hot dogs with mustard and ketchup

Along with burgers, ice cream, and barbecue, hot dogs are iconic American comfort food that shines in the summer months. Whether savored at a ballpark, on a picnic blanket, or on a sidewalk by a street cart, it’s a savory staple that never goes out of style, no matter how you prepare or garnish it. The summer is an especially apt time to feast on franks. While family cookouts are all well and good, if you’d rather avoid common mistakes, one surefire way to satisfy your hot dog cravings is by tasting a high-quality version from a seasoned pro.

Across the country, hot dogs come in a kaleidoscope of styles, buns, and toppings. Regional styles abound in cities like Detroit, Tucson, and Seattle, but classic wieners are in every corner of the United States. You can find hot dogs prepared with different techniques and heaped with everything from peanut butter and jelly to fried eggs, collard greens, and Fruity Pebbles cereal. Old-school hot dog spots in cities like Chicago and New York are deservedly timeworn, but you can also amp up the creativity and try something boldly new. Without further ado, here are the best hot dogs in America.

The 3 A.M. Dog at Vinsetta Garage in Detroit

hot dogs with crispy onions

Detroit ranks high on the list of quintessential hot dog cities alongside New York City and Chicago. Motor City is hallowed ground for its Coney hot dogs, a singular style of sausage that combines traditional Greek ingredients with the American pastime — in this case, heady beef chili with raw onions and a drizzle of yellow mustard. The ritual lives on at hot dog temples like Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island. However, Detroit is a city that values tradition and innovation — the latter of which you can taste at Vinsetta Garage.

A fitting restaurant for a city known for its car culture, Vinsetta Garage is a modern diner in a retrofitted garage, serving up novel takes on the kind of classic American fare. Today, these include unique creations like The 3 A.M. Dog, a hot dog that feels worlds away from Coney Island recipes with its medley of housemade bacon jam, Sriracha mayo, fresh chives, spicy fried onions, and a sunny fried cage-free egg. The molten yolk oozes out over the plump beef sausage, nestled in a fluffy bun.

Smoked Chicken Hot Dog at Pasture in Portland, Oregon

smoked chicken sausage with remoulade

Any butcher shop doubling as a meaty sandwich counter bodes well for its sausage offerings. Indeed, Pasture is a fast-casual place that takes classic American sandwiches and elevates them with the highest quality, locally sourced ingredients — many of which arrive as whole animals and are butchered in-house. Plenty of deli-style favorites are available, including Reubens and mortadella, but don’t overlook the humble hot dog.

Customers can mosey right up to the deli case and take their pick of sausage: pork, beef, and chicken are all up for grabs, to be grilled and tucked inside buns with a generous splash of mustard and zingy remoulade. The chicken sausage is fantastic, imbued with a bit of smoke and cooked until just slightly charred and crisp. Served with a smear of mustard, remoulade, and some snipped scallions, the spotlight is on the quality of the hot dog itself, in all its plump, smoky glory. It typically comes in a pillowy bun, but you can customize it by ordering it on a thick slice of rye bread for an added boost of earthy flavor.

Rubble Rage at The Dog House in Pensacola

hot dog with fruity pebbles

Hot dogs can skew traditional or regional, but they can also veer wildly into whimsy. Some inventive restaurants use sausages as a blank canvas for audacious invention. Such is the case at The Dog House, a quirky sausage-focused restaurant in downtown Pensacola. They use Nathan’s Famous all-beef hot dogs, Kobe beef hot dogs, and meat-free Beyond hot dogs for a slew of zany temptations — some of which are so wild and unexpected that you must taste them.

In addition to po’ boys, smash burgers, and sandwiches, much of the menu features customizable hot dog creations and epic menu items that sound too crazy to be true. You can order a more traditional Chicago-style dog or the tame Usual Dog (with chili, cheddar cheese sauce, and onions). Or, you can throw caution to the wind and get the Rubble Rage, a one-of-a-kind mix of mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, chili, Sriracha, sour cream, and most shocking of all, a smattering of Fruity Pebbles cereal. It all sounds quite wonky, but the contrast of flavors and textures is an unusual hit, blending elements of sweet, spicy, tangy, and sour, all juxtaposed by creaminess and crunchiness. A hot dog traditionalist might gasp, but this is one singular invention that tastes much better than it sounds.

Slaw Dog at Hot Dog Pete’s in Atlanta

hot dog with collard green coleslaw

Billing itself as a "new take on an American classic," as well as a celebration of flavor, history, and people, Hot Dog Pete’s is an Atlanta fixture that takes its hot dog history seriously while modernizing and innovating along the way. The casual, colorful eatery is the vision of Nick Pihakis, who partnered with Pete Graphos, the founder of historic Sneaky Pete’s Hot Dogs in Birmingham, Alabama. Together, they created an Atlanta original that combines old-school and contemporary.

That new-school ethos is evident in Hot Dog Pete’s emphasis on top-tier ingredients, sourced from local purveyors and hot dogs custom blended by iconic Fritz’s Smoked Meats and Superior Sausage in Kansas City. Customers can choose their hot dog base — cheddar wurst, jalapeño cheddar wurst, bratwurst, chicken and apple sausage, or plant-based Beyond sausage — and then pick from an array of topping options. A highlight is the Slaw Dog, which updates the standard coleslaw situation with an earthy collard green coleslaw, providing more textural chew than typical cabbage slivers, along with a splash of mustard and chili.

Sonoran Hot Dog at Ruiz Hot Dogs in Tucson

sonoran-style bacon-wrapped hot dog

Among the many regional hot dog variations, one style that stands out is the Sonoran hot dog. This Southwest tradition (especially in Arizona) is known for its bacon-wrapped hot dog and colorful toppings like chopped tomatoes, beans, yellow mustard, mayo, and avocado puree, per Visit Phoenix. Originally from the Mexican state of Sonora, the hot dog has migrated into cities like Phoenix and Tucson, where it’s flourished with new styles, toppings, and techniques. One prime example is the Sonoran hot dog at the frills-free Ruiz Hot Dogs in Tucson (via Tripadvisor).

Of the endless varieties of Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson, the one served at Ruiz Hot Dogs, a permanently parked food truck in a lot on the near-south side of downtown, is notably epic. The bread, a thick Mexican bolillo bun akin to New England-style lobster rolls, is buttered and griddled with a unique technique that adds richness to a crispy bacon-wrapped hot dog. The hot dog features layers of raw and fried onions, beans, finely chopped tomatoes, drizzles of mustard and mayo, salsa, and a side of blistered peppers for added smokiness. Meatier and smokier than most regional hot dogs, the bacon-wrapped beauty is mellowed with mustard and mayo, while tomatoes add some cooling sweetness.

Smoky PB and J at Rain City Hot Dogs in Seattle

hot dog with peanut butter

Chicago-style hot dogs come covered with fixings from the garden. In Detroit, they’re all about chili and onions. However, in Seattle, it comes down to one unexpected ingredient: cream cheese. Singular to Seattle, cream cheese-slathered hot dogs became a thing when Hadley Long combined his love for bagels with his passion for hot dogs, pairing the latter with cream cheese, per Dirty Dog Hot Dogs. Nowadays, you can find hot dogs with various types of cream cheese — and plenty of other toppings — throughout the Emerald City. One place that really kicks things up a notch is Rain City Hot Dogs.

A modest-looking hot dog cart permanently parked in a Lowe’s parking lot, Rain City Hot Dogs offers the classic Seattle Dog (an all-beef hot dog with cream cheese and grilled onions on a toasted bun), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. One daring cream cheese alternative is the Smoky PB and J, a grilled hot dog that features cream cheese with peanut butter, roasted raspberry jam, and crispy strips of bacon. It’s a decadent mix of sweet, smoky, creamy, and salty stuffed inside a warm, toasty bun. The menu item combines two of the most nostalgic American comfort foods — hot dogs and PB&Js — for the ultimate in envelope-pushing indulgence. A quarter-pound all-beef hot dog is the go-to, but customers can also swap in a spicy Louisiana hot link or a veggie dog.

Sooo Cali at Dog Haus in Los Angeles

hot dog in Hawaiian roll

Los Angeles differentiates itself from sausage slingers like Chicago and New York with whimsical and inventive restaurants like Dog Haus. This local mini-chain offers a fresh take on hot dog traditions with sandwiches that elevate every aspect of the form, from the bun to the garnishes.

Dog Haus uses hormone- and antibiotic-free all-beef hot dogs for its menu items. They come served in sweet, oversized King’s Hawaiian rolls, which have an almost French toast-like texture that contrasts nicely with the snap of the sausages and the crisp toppings. Of all the dazzling options here, the Sooo Cali is worth writing home about. It features a grilled jumbo sausage in a decadently doughy roll with wild arugula, fresh avocado, bright tomato slices, crispy onions, and a generous drizzle of spicy basil aïoli. Verdant and green, the herbs and vegetables help it feel oddly fresh and light, even though it’s filled with beef and the size of a foot-long sub.

Hoyt Dog at Mile End Deli in Brooklyn

hot dog with sauerkraut

Perhaps no city in America is as synonymous with hot dog culture as New York City. Whether in restaurants or on street corners, hot dogs are as ubiquitous as tourists in this food-loving metropolis. What makes hot dogs here so unique and omnipresent has a lot to do with the simplicity of it all. The classic hot dogs are cooked in boiling water and served fresh with toppings like brown mustard, sauerkraut, and sweet-onion relish. Despite the simplicity, many hot dogs receive upgrades to new levels, like at Mile End Deli, where the sole hot dog on the menu reigns supreme.

The modern Brooklyn deli specializes in elevated comfort food, taking familiar flavors and dishes and cooking them with care, quality, and the best ingredients available. It’s all about cooking inspired by family recipes and Montreal-style delis (Mile End gets its name from Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood), known for their smoked meats, poutine, and housemade hot dogs. Hence, it’s safe to expect the Hoyt Dog to be superb — an all-beef hot dog topped with zesty relish and sauerkraut in a sweet, buttery challah roll. Be on the lookout for periodic specials that Mile End occasionally rolls out, like a Seattle-inspired hot dog with cream cheese, caramelized onions, and cucumbers.

Snappy Dog at Dat Dog in New Orleans

alligator hot dog with cheese

In a city known for meaty sandwiches like po’ boys and muffulettas, it takes a special hot dog to stand out from the crows. However, with some of the most creative hot dogs in the country, this is exactly what New Orleans’ Dat Dog does. With a few locations throughout the city, the eccentric mini-chain specializes in one-of-a-kind novelties — like the burger dog, made with a burger patty shaped into a sausage — and wild game hot dogs, including a few that lean into its Louisiana roots with daring ingredients.

For the ultimate New Orleans experience, get the Snappy Dog, an alligator sausage that blends a bit of the bayou with flavors from the Southwest. Each snappy hot dog comes layered with cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, chipotle mayonnaise, and barbecue sauce in a traditional, slightly sweet hot dog bun. At once smoky, earthy, and mildly spicy, it’s a saucy original that stands out among New Orleans’ culinary traditions. As a bonus, proceeds from the Snappy Dog go to Son of a Saint. The organization provides mentorship, education, recreation, and emotional support for young boys without fathers in the New Orleans area.

Junkyard Dog at Spike’s Junkyard Dogs in Warwick and Allston, Rhode Island

hot dog with mustard and pickles

As small as the state is, it can be easy to overlook that Rhode Island is home to its own regional hot dog style. Here, hot wieners are a rite of passage traditionally made with steamed buns called "wienies," mustard, meat sauce, onions, and celery salt (via Providence Monthly). Old-school haunts like Baba’s Original New York System exemplify this style. However, Rhode Island is also home to innovators and game-changers, unafraid to color outside the lines in terms of toppings, sauces, and buns. Case in point: Spike’s Junkyard Dogs.

With locations in Warwick and Allston, the vibrant restaurant offers inventive takes on traditional American comfort foods like hot dogs, burgers, and fried chicken. In a hot dog-happy state like Rhode Island, emphasis is on the former, but don’t expect to find any traditional hot wieners here. Instead, Spike’s Junkyard Dogs offers hulking hot dogs in hearty rolls with toppings from the condiment bar (where everything from ranch dressing to teriyaki sauce is fair game), along with specialty Spike’s Dogs. The namesake Junkyard Dog comes with a winning combination of grainy mustard, tomatoes, pickle slices, chopped scallions, and hot pepper rings for a bit of heat.

Bronzeville Bourbon Hot Dog at The Hot Dog Box in Chicago

steak dogs with bourbon barbecue sauce

Hot dogs are part of the culinary culture in a meat-loving city like Chicago. Chicago-style hot dogs are some of the most storied dogs around. They traditionally come with yellow mustard, celery salt, tomatoes, onions, sport peppers, and neon-green relish. New and old hot dog joints are a dime a dozen around here, but one father-daughter duo manages to carve out their unique niche at The Hot Dog Box.

What started as a pandemic-induced pivot for Bobby and Brooklyn Morelli has blossomed into a full-blown hot dog restaurant in Portage Park. Classic Chicago-style hot dogs are on the menu, but what makes The Hot Dog Box a Chicago original is the craftier original creations that prove there’s more room for sausages beyond the garden standards. The Bronzeville Bourbon Hot Dog is a menu standout, which tops a decadent steak dog with bourbon barbecue sauce, a fresh cabbage and carrot medley, and hickory-smoked bacon. As if all that weren’t indulgent enough, it’s served in a chewy and rich pretzel bun.

Wild Boar Dog at Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs in Denver

wild game sausage with salsa

In Denver, the godfather of encased meats is Jim Pittenger, an adventurous eater who takes his love for wild game into the hot dog realm with one of the wackiest menus in the nation. A fixture in the local hot dog scene, Biker Jim slings exotic sausages from food carts, a concession stand at Rockies Stadium, and his own brick-and-mortar restaurant, Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs, the home base for any number of gourmet hot dogs with one-of-a-kind toppings.

Beef hot dogs, bratwursts, and Louisiana-style red hots are all available for more familiar flavors. However, the bread and butter at Biker Jim’s are the gourmet wild game options, which include ostrich, elk, and rattlesnake, along with extravagant toppings, garnishes, and sauces, like caramelized apples, mustard cream sauce, and wasabi aïoli. Guests can choose their sausage base and topping combo, so the sky’s the limit. For something on the wild side that isn’t too intimidating, the wild boar fits the bill with its porky flavor and texture, sweetened with apricots and cranberries. To double down on the porkiness and add a little heat, opt for the El Diablo topping, which includes tomatillo green chili salsa, Sriracha lime mayo, and smoked bacon bits.

Ditty Dog at DittyDog in Austin

grilled hot dog with cream cheese

What started as a modest hot dog cart in Houston called JonJon’s Hot Dog has now morphed, renamed, and re-branded as a food cart called DittyDog in Austin. Located right downtown, conveniently surrounded by a sea of late-night bars, this place marches to the beat of its own drum, eschewing regional styles and typical toppings for something distinct.

To start, customers choose from either an all-beef hot dog, a veggie dog, or a plump pork bratwurst. The large sausages are split in the middle and grilled, ensuring a crisp snap and char with each bite. Rather than offer a handful of menu options or customizable garnishes, all hot dogs come fully loaded in a toasted bun with cream cheese, honey-mayo, caramelized onions, Asian ketchup, chipotle mustard, Sriracha, and herbaceous green sauce. It sounds like a lot, but the mishmash hits all the right notes with elements of sweet, creamy, crunchy, spicy, smoky, and zesty. There’s more than enough flavor to stand up to the hulking hot dog.