New York City is famous for many things. The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State & Chrysler Buildings, yellow taxi cabs, the Brooklyn Bridge and of course, hot dogs. Until quite recently you could get a red-hot wiener on most street corners for a dollar. They were slim in size with minimal toppings but for a buck, one could hardly complain. Progress and inflation marches on and these days, it’s pretty hard to find a $1 hot dog on the streets of NYC, though there are still a few vendors around where you can get them at this bargain basement price.
The next best thing is to head to one of the hot dog franchises. Probably the most well known is Nathan’s Famous from Coney Island and now also dotted around NYC. Another name that’s been around for over 80 years is Papaya King. A venue that started out selling papaya juice in the 1930’s but is now also known for its keenly priced hot dog deals. Its all beef, natural casing hotdogs are so tasty that Seinfeld’s Kramer left the movie ticket queue so he could enjoy one of their delicious doggies. ‘The best hot dog in New York’ according to Julia Child in 1990.
To Ketchup Or Not To Ketchup?
For $3 you can get a hot dog loaded with as many toppings as you like including onions, sauerkraut, peppers relish and more. Just don’t ask for ketchup! The National Hotdog & Sausage Council (seriously) says the use of ketchup on your hotdog after the age of 18 is simply unacceptable. Read the full set of rules of hotdog etiquette: here. Even Dirty Harry says never put ketchup on a hotdog. Ketchup is considered a culinary sin by many hotdog connoisseurs (though I enjoy it in moderation on my dog) but you can get around this by ordering New York Onions which are sweet onions cooked in a tomato based gravy. Mustard is a must and you are welcome to add your own from the giant mustard dispenser. Kramer added too much and dropped a splodge onto Elaine’s jacket in the shadows of the cinema. Ketchup is also available in the dispenser, for Philistines.
One King, Many Pretenders
Papaya King has spawned a number of imitators including Gray’s Papaya and Papaya Dog. In 1976 Nathan’s set up right beside Papaya King and got into a price cutting war. Papaya King sold its hot dogs for a quarter, 10c less than Nathan’s and reigned supreme in kitchen stadium. A few months later, Nathan’s left that location. After a number of attempts to franchise and open multiple store fronts, there are still only two Papaya King locations. The original in the Upper East Side and a second ‘concept store’ in the East Village in St Mark’s Place. They also have a food truck that pops up here and there. It’s a fun place to visit with amusing signs and ephemera from its 80+ year history covering the walls. The staff are friendly and happy to help Papaya King novices. I just, and only just, beat the lunch time rush. As I sat on the simple bench seating and ate my dog with New York Onions and mustard, the queue grew and grew and started to head out the door. A sure sign that the hotdogs are tasty and the locals know a good deal when they see one.
You can take a mini tour of Papaya King by watching this clip of Izzy’s visit for a birthday hotdog in Crossing Delancey St.
3 St Marks Place
New York, NY