I DON'T FEEL GOOD. For this roundup of Portland's best hot dogs, I've eaten several pounds of processed meat in far too short a time span. But this is AMERICA and it is Independence Day and it is my God- and AK-47-given right to do this to myself—and for you, my dear patriotic readers.
NOTE: I only sampled hot dogs—because when you start allowing the likes of bratwurst and Polish sausage to immigrate into hot dog roundups, things get un-American... fast. (Yes, frankfurters are hot dogs too, I promise.) For comparison's sake, each dog was consumed with yellow mustard, sauerkraut, and onions—unless there was a Chicago dog on the menu. Nothing will stop me from enjoying a salty meat tube with relish, hot peppers, tomatoes, celery salt, and yellow mustard. Proper ones also have cucumber. I've learned a few things along the way: I'm a sucker for a grilled, not boiled, dog. Artisanal buns and hot dogs don't mix. It's really hard to write about hot dogs without making dick jokes. And also, it's a hot dog: They're not rocket science, so even the "worst" on this list isn't half bad.
OTTO'S SAUSAGE KITCHEN
(4138 SE Woodstock)
AHHHH, A WIENER I want to double fist. Seriously. Unlike a burger, you can eat two dogs in one sitting and not look like a complete fatty mutant... right? Guys? Anyway, it's no surprise Otto's old-fashioned wiener has been recognized on national best hot dog lists: It has everything going for it. Made in house, it's grilled outside daily, rain or shine. Make your way through the ever-present, but briskly moving line, hold out a bun for the grill man, pay your $3, and wrap your mouth around a wiener where you can actually taste some herbs along with the salt—and it's perfectly hit with grill smoke. Buy some more to barbecue at home.
(4611 SE Hawthorne)
OPEN FOR more than 10 years now, Zach's Shack is an institution, and yet it does more than any other local purveyor of fine nitrated meat to push the envelope and give the hot dog a burger-like topping treatment. The Chicago dog may come sans cucumber, but they've got their topping-to-meat-to-bun ratio dialed in. No flying peppers or dropped tomatoes here: The soft bun captured it all and held it in a glutinous embrace. A Wings Dog special ($4.50) blew my wing-loving mind, adding blue cheese, sour cream, Secret Aardvark, celery salt, and—somehow—freaking carrot on top... and it all worked.
(10966 SE McLoughlin, Milwaukie)
THIS ONE-MAN operation next to a gas station in Milwaukie is home to the "ribeye steak on a bun." It is quite tasty, but don't neglect the Jumbo Dog ($4), a massive beef tube that owner Dave Majer sliced partway through in order to incorporate sautéed onions, mustard, and kraut. Then, as he put it, he "chars the heck out of it." I'm unbelievably sick of hot dogs, and yet I still want to go back and eat another. Best part? Steak Shack serves regular old Kirkland Signature dogs from Costco. Rock on.
(107 SE Washington & 1632 NW Thurman)
YES. It's eight freaking dollars once you add sauerkraut, which is, of course, made in house. The price and treatment (served with a steak knife—huh?!—and on a soft, artisanal bun) goes against the low-down nature of a dog... but I don't care. It's the fanciest frank in town and worth every penny. Available at lunch and brunch only, at both locations.
(2845 E Burnside)
I COULD NOT BE MORE OBSESSED with the fact that this stand with two small tables and a drive-thru stays constantly busy—despite the fact you can't swing your wiener without hitting some smug Whole Foods shopper. A bearded dude pulled my big-ass quarter-pound beef frank ($5.50) out of a hot water bath, slapped it with whole Chicago peppers, and handed it to me wrapped in foil with a Mexican Coke. (Shhh! There are vegan sausages on the menu, too. Dammit.)
DOGS AND FRIES
(SW Park & Harrison)
THE HUMBLE DOG—a Hebrew National with the basics ($2 for a small/$4 for a large)—is good, which means Dogs and Fries more than earns its spot on this list, just on those merits alone. But like Zach's Shack, they do good things with interesting toppings, and I had more fun biting into the California Dog ($5 small/$7 large), with arugula, avocado, onion, tomato, and chipotle mayo. Oh, and they've got chicken, turkey, and veggie options to keep the wusses happy.
(4057 N Mississippi)
INTERURBAN does a "dog of the day," which on my visit—thanks to a construction project upstairs—was actually a grilled frank with the standard toppings. At happy hour, $7 was a lot to ask of a dish that arrived hardly charred, in a bun far too large for the circumference of the wiener. Bonus points for being able to enjoy a cocktail on the side.
Nick's Famous Coney Island
(3746 SE Hawthorne)
AN OLD-PORTLAND institution, Nick's opened in 1932. The smoked eight-inch frank done Chicago style ($5.50) comes out a bit on the gray side and slightly lackluster. If you take your processed meats seriously, this is a place you must pay homage to—but take your time getting there.
(3423 SE Belmont)
A NEWCOMER food cart, started by a couple of veterans who (probably misguidedly) decided Portland was short on hot dog options. An all-beef Zenner's dog ($4) was serviceable, if not heated thoroughly. The kraut, purchased from a restaurant supply company, was strangely delicious. A $5 special is a steal, featuring the dog, chips, and a drink.
(for locations visit costco.com)
IT'S $1.50—and that's with the soda. Your dad bought you one every time you went to Costco to keep your piehole full while he perused discount TVs. You're an American... so shut up and eat it.
Editor's note: Food cart Bro-Dogs came highly recommended and is beloved by dog fans. It was closed due to mechanical failure during my trial run period.