Summer really kicks into high gear this weekend, the Fourth of July three-day (four-day? more-day?), and so naturally our thoughts turn to sandy beaches, late-afternoon naps, family outings, and… New York City hot dogs. Yup, every year around this time the craving kicks in for good ol' fashioned frankfurters, simply dressed or sloppy with toppings. Fortunately, we're not alone. Because although there are more bad hot dogs out there than you shake a stick at (one our least favorite meals of the past decade involved the dreadful dogs and fries at Nathan's Famous), there have also been a number of New York City hot dogs boutiques that have opened up around the city, casual spots that put quality ingredients and lots of love into this previously maligned foodstuff.
There are plenty of contenders these days for the best-hot-dog-in-NYC crown. Shake Shack makes an excellent tube steak, but since that's primarily a burger joint, we excluded it in our survey. Willie's Dawg in Park Slope is pretty great, and we do like the bulgogi frank–topped, Korean-style, with sweet and spicy beef–at New York Hot Dog and Coffee on Bleecker. The classic at Katz's is a bit too garlicky for our tastes, and though we've certainly wolfed plenty of Gray's Papaya/Papaya King dogs over the decades, inconsistency and uninspiring rolls ultimately doom these chains.
In our mind, then, there are only two contenders standing for the best hot dog in NYC: the venerable Crif Dogs on St. Marks and the Brooklyn newcomer Bark Hot Dogs on Bergen Street. Here's how the battle panned out.
Crif vs. Bark: atmosphere
Crif Dogs NYC exudes East Village cool, though we do miss all those tiny action figures that used to ring the room. The space is small and dim, battered in a good, rock-n-roll kind of way, with graffiti and old-school video games completing the late-night drunk food picture. Bonus: that phone booth on your left? The secret entrance to PDT, a scene-y "speakeasy" with classy cocktails.
Bark Hot Dogs is family-friendly, bright and clean with a relentless "local/sustainable/compostable/recyclable" message that manages to be more upbeat and inspiring than self-congratulatory and annoying. The tall communal tables, the big front window, the contemporary design and typography… all very warm and inviting.
Advantage: Tie. These places are too different to really compare head-to-head, but both are successful at what they set out to do.
Crif vs. Bark: food
Crif Dogs NYC has been around for about eight years now, and in all of our visits we've never left disappointed. Most recently we had a Good Morning, the deep-fried dog wrapped in bacon and nested within a slice of american cheese and a fried egg; and a Sour Cheese Dog, which comes with thinly sliced half-sour pickles and melted cheese. Both were snappy, well-balanced sandwiches, these New York City hot dogs holding their own against add-ons. The side of tater tots tasted more like the fryer than their potato of origin, unfortunately, but the thick, eye-opening coffee shake was first-rate.
Bark Hot Dogs opened last summer, much to the delight of the neighborhood's locavores and (many, many) couples-with-kids. We've only been once, but are totally smitten. Everything we tried at this New York City hot dog joint was a winner, from the straight-up Kraut Dog with mustard (the sauerkraut crunchy and almost sweet) to the beautiful, multi-textured Bacon Cheddar Dog to the intense, smoky Beans and Frank Dog. The cheese fries were also terrific, all rich and crispy, and the sweet Butterscotch Milkshake may be the best cold drink we've had all year. All that goodness…. and we hear the burgers are even better!
Advantage: Bark Hot Dogs, for better ingredients and brighter, fresher taste.
Crif vs. Bark: other
Both Crif Dogs and Bark are very much a part of their respective neighborhoods, and not really located in passing-through territory. So unless you're in the East Village for any number of reasons, or in Prospect Heights visiting friends or seeing something at BAM, you'll have to make a special trip for these hot dogs in New York City. Bark is worth it; Crif Dogs, less so. Price-wise, Crif Dogs is about a buck or two cheaper all around, but Bark isn't being greedy, they're just using pricier, locally-sourced ingredients.
Winner of the Best Hot Dog in NYC title: Bark Hot Dogs.
Because, in the end, taste trumps all.
Crif Dogs and Bark Hot Dogs details
Crif Dogs is located in the East Village, on St. Marks Place between First Avenue and Avenue A. For a complete menu, hours, and more info, please see the Crif Dogs site.
Bark is located on Bergen Street between Sixth and Fifth Avenues. For a complete menu, hours, and more info, please see the Bark website.