food so appealing: In addition to being delicious on their own, they’re fun to doctor up. For a purist, too many toppings is a sin, one often resulting in a residual facial schmear of mustard, relish or mayo. But the thing is, you don’t have to be precious when a wiener is involved. You can proudly let that condiment grace your face.
Perhaps this is why there is something of a hot dog scene in the Twin Cities. We’re simple people with unpretentious tastes, but every once in a while we do like to get a little fancy. And hey — with a hot dog, that’s easy to do. They’re hearty and versatile, just like us.
The dog: Prairie Dog.
Where: 610 W. Lake St., Mpls. 612-223-8984 or www.prairiedogsausage.com
You could argue that when it comes to hot dogs, humble is better. When you posh something up, you risk obscuring what makes it good. But the new Lyn-Lake establishment Prairie Dogs throws a pot of boiling-hot wiener water on this argument. Inspired by flavors from near and far, the menu features everything from a Sonoran dog with cotija cheese, avocado and cilantro aioli, to a duck-fat-fried dog with a slab of foie gras. But the standout is the more traditional Prairie Dog ($4.50) — the restaurant’s take on the beloved Chicago-style dog — which is simple and bright enough to let the house-made dog shine through. The lesson? Sometimes it’s just best to let the wiener speak for itself. You don’t need to plop a chunk of barbecued pork atop your dog, à la the Saucy Pig. But you certainly can if you want to.
The dog: Uncle Franky.
Where: 728 NE. Broadway St., Mpls. 612-455-2181; 10160 6th Av. N., Plymouth, 763-746-3643; also at northeast Mpls., Bloomington and Plymouth Home Depot stores. www.unclefrankys.com.
At Uncle Franky’s, humility is thy game. Have you ever been inside the place? Franky’s doesn’t really try, because it doesn’t need to. With its simple dogs and well-worn surroundings, it’s an establishment that puts on no airs. Here, you can get the basics: burgers, sandwiches and a smattering of dogs, from a Coney Island to a kraut-bedecked wiener coined the Wall Street. But it’s the Unkle Franky dog ($3.95) you want: mustard, ketchup, onion and relish. Simple. Satisfying. Classic. Order a couple. Become Uncle Franky.
The dog: Natedog.
Where: Mobile cart. www.natedogs.com or @Nate_Dogs on Twitter.
It’s rare to find a Midwestern hot dog enthusiast who adamantly protests the use of ketchup, but Natedog’s Nate Beck is something of an elusive breed. In fact, in order to eat his wieners, you have to seek out Nate. To find his mobile cart and locally sourced $4 dogs, you either have to run into him at an event (like the St. Paul Art Crawl, where he’ll be this weekend), or book him for your own wiener-filled party. Nate specializes in natural dogs topped with his own homemade toppings and mustard. So the next time you want to throw a legit sausage fest, Nate’s your dog.
The Depot Tavern
The dog: Diamond Dog.
Where: 17 N. 7th St., Mpls. 612-338-1828 or www.thedepottavern.com.
First Avenue’s side restaurant has food worth seeking out even when you don’t have tickets to a show. The bacon-wrapped, deep-fried Diamond Dog ($8) is not just a punny David Bowie reference; it’s a Twin Cities food icon, and the focus of its own annual eating contest. The fun part (for the audience) is that these puppies are not lightweights: The dog itself is a quarter-pound, and the pretzel bun packs more heft than your typical white bun. Next time you’re at First Ave, just try to see how many of these babies you can pack down.
Chris and Rob’s
The dog: Chili Cheese Dog.
Where: 3101 E. 42nd St., Mpls., 612-729-5507; 603 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-228-9347.
Chili dogs are perhaps one of mankind’s ugliest foods. The formula is simple: a wiener covered in brown chili slop, finished with a smothering of toxic-looking cheese goop. The Chili Cheese Dog ($4.09) at Chris and Rob’s, the self-proclaimed “Chicago’s Taste Authority,” is no different. It can best be described as “wet.” Fortunately, the dog leans into its ugliness, ignoring the fact that we eat with our eyes, because its our taste buds that make the final call. This grossly sloppy dog is a good-enough guilty pleasure to make you want to visit a confessional booth after consumption, even if you’re not Catholic.
The dog: Mexicali Dog.
Where: 2933 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-872-2232.
Muddy Waters is perhaps Minneapolis’ best place to get a bit beer-drunk before eating a hot dog. This casual Lyn-Lake neighborhood bistro is a legitimate beer bar, touting more than 30 taps. The Mexicali Dog is just what you want to eat after indulging in a few of these suds. This two-dog order ($9.75) features crispy thick-cut bacon, ancho and mankind’s favorite guilty-pleasure: queso.
The Bulldog Uptown
The dog: Danger Dog.
Where: 2549 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-872-8893. www.thebulldoguptown.com.
Let’s consider it an anomaly that more hot dogs aren’t covered in sriracha mayo. The Bulldog has a lengthy list of inventive dogs — from a Fire Dog featuring a kicking habanero relish to one that’s covered in mac and cheese. But the bacon-covered Danger Dog topped with sriracha mayo ($8) is a combination determined to romance you. For bonus points, top off your order with cheese curds and ask for a side of said sriracha mayo, if you know what’s good for you. (Not literally.)
The dog: House Dog.
Where: 3758 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-236-4429. www.kyatchi.com.
What are hot dogs doing in a Japanese joint? Well, this Kim Bartmann-affiliated izakaya is a casual Japanese restaurant with a baseball bent. Among the sustainably sourced sushi and traditional noodle dishes, you’ll find the humble hot dog, Japanese style. Their revelatory House Dog ($8), the simplest of four dogs on the menu, goes beyond gimmickry, featuring a grilled, all-beef frank and a delicate but tangy vegetable salad with Japanese mayo. It’s a wonder more people don’t put sushi and hot dogs in the same room. For the more adventurous, try the Yakisoba Dog, topped with stir-fried noodles, or the one with avocado and chopped egg.
The dog: Minneapolis Dog.
Where: 414 Cedar Av. S, Mpls., 612-333-5798. www.wienery.com.
The Wienery is not only the best-named restaurant in the Twin Cities, but it’s the one that perhaps best evokes the way a hot dog makes us feel after eating it: heavy, a bit messy and totally nostalgic. This crown jewel of the West Bank is crowded with memorabilia and various other junk, but it’s not contrived in a way that plays into your desire to produce the perfect Instagram photo. Amid the mess you’ll find the Minneapolis Dog ($3.50), the Wienery’s take on the Chicago Dog with a twist: It’s covered in creamy, crunchy slaw. What it lacks in good looks, it makes up for in personality.