For whatever reason, the creators of Sonic the Hedgehog decided his favorite food of all time would be chili dogs. He seemed to subsist on nothing but the stuff, which I have to blame for my young self’s constant craving for hot dogs. Strangely, watching Popeye eat spinach didn’t have quite the same effect.
I’d be lying if I said that constant craving ever subsided. Even writing this now, I’m thinking about the magical combination of fluffy bun, savory meat and whatever toppings my heart desires. I know I’m not the only one, because hot dog joints abound in West Michigan.
It’s a bit odd — how often do we decide to make a meal of, as Ilana Glazer in Broad City puts it, “a bunch of hot dogs?” I attribute the affordable feast’s success to two factors. First: When the craving hits, you’re going to get that hot dog. There’s nothing stopping you. Second: No matter where you are or what you’re doing, a hot dog is the perfect quick fix for hunger. You can typically get in, eat and get out in 15 minutes.
That all being said, not everyone knows where to head for the best dogs around. It’s hard to pick, but here are a few spots where you can’t go wrong. One note: Many places on this list offer veggie/vegan dogs as well.
Blue Dog Tavern
638 Stocking Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
If you love dogs of all kinds, Blue Dog is the place to be. The TV is often looping pictures of furry friends, while you knock back some craft beer and wait for your own dogs to come out. These are no ordinary hot dogs, either — Blue Dogs are just a little bit heartier, especially the Butch, which is wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and topped with stone ground mustard and onions. They’re hot dogs that make you feel like you’re eating a real meal, and with some style at that. It doesn’t hurt to pair them with one of the tavern’s many loaded tots.
Ray Ray’s Italian Beef & Sausage
1715 Miller Rd., Kalamazoo
Let’s just get this out of the way: We’re talking hot dogs here, and sausage is a whole different beast, in a very literal sense. As it turns out, Ray Ray does both excellently, specializing in the Chicago style. What does that mean? No ketchup, for one thing (and good riddance). Yellow mustard, onions, relish, pickle slices, tomato, sport peppers, cucumber and celery salt are the stars here — “dragged through the garden,” as they say. See, eating hot dogs can be healthy! Chicago style also means the little diner is decked out in Cubs and Bulls paraphernalia, if that’s your groove.
The Dog Pit
132 Monroe Center Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
I can’t help but feel The Dog Pit doesn’t always get its due. Having a shop that serves nothing but hot dogs and sides smack dab in the heart of downtown is bold and brilliant. The Dog Pit is as straightforward as it gets — you want a quality hot dog and you want it immediately. They deliver on both fronts. Plus, the meat options and toppings are everything you could ever ask for.
701 Wealthy St., Grand Rapids
Jonny B’z greatest gift to us all is that it’s once again open until 3 a.m. on weekends. There’s no better way to head off a hangover than to stay up a little later, drink plenty of water and mow down a fourth meal. While it has plenty of other offerings, Jonny B’z founded its reputation on next-level hot dogs, cooked on a grill and served in a toasted bun. It’s that exact preparation that adds a complexity of textures missing from the usual boiled dog in a day-old bun presentation. The toppings are classic, just like Jonny’s atmosphere and attitude.
3916 W. River Dr. NE, Comstock Park
Mad Dogz embraces the spirit of the hot dog and then some, serving up just about every topping under the sun. You want bacon, French’s fried onions, lettuce, ranch dressing, sour cream and tomato? Of course — that’s the Yo-Yo. How about chili, corn chips, pickle and peanut butter? Sure thing, one Goofy coming right up! Of course, this isn’t some gimmick. The all-beef hot dogs are quality too, locally made and served with friendliness.
G&L Chili Dogs
When you have four locations in one city, you know you’re doing something right. With roots — including a secret Greek chili recipe — going back nearly 100 years, G&L has proved itself time and time again. It’s easy to see why. For one thing, the chili sauce is so special, it’s sold by the pound. And the hot dogs are cheap as all get out, averaging $2.50 each. Not to mention the bounty of toppings available, from sauerkraut to black olives and bacon. Basically: If it ain’t broke, eat it.