Happy National Hot Dog Day!

Since it’s National Hot Dog Day I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite hot doggeries around the country. One of my favorite historic hot dog restaurants, and tops in the country for original vintage decor, George’s Coney Island in Worcester, Mass, was one of my first blog posts a few years back.


George's sign


The hot dog was brought over to the U.S. from European immigrants, but its European origins are disputed. Sausage dates back to the 9th century BC (mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey), while the type of sausage used for hot dogs is similar to Weinerwurst or Vienna Sausage, which originated in Austria. However, the city of Frankfurt, Germany, claims it invented the frankfurter or “dachsund sausage” in 1497. Yet another claim is that a butcher in Coburg, Germany, invented the hot dog sausage in the 1600s and brought it to Frankfurt.




In any case the American hot dog on a roll is what we are concerned with here, which was reportedly already a German custom to eat sausage on a roll. It is a fact that hot dogs were first sold in New York City, either by a German immigrant from a cart in the Bowery in the 1860s or by Charles Feltman, a German butcher who opened the first Coney Island hot dog stand in 1871 (his employee, Nathan Handwerker, started Nathan’s in 1916). In 1893 hot dogs became popular at baseball parks and sold like hot cakes (or rather like hot dogs) at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago (sold by a pair of Jewish immigrants from Vienna who later founded Vienna Beef, Chicago’s most popular hot dog manufacturer). Also in 1893 the oldest mention of the term “hot dog” on record occurred in a Knoxville newspaper. (For more hot dog history visit the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s web site, where I sourced this info).


photo by The Jab, 2003

Superdawg, Chicago – photo by The Jab, 2003


Which city has the best hot dogs: New York or Chicago? People will argue this forever, but based on my experience Chicago wins hands down for best hot dogs in the country. Then there are the arguments within Chicago about who has the best hot dogs. We won’t go there because there are so many different types of hot dogs in Chicago (likewise, for pizza). There’s the classic Chicago dog “dragged through the garden” that is a steamed all-beef frankfurter on a poppy-seed roll with sliced tomato, raw chopped white onions, yellow mustard, bright green sweet relish, pickled sport peppers, celery salt, and a pickle spear (but never ketchup), reportedly invented at Fluky’s in 1929 (sadly, the only Fluky’s left is at a Wal-Mart in Niles, IL). Then there’s the char-grilled “char-dog”, which is terrific at Weiner’s Circle, where they only serve hot dogs cooked that way. And until it closes this October, the always busy Hot Doug’s serves dozens of hot dog specialties.


photo by The Jab, 2003

photo by The Jab, 2003

My favorite hot dog stand in Chicago is Superdawg. My Chicago friends may not agree, and I admit the hot dogs at Weiner Circle and Gene and Jude’s are great also (Wolfy’s is another one that comes out on top in polls), but I love the all-original drive up with car hops that is SUPERDAWG! Opened in 1948 by Maurie and Flaurie Berman, who have been represented on the roof of the restaurant as caveman and girl “dogs” since the beginning, it hasn’t changed much and, amazingly, it is still owned by the Berman’s, who run it with their children. They still have the same ordering system as in 1948: you drive in to the parking lot, order from your car into a mic/speaker, and your meal is brought to you on a tray in a very cute vintage looking box, which you will want to take home as a souvenir (mine still sits in my kitchen). This is one of the last restaurants in America that still has car hop service.


Superdawg with fries - photo by The Jab, 2007

Superdawg with fries – photo by The Jab, 2007


In addition to the Superdawg™, which is a spicy dog that comes fully dressed and includes a pickled green tomato wedge, they also offer a Whoopskidawg®, which is a Polish-type sausage on a roll with special sauce, grilled onions, and pickle, and several other sandwiches. Their crinkle-cut super fries are excellent.


photo by The Jab, 2003

photo by The Jab, 2003


In New York City your best sources for hot dogs are the many hot dog carts around the city and the bargain Papaya-drink-and-two-hot-dogs stands which started in 1932 when Papaya King opened on the upper East Side of Manhattan (still on the same street corner of 86th St and 3rd Ave, and in several other locations in NYC). Although it originally only sold fruit drinks it started serving hot dogs because the neighborhood was predominantly German-American at the time. In the 1970s and 1980s Gray’s Papaya and Papaya Dog copied the concept, but Gray’s is down to only one location. Which is the best? I’ll let you be the judge as I’ve only been to the original Papaya King.


photo by The Jab, 2005

photo by The Jab, 2005


If you’re in Georgia, the town of Macon is worth a detour for Nu-Way Weiners, open since 1916 (their sign was misspelled in 1937 and they kept it that way to this day) and still in the same location (plus several other locations). Their specialty is chili dogs, which are made with their special homemade chili sauce (no beans, just the way I like a chili dog).


photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr

photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr


My favorite hot dog stand in greater Los Angeles closed and was demolished in 2011. Papoo’s Hot Dog Show (yes, it was more than just a stand, it was a SHOW!) opened in 1949 in Burbank, across the street from Bob’s Big Boy designed by Wayne McAllister in the Googie style in the same year (and still open).



photo by Terry Guy on Flickr


You can see Papoo’s in the original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).




Inside Papoo's - photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr

Inside Papoo’s – photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr


Lastly, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, I’ve been disappointed by most of the hot dogs I’ve had (they are usually lukewarm, not hot). My favorite was the old Kasper’s on Telegraph Ave at Shattuck Ave, which closed “for remodeling” way back in 2002 and never re-opened. Kasper’s was started by Kasper Koojoolian, from Armenia, in 1930 at the corner of Fruitvale Ave and MacArthur Blvd (old US 50). Partners invested and It expanded into other locations in the 1940s, but in 1955 Kasper’s brother Paul split off, continuing as Kasper’s, while the rest of the partners started a chain of hot dog restaurants called Casper’s. Today there is still a Kasper’s on MacArthur Blvd (not in the same location as the original), in addition to others in Castro Valley, Hayward, and Pleasanton.


Kasper's, MacArthur Blvd., Oakland - photo by The Jab, 2013

Kasper’s, MacArthur Blvd., Oakland – photo by The Jab, 2013


Casper’s continues with 8 Bay Area locations, and most have the original 1960s modern look in bright oranges and browns. Since 1989 the company has made its own frankfurters under the Spar Sausage name. I like the hot dogs at both Kasper’s and Casper’s, but Casper’s has the edge for taste and for decor.


photo by The Jab

Casper’s, Telegraph Ave., Oakland – photo by The Jab, 2013


I leave you, dear readers, with this photo I took on the road in Georgia in 2005, and a video of an amazing neon sign at Taylor Brothers Hot Dogs in Visalia, CA (where I need to go!). Please check the linked web sites for location, addresses, and open hours of the above establishments.


photo by The Jab, 2005

photo by The Jab, 2005




San Francisco’s Historic Grills

Enough of the downer posts! We are primarily here to celebrate existing restaurants, not to mourn lost ones (or closing ones).

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post for my friends at Herb Lester and Associates, a small London company that makes wonderful, compact fold-out map guides of cities around the world. Every one is a work of art and the writing is superb. All of the maps are highly recommended, and they also sell some fine travel accessories. You can buy some of them locally (at Flight 001 stores) or them order direct (usually a less expensive option when buying multiple maps – they even sell bundled sets of maps on the web site). The post I wrote for them was about San Francisco’s three classic grills. What is a grill, anyway? I am pretty sure it is a restaurant where meat or fish is grilled over charcoal (sometimes also called char-broiling). But in this case, I picked these restaurants because they all are called grills, not necessarily because they all cook the food on a charcoal grill (many places, like all the Joe’s in the Bay Area, cook this way but are not called grills). Perhaps the grill became popular in San Francisco in the 1940s when the Lazzari Fuel Company of San Francisco started importing mesquite charcoal for cooking. Anyway, here’s the post (with some changes and more photos).


Tadich Grill

Tadich Grill promotes itself as San Francisco’s oldest continuously running restaurant, which is a stretch if you look at its convoluted history. Moving back in time, the present location dates back to 1967, when it relocated from 545 Clay Street because Wells Fargo Bank, owners of the building, decided to redevelop the site. John Tadich, an immigrant from Croatia, originally opened the Clay Street restaurant as Tadich Grill, the Original Cold Day Restaurant, in 1912. He sold it to the current owners, the Buich family, in 1929.


photo by The Jab, 2012

photo by The Jab, 2012


Before John Tadich (from Croatia) opened Tadich Grill (“the Original Cold Day Restaurant”) he owned a different restaurant that was named the Cold Day Restaurant, which he purchased in 1887. The previous owners of the Cold Day Restaurant Tadich bought (also from Croatia) opened a tent on a wharf in 1849 selling grilled fish, which they named Coffee Stand. The tent became a shack, moved to the New World produce market on Commercial and Leidesdorff Streets, was renamed New World Coffee Stand and later the New World Coffee Saloon, relocating twice, finally ending up at 221 Leidesdorff Street. In 1882 it was renamed Cold Day Restaurant, the one Tadich bought. It was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, after which he briefly re-opened the Cold Day Restaurant in another location, then moved it to yet another location before selling it and opening the Clay Street location in 1912 (the first restaurant named Tadich Grill).


photo by The Jab, 2012

photo by The Jab, 2012


So, if Tadich Grill is indeed the same restaurant from 1849 after 3 ownership changes, 8 locations, and several name changes, it seems like an exaggeration to me, especially compared to the oldest continuously operated restaurant in the U.S., Boston’s Union Oyster House, which opened in 1826 as the Atwood and Bacon Oyster House, and is still in the same location. Or the second oldest, Antoine’s in New Orleans, which opened in 1840, moved one block in 1868 to its present location, and has been run by the same family since the beginning! However, Tadich Grill definitely dates back to 1912, the first year it opened by its present name, which is some real longevity for a restaurant.


Tadich Grill, 545 Clay St., 1957 - photo by San Francisco Public Library Historical Photograph Collection

Tadich Grill, 545 Clay St., 1957 – photo by San Francisco Public Library Historical Photograph Collection


For a restaurant built in the 1960s it looks much older. There is a long bar / counter at the front, classic 1920s style tile floors, tables with bent wood chairs in the middle and back of the restaurant, and semi-private wooden “compartments” (the best word to describe them) with tables along one side of the long space.


Tadich Grill interior - photo by sfcitizen.com

Tadich Grill interior – photo by sfcitizen.com


Tadich Grill’s specialty is fresh fish grilled over Mesquite charcoal, which the Buich family says was introduced at Tadich Grill in 1924. But they also serve excellent Louie salads, such as a Dungeness Crab Louie (when in season), a great seafood Cioppino (an Italian tomato-based seafood stew), a locally historic dish called Hangtown Fry (bacon and fried oyster frittata), Oysters Rockefeller, and many more specialties. The sourdough bread is always good, and the martinis and Manhattans are well made. They do not take reservations and it’s very popular so be prepared to wait if you arrive during lunch or dinner.


Tadich Grill
240 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 391-1849
Open Mon-Fri 11:00am-9:30pm, Sat 11:30am-9:30pm, closed Sunday

See inside Tadich Grill (pan and zoom like in Google Street View):

View Larger Map


Sam’s Grill

photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr


Sam’s Grill opened in 1931 by Sam Zenovich (Zenovich also owned a successful oyster company, whose origins go back to 1867 under the previous owner) as Sam’s Seafood Grotto, on California Street. In 1936 Zenovich passed away and Frank Seput purchased the restaurant, renaming it Sam’s Grill and Seafood Restaurant, which moved to its present location in 1946.


Photo by Douglas Zimmerman on Zagat.com

Photo by Douglas Zimmerman on Zagat.com


The restaurant is a great time-travel experience back to the 1940s, from the curtained private dining compartments with buzzers to call the white-jacketed waiters to the menu of many classic seafood and meat dishes. You will see dishes on the menu you rarely see anymore, such as Celery Victor, Crab Newburg, Stewed Tomatoes, Salisbury Steak, sweetbreads prepared three ways, and Long Branch potatoes. If you eat veal, I recommend the veal Porterhouse with bacon, perhaps with shoestring potatoes. If you feel like seafood the sand dabs and sole are good choices when in season (just ask the waiter which fish are fresh that day). The sourdough bread is justly famous here.


Sam’s Grill
374 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94104
(415) 421-0594
Open Monday-Friday only, 11:00am-9:00pm

See inside Sam’s Grill:

View Larger Map


John’s Grill

photo by army.arch on Flickr

photo by army.arch on Flickr


John’s Grill’s sign states that it opened in 1908, and a restaurant called John’s Grill was mentioned in Dashiell Hammett’s 1927 mystery novel The Maltese Falcon, set in San Francisco. But facts are hard to find (online anyway). The restaurant certainly looks old, though it has been remodeled more than Sam’s. In any case, it is a treat to visit, as it does have a lot of history, and it’s crammed with old photos and mementos, including a reproduction of the Maltese Falcon used in the film. The steaks are what to order here, which are aged Prime (USDA certification) or Black Angus (depending on the cut, I guess).


photo by John's Grill on Google.com

photo by John’s Grill on Google.com


John’s Grill
63 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 986-3274
Open Mon-Sat 11am-10pm, Sunday noon-10pm


The Sunset’s Villa Romana Closing After Almost 60 Years – The Shutter – Eater SF


The Sunset’s Villa Romana Closing After Almost 60 Years – The Shutter – Eater SF.

Yet another local closure of a historic restaurant thanks to a booming local economy (there are lots of investors to buy restaurants and there are very few vacant spaces for new restaurants). Its last day open is this Sunday, July 20th.

Villa Romana


The Fat Lady, Oakland, California

I think The Fat Lady is an underrated restaurant in Oakland. Not that it gets bad reviews, but it just doesn’t seem to get much recognition for some reason. It’s pretty much a locals in-the-know place, and one you should definitely try for its unique atmosphere and good food.


The Fat Lady, Oakland

photo by Ross MacDonald on Flickr


The Fat Lady was opened in 1970 by Louis and Patricia Shaterian, and is still owned by the same family. Their daughter Patricia Rossi now owns it with her husband Jerry. Local family owned, non-chain restaurants are celebrated here at Le Continental.


photo by The Fat Lady's Facebook page

photo by The Fat Lady’s Facebook page


The restaurant was named after a painting of a nude woman which came from the historic Overland House bar in Oakland that was a Jack London hangout. The painting now hangs inside the bar at The Fat Lady. The decor is Victorian, with Tiffany lamps, stained glass, dark woods, red velvet wallpaper, gilt framed paintings, signs, and much more for the eye to peruse. Think Farrell’s for adults (with cocktails instead of shakes) but more dimly lit. Much of the decor came from real historic places. For example, the back bar came around Cape Horn in the Victorian era and was previously used in Mike’s Pool Hall in San Francisco, some of the beer signs came from old breweries, and the exit sign came from San Francisco’s Fox Theater (demolished long ago).


photo by The Fat Lady's Facebook page

photo by The Fat Lady’s Facebook page


The menu is mostly classic American fare, with a few Mediterranean dishes reflecting the heritage of the family who owns it. A must is their famous French fried zucchini appetizer, which is surprisingly light and not greasy. I had the grass-fed beef New York steak, which came with perfect shoestring fries (my favorite fries with a steak), sautéed greens, and a whole roasted garlic, which the waiter suggested I spread on the steak (I did and it was delicious). The steak had a great char (but it wasn’t burned), was cooked just right, and was tender and juicy. On Fridays and Saturdays they offer Prime Rib from grass-fed beef, which I can’t wait to return and try. They have a popular brunch on weekends, when they offer a large menu and some classic cocktails.


photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014


The Fat Lady
201 Washington St, Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 465-4996
Open Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:00am (dinner service ends at 9pm on Monday, 9:30pm Tue-Thu, and 10:30pm Fri-Sat)
Sat 9:00am-2am (no food service between 2:30pm and 5:00pm on Sat)
Sun 9:00am-4:00pm (food service ends at 2:30pm on Sun)
See website for more info on meal hours


UPDATE – Big 4 in San Francisco reopened today!

Earlier this year the Big 4 restaurant, open since 1967 at the historic Huntington Hotel, was closed by the new owners for a refurbishment. Today the restaurant reopened and judging by the report and pictures in the San Francisco Chronicle it has not changed much in appearance (mainly the chef and menu have changed). Kudos to the Puccini Group for doing a sensitive refurbishment to the beloved San Francisco classic!


photo by nightout.com


Big 4
1075 California St, San Francisco, CA
(415) 771-1140
Open daily 5:30pm-11:00pm, Mon-Sat 6:30am-10:30am, Sun 6:30am-2:00pm