There's nothing like the humble hot dog to evoke childhood food memories and make us crave a taste of nostalgia. But the classic frank often gets relegated to the dog house in favor of other warm-weather favorites such as barbecue, hamburgers or grilled corn. Thankfully, eateries all across the city are turning hot dogs into real wieners. We're talking links made with quality meats, a bevy of fun toppings you'll surely relish, and buns far superior to the boring bag sitting next to the mustard at your company picnic. Now's the time to get down with these ten hot dogs in all their meaty, juicy, glorious forms.
Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs2148 Larimer Street
"Biker Jim" Pittenger has been serving up sizzling links for more than a decade, receiving national attention and our Best Hot Dog award along the way. Most of his dogs are made by Continental Sausage in a range of traditional and unlikely meats; our favorite is the Southwest Buffalo, a juicy sausage stuffed with bison, chipotles, green chiles and cumin. It really showcases Colorado cuisine at its finest, and you can spruce up the dish even more with topping combos such as cream cheese and caramelized onions, or harissa-roasted cactus with Malaysian curry jam, scallions, cilantro and onions two ways.
Brass Tacks1526 Blake Street
The folks at this new LoDo bar and noshery mashed together a hot dog and a hamburger, calling it the Ham-Dog and offering a new way to eat a traditional tube steak. Thanks to chef/co-owner Zach Spott, the happy-hour favorite arrives as a nest of Hebrew National all-beef hot dog that's been quartered, grilled and layered onto a soft sesame bun. Housemade pickle relish, chopped white onion and yellow mustard add a taste of the ballpark. Order it for $5 and get a draft cocktails on the side for a weeknight dinner that showcases elevated lowbrow food in the tastiest way possible.
Call2845 Larimer Street
Head to RiNo for the new Wednesday-through-Saturday-evening menu at Call, which includes a glorious hot dog made Scandinavian style (because Denmark and Sweden are nearly as obsessed with hot dogs as we are). This Olympia Provisions pork/beef frank comes on a housemade brioche bun and is topped with thin-sliced cucumber and fried shallots. A creamy "dog sauce" adds tangy flavor and herbs — like mayonnaise with a little something extra. This hot dog, like other dishes at Call, proves simple, elegant and down-to-earth all at once.
Dog Haus Biergarten8316 East Northfield Boulevard
The Pineapple Express, like all the options at Dog Haus, starts with a trio of split, griddled King's Hawaiian rolls in lieu of a traditional bun. The plump hot dog gets wrapped in bacon before being nestled inside its pillowy nest and coated with a sweet ginger glaze. Finally, it's topped with seasoned mayo, pineapple, scallions, pickled jalapeño and crispy onions. All together, this messy dog tastes like summer on the beach — sweet and spicy and absolutely craveable. Get it with a side of tots and a cold New Terrain Brewing Co. Key Largo Kolsch, or something similar from the Dog Haus's impressive row of tap handles.
Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen1317 14th Street
Chef Sarah Cloyd's hand-cranked sausages set Euclid Hall apart from other eateries. All of the links are great, but the Colorado beef short rib kielbasa proves the most like a hot dog and offers a superb snap followed by a cascade of succulent juices (yes, you will need a napkin). Dip your kielbasa in one of the house mustards, such as the sinus-clearing horseradish or peach bourbon honey. Think of this as the adult hot dog, and if you really need a bun to go with it, you can order a fresh-baked pretzel roll on the side.
Los Mangos920 South Federal Boulevard
Two years ago, the Los Mangos neveria expanded into the space next door and began serving Sonoran-style hot dogs — a rarity in Denver, even on Federal Boulevard, where Mexican restaurants and street food abound. But what, you may wonder, makes it Sonoran? This style originated in the 1980s in Hermosillo, Sonora, and gained popularity stateside in Arizona. The main allure is the thin strip of bacon wrapped around the frank, which is then grilled and wedged into a bolillo-style bun. Traditionally the dog also gets a heap of pinto beans, onion, tomatoes and various salsas. The Sonoran at Los Mangos adds guacamole, mayo, mustard, ketchup and bacon crumbles. Expect to eat this perrito caliente with a fork and knife; it's the only way to minimize the mess while letting you dunk each bite in the side of salsa verde.
Max’s Wine Dive696 Sherman Street
Skip the classic fried chicken at this Governor's Park eatery and go for a different summertime favorite, the Haute Dog. It's not like any hot dog in Colorado. For starters, a cascade of six-pepper chili with venison, bison, bacon and beef covers the dog completely. Instead of a normal ballpark frank, beneath the chili lurks a kobe beef link. A hearty dose of fried onion rings, cotija cheese and beer cheese sauce tops things off. Yes, you'll need two hands, a stack of napkins and possibly a fork and knife, so make sure you're not wearing white when you go.
Mustard's Last Stand2081 South University Boulevard, 303-722-7936
1719 Broadway, Boulder, 303-444-5841
Kids who grew up in the University Park neighborhood remember walking to Mustard's Last Stand for one of the most memorable hot dogs in town. Decades in and thousands of hot dogs served, this venerable joint remains consistent and delicious under owner Dan Polovin. Chicago-style hot dogs are the specialty here; Polovin continues to dish out Vienna Beef dogs in poppyseed buns to locals, students and Windy City transplants. Get yours "dragged through the garden" for a hefty bite topped with bright-green relish, yellow mustard, sauerkraut, onions, celery salt, tomato, pickles and sport peppers.
Smok3330 Brighton Boulevard
There are corn dogs, and then there are the corn dogs made by chef Bill Espiricueta at Smok. Not content with using store-bought wieners, the chef makes his own smoked jalapeño-cheddar sausage that he then dips into a silky cornmeal batter. A quick bath in the fryer gives the corn dog a crisp, golden jacket. One bite (once it cools, of course) offers up a combo of sweet, salty, smoky and spicy — a far cry from those puny corn dogs you remember from your lunchroom tray. Purists, though, can have their corn dog made with a regular hot dog instead of a smoked sausage. Smok's corn dog is a $5 special every Monday, so roll on in to the barbecue joint inside the Source Hotel between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. and get your fix.
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Steve's Snappin' Dogs3525 East Colfax Avenue
For a true hot dog-stand experience, visit the thirteen-year-old East Colfax joint run by Steve Ballas. The hot dog menu is off the hook, with more than a dozen variations — including a unique tortilla-wrapped number. The Denver Dog is a mess of homemade chili con carne, two beef hot dogs, bacon, tomatoes, jalapeños, cheddar cheese and lettuce, all bundled up in a flour tortilla. Ballas uses the famous links from Thumann’s of New Jersey, so you're ensured a tasty dog with a real snap that you won't find anywhere else in town — unless you happen to have a yearning for a hot dog at Denver International Airport, where Steve's operates a second location.
Bonus Dog: River Bear American MeatsComing soon to a market near you
Chef/restaurateur Justin Brunson launched his new company, River Bear American Meats, earlier this spring, and he's nearly ready to add hot dogs to his roster; he's anticipating a July debut. "I love hot dogs, and there's not a good hot dog out there for people to eat," the chef explains. "You look at the hot dog ingredients at the grocery, and it's not something I want in my body." Instead of the usual kitchen-sink approach to making hot dogs, Brunson uses only five ingredients: lean angus beef, wagyu beef fat from local 7X Ranch, spices, Colorado peach wood smoke and natural lamb or pork casing (depending on the size of the dog).
"Meat is the hardest thing to make, produce and sell," says the chef, who spent about ten years perfecting this hot dog recipe. "I did all the R & D, and they are delicious, and we can't wait to get them in the stores." While a complete list of purveyors hasn't been solidified, expect to find River Bear hot dogs at St. Kilian's Cheese Shop, Truffle Cheese Shop, on the menu at Royal Rooster (inside Broadway Market) and during happy hour at Brunson's LoHi restaurant, Old Major.