I think it all started one night with too many gin and tonics and a long road to redemption. We were starving, in good student fashion, when the startling fact emerged: Ana had never been to Top Dog. The outpost of Berkeley absurdism, the iconoclastic example of free market enterprise catering to the marijuana-hazed students, this was the ultimate example of drunk food and Berkeley entertainment, the slightly bizarre Libertarian political stickers and print-outs serving as the main decor.
I’m not sure this all happened in this fashion, but in one compilation or another, we stomped up to Telegraph and Durant and ordered a Top Dog. A simple hot dog really, but grilled to perfection, placed on a very large bun and wrapped in paper. For indulgence, there was the all-you-can-conquer combination of sauerkraut, raw onions, ketchup, relish, and 3 varying degrees of spicy mustard.
[A side note: I do recommend that this condiment bar be used in moderation. See the time I almost died choking from a near fatal combination of raw onions and Russian mustard.]
The essence of simplicity, it is surprisingly difficult to remaster, I am finding as Los Angeles has decided to re-invent the hot dog. Starting with Wurstkuchen a few years ago, hot dogs have become the new outlet for master chefs to relive Americana. While I have yet to visit Wurstkuchen and try one of their endless combinations of German sausage and beer, I have ventured to the various hot dog establishments in Pasadena, with another devotee of Top Dog.
The first stop was Slaw Dogs, hidden in a strangely decorated strip mall, reminding me of the newer architecture of Cairo, tucked among a cupcake bakery (another fade yet to die), a rug emporium, and a Mexican restaurant. Their specialties are the strange combinations the chef creates—I had a hot dog with picked onions, kumquat chutney, jalapenos, and whatever else was hidden within. While tasty, the price was a bit steep—my dog and onion rings were around $11.
Top Dog rating: It was 3 times more expensive and a big greasier. Novel, but I felt like their jazzed up product might be overcompensating for the not as interesting hot dog and bun.
Attitude: exact opposite from Top Dog—everyone was too polite for political propaganda and there was no surly guy at the counter upset that your antics have interrupted whatever he was watching on the tv above the grill.
With a larger sign and easier parking, the Dog Haus touts that what makes their dog different is their bun and unusual, but accessible, combos. I got a hot dog slathered with chili and coleslaw, adding a bit of mustard on top. The bun, made from a King’s Hawaiian role, a Southern Californian bakery known for their sweet, yeasty bread, it held together remarkable for a chili dog. Initially, I was put off by the idea of the sweet bread, but it was strangely complimentary. For two hot dog specials and onion rings, the total came to around $16.
Top Dog rating: Still more expensive. But the meal was immense, so two Top Dog dogs would equal one here with the fixings.
Attitude: not quite the everyone else can go f-themselves Libertarian of Top Dog, but a place that believes in their product. And their chili was better than Top Dog’s.