The question arose on the social media platform NextDoor and the focus, from a poster in New Monterey, was tube meat: “Hot dog weather: Can anyone recommend someplace in the area for a good hot dog?”
For some, the words “good” and “hot dog” don’t belong in the same sentence. For others, maybe you don’t know what a good hot dog is. And I say this while also admitting to having eaten an occasional Costco dog, with minced onions spun out of an industrial chopper and onto the dog, sweet relish and mustard pumped from metal containers, and keep that ketchup away from me, please. (This rule about ketchup only applies to adults. Kids, if you want ketchup, have that ketchup.)
So yes, tube meat engenders strong opinions. My opinion might be stronger than normal, for I grew up in Chicago and the classic Chicago dog is my baseline.
A Chicago dog is a snappy dog – snappy as in the casing. It is boiled or steamed, never griddled, and after cooking it is placed in an equally steamed poppy seed bun and then “dragged through the garden,” which in Chicago parlance means topping it with yellow mustard, chopped onion, tomato wedges, neon green relish, a pickle spear, sport peppers and a sprinkling of celery salt. Hit the deli case at your local grocery store: Many places carry snappy-casing dogs, but if not, look for packaged Boar’s Head brand with the natural casing. You may have to skip the neon relish and poppy seed bun in favor of what’s on the grocery store shelf, but sport peppers and the rest of the topping ingredients are easily obtainable. Steam your dog, steam your bun, elongate your vowels and end your sentences with a preposition and pretend you’re in the Midwest while eating.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the best local places to avail yourself of a good dog or sausage, as we prepare to celebrate the July Fourth holiday, when some 150 million hot dogs are consumed nationwide.
LUCY’S ON LIGHTHOUSE, 1120 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove
A plethora of creative dogs can be had at Lucy’s, which opened mid-pandemic and replicates the classic Southern California beach snack shack with its menu and its laidback patio seating. Choose from a Polish dog, a veggie dog or a classic hot dog, add a bacon wrapping if you’re so inclined, and behold the depth and breadth of toppings. (Side note: They do a good approximation of a Chicago dog, here it’s called Freights.) But for one that will have you wanting to nap on a warm beach after, check out the South Moss, a bacon-wrapped dog topped with house made chili, nacho cheese, Tabasco onions and Lucy’s sauce.
DUBBER’S OLDTOWN BAR & GRILL, 172 Main St., Salinas
There’s an entire dog menu at this Oldtown mainstay, and it’s called the dog house. The jumbo rodeo dog can be topped with everything from blue cheese crumbles and sport peppers to chorizo, chili, fried egg or portobello mushrooms (at $1 per topping, you could easily craft a $20 dog). Served with a choice of fries, onion rings, coleslaw, fruit or salad, it’s a big plate and worth the cost.
FOSTERS FREEZE, 815 S. Main St., Salinas
The Salinas outpost of this California chain is owned by the Abbott family (and has been for a whopping 75 years) and offers a serviceable dog (or corn dog) at a great price point, making it the ideal place to take the kids after a long morning of running errands or hitting the youth sports circuit. Go for chili and cheese toppings, with a sprinkle of onions. The Abbotts are due to open a second location in North Salinas this year, and it will be the first new Fosters built from the ground up to open in 30 years.
PIG WIZARD, 32 Cannery Row, Suite. G, Monterey
There are so many varieties of sausage here, from orange poppy chicken to sweet Morrocan lamb, that choosing can be difficult. But your best bet is to grab a package of Merguez or Sicilian, take it home and fire up the grill: Try the Merguez with caramelized onions and harissa on a toasted baguette. For the Sicilian, sautee a bunch of sweet peppers and onions, get a nice crust on the meat and throw it on a crusty sandwich roll, no spread required.