Hot dogs are ubiquitous with summer. Whether they’re cooked on sticks over a campfire or grilled alongside burgers and corn on the cob, a plump and juicy frankfurter is just what the season ordered.
While hot dogs are not always an ambitious food — you can aim real low with a dish that can be served off a tabletop grill at a gas station — we’ve selected our favorite spots in the city to get a good dog; some are gourmet, some are from a walk-up window and one or two are from a cart. Look, hot dogs aren’t always that healthy (the World Health Organization considers processed meat as “probably carcinogenic”), but they sure are delicious, and we all deserve an indulgence now and then.
The Root Beer Stand
Opened in 1957, this slice of Americana is the first place you should eat a hot dog this summer (the stand is only open March through September). We recommend a footlong chili cheese dog (not a coney — the chili is not Cincinnati-style, though it is made fresh daily) and a frosty mug of their homemade root beer. The root beer is brewed with water drawn from a well on the property and with its particular minerality, the root beer is so incredibly unique and flavorful you won’t regret buying an extra gallon for the road.
Now, if you’re into a challenge, the menu offers something you’re not likely to eat anywhere else — if you even have the guts to try it. “The Timmy Dog” is named after one of The Root Beer Stand’s most loyal regulars, whose favorite entrОe basically includes everything they have in the kitchen: a footlong hot dog with chili, onions, hot sauce, coleslaw, mustard, ketchup, relish and sauerkraut topped with cheddar cheese. Not for the faint of heart (or the queasy of stomach).
If it’s your first time dining in, you’ll no doubt wonder why every available inch of the ceiling is decorated with baseball caps. Well, the legend goes that it all started when a trucker left his trucking company hat on the counter after he ate. The staff displayed his hat by the door so he could retrieve it the next time he dined in, but a rival trucking company saw this as an act of advertising nepotism, demanding they be allowed to display their hat as well. Like a classic slippery slope, the hats began to pour in from all sorts of folks who just wanted to contribute to the fun. 11566 Reading Road, Sharonville, therootbeerstand.com.
Putz’s Creamy Whip
This spot is a historical landmark right off I-74 in a cozy little grove shaded by tall maple trees. The business, which began in 1938, still dishes out ice cream, hot dogs, barbecue, beef and veggie burgers and more all summer long. Since it’s hot dog season, why not spice things up with a hot mett covered with sauerkraut to honor the dish’s German heritage? It costs less than $3, is served in a bag and, since there’s nowhere to dine-in at this walk-up window, you’ll have to make do at one of the outdoor picnic tables. Classic summertime nostalgia.
The creamy whip is made in-house by the same “Electro-Freeze” machines purchased in the mid 1950s, so do yourself a favor and cool down with a sundae or cone.
An interesting bit of history for you: Richard Nixon saved the business from the wrath of eminent domain during I-74’s construction thanks to a letter the family wrote him, begging they reroute the highway so it wouldn’t ruin their livelihood. Thanks, Tricky Dick! In 1987 Putz’s was honored by Cincinnati City Council when the section of Baltimore Avenue between Montana Avenue and West Fork Road was renamed Putz’s Place in honor of this embedded establishment. Note: Putz’s is cash only. 2673 Putz Place, Westwood, putzscreamywhip.com.
Known for barbecue, and pulled pork in particular, you haven’t done Eli’s right until you’ve had the 2 All-Beef Dogs. You’ll still get a barbecue fix because the two smoked franks come in a bun with Eli’s famous sauce, however the flash fry preparation and pork crispins and coleslaw toppings will make you forget that Eli’s is known for anything else. 3313 Riverside Drive, East End, elisbarbeque.com.
Senate Blue Ash
If you’ve enjoyed a fancy, dressed-up hot dog at Senate’s flagship location in Over-the-Rhine, then you’ll appreciate their location in Blue Ash’s Summit Park — there’s a whole lot more elbow room, which, if you’re eating a hot dog properly, is of the utmost importance. The menu offers a wide variety of dishes including fresh market oysters, poutine and crispy potstickers — all delicious and worthwhile — but we’re talking about hot dogs here. Their dogs are made by Avril-Bleh Meat Market & Deli — all beef with a guarded recipe of spices and a great snappy texture.
Out of their eight different styles on the menu, the Korean dog is a top recommendation. A bisected beef hotdog is filled with harissa aioli and topped with homemade kimchi, a healthy portion of tender braised beef short rib, delicate pickled cucumber and a sesame seed garnish, all atop a fluffy brioche bun. Paired with a cool lager from the bar and some crispy truffle fries, this is an indulgent lunch or dinner. 1100 Summit Place Drive, Blue Ash, senateblueash.com.
Mr. Gene’s Dog House
Open since 1962, Mr. Gene’s Dog House is a white cinder block building with a fat orange stripe wrapped around the outside, tucked away in South Cumminsville. They keep things simple with a handful of hot dog variations and some ice cream to wash it all down. The shop strives to employ folks from inside the neighborhood to keep the community close while serving the best damn slaw dog to anyone who walks up to the window. While options range from a cheese coney to a classic Chicago dog (pickles, onion, tomato, sport peppers, etc.) to an Italian sausage sandwich, the slaw dog is a go-to favorite — a hot dog topped with chili and coleslaw. Some might say that coleslaw and chili are an unconventional pair, unorthodox even, but that shouldn’t stop you from indulging. 3703 Beekman St., South Cumminsville, mrgenesdoghouse.com.
If you've frequented the intersection of Vine and Liberty streets during lunchtime recently, you may have noticed a food cart on the corner. And there’s something special about this particular pop-up eatery, helmed by Lynette Houston: It's the only 100-percent vegan street food cart in the Tri-State. The options for vegan cuisine are limited in town, and the challenge to find, order and eat vegan was the inspiration behind starting Vegan St. "My goal not only was to alleviate the vegan burden by creating a space/platform for us to be in charge but secondly — and more importantly — to introduce and expose the vegan lifestyle to as many people as possible. Especially children," Houston says. Vegan St. offers multiple hot dogs, from the Puppy Dog (half a Litelife Jumbo Smart Dog) to a Long dog (a full-size Litelife Jumbo Smart Dog). We say go big and opt for the Fat Dog, with a big ol’ Beyond Sausage. Make it a combo with a bag snack and a soda. Dogs come boiled or grilled on a whole grain bun with your choice of ketchup, mustard, mayo, relish and/or onions. Multiple locations, facebook.com/1veganst.
The menu is crazy simple at Harley Dogs dog cart: a sandwich board listing six items — three hot dogs, nachos and cheese, chips and a soda/water. You can’t get lost, because it’s legitimately a stand on a street corner, and there’s only one name to remember: Harley Iles of Harley Dogs. Harley has been peddling dogs on the street corner for half a dozen years and has built up quite the fan base. Grab a dog and have a chat with Harley himself 10 a.m. until 2 or 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, weather permitting. For a true Harley Dogs experience, grab a Glier’s bratwurst smothered in nacho cheese. Nacho cheese will change your entire worldview. Here we are slathering our dogs in mustard when we could be putting nacho cheese on those bad boys. 230 Madison Ave., Covington, facebook.com/harleydogs2015.
Come on, people, this is Cincinnati. Did you think we’d neglect one of our city’s main culinary peculiarities? If you’re new here, a cheese coney is a hot dog with mustard and onion slathered with Cincinnati chili and topped by a mountain of finely shredded sharp cheddar. While there are plenty of local options for a cheese coney (we would never dare pick just one mom-and-pop parlor to highlight here), Skyline Chili is served inside Great American Ball Park, which makes it our official ambassador of cheese coneys to the world. Sure, there’s an obscure booth in Great American Ball Park that still serves $1 hot dogs (buy 10 and share with your neighbors in the nosebleed section), but to have a cheese coney in hand while cheering on the Reds, well, it doesn’t get more Cincinnati than that. The meaty, slightly sweet chili is soaked into the bun perfectly if properly portioned, and it’s easy to finish a coney in two bites if you’re hungry enough. Multiple locations, skylinechili.com.
Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers
Not everybody has heard of this chain, which has six locations within an hour’s drive of the city. First gaining recognition for their smashed steak burgers with trademark crispy edges, this fast food joint has a casual retro vibe that suits a hot dog’s lack of pretension. Freddy’s hot dogs are Vienna Beef brand sausages, very flavorful with a pleasant bite. Served on a buttery toasted bun, there is a chili cheese dog with onion and shredded cheese, or the “Freddy’s Style” Chicago dog, topped with mustard, relish, onion, sport peppers (think spicier pepperoncini), celery salt, tomato and pickle. With a side of their shoestring french fries, this is a heckuva way to get instant hot dog gratification out of a drive-thru window. Multiple locations, freddysusa.com.