We start with a relatively unknown spot in southwest Detroit. Not only is this place a little further into the area known as Mexican Village, but it is also in a gas station. Tortitas El Rojito takes up a tiny space, but packs some huge flavor. The hot dogs are wrapped in bacon then topped with grilled onions. Optional additional toppings include ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, diced tomato and hot sauce (by request), so you can build your dog to your specifications. Crispy bacon and a nicely grilled dog are perfect partners, so no need to be apprehensive about that combo and at $3 a piece, you can order two (or three).
Speaking of bacon wrapped dogs, Imperial in Ferndale is slowly becoming (more) famous for their Sonoran hot dog, a bacon wrapped hot dog topped with stewed beans, tomato, onion, poblano lime cream and salsa verde. The journey of flavors and textures this hot dog takes you on is nothing short of spectacular. Snappy hot dog, crunchy bacon, melt in your mouth beans, fresh onion and tomato and pleasantly piquant lime cream and salsa verde all come together harmoniously. It would seem like there’s almost too much going on here, but it all comes together quite nicely.
Although they’re known for their chicken shawarma, a sandwich as indicative of Detroit as the hot dog, Bucharest Grill has an entire section of their menu dedicated to hot dogs and sausages. If you’re able to veer from the shawarma (it’s a difficult thing to do – trust me), the gourmet dogs are pretty fantastic. Six are on the menu with The 1920 Red Hot just a little bit ahead of the others as my personal favorite. Not your normal hot dog, the red-hot is snappy, succulent and spicy. With a diameter of two to three hot dogs, it’s not small either. Topped simply with brown mustard, the bold flavors of the dog itself are more than enough to satisfy even the most dulled taste buds.
If your taste buds need a kick in the mouth, take a road trip to Ypsilanti and visit Wurst Bar. House-made everything with exoticness to boot, Wurst is a unique spot focused on all things in a casing and craft beer. When I say exotic, I’m not talking about funky hot dog toppings either, I’m referring to sausages like spicy rattlesnake chorizo and alligator and crawfish boudin. Don’t worry, there’s more identifiable sausages, too, like the PBR poached bratwurst or spicy Italian sausage. Whether you’re adventurous or not, Wurst is a destination worth traveling for even though it is a good 30 minutes outside of Detroit.
No discussion of Detroit hot dogs can be spoken without mentioning coneys. Natural casing franks topped with chili, fresh onion and mustard – it’s the official food of Detroit. Of course we have our big hitters and feuding friends: Lafayette and American. If you’re in the Detroit area (hell, if you’re in the Midwest), you’ve probably tasted both of these coneys. No matter which one is your favorite, they are both iconic and quite delicious, especially after 2 a.m.
With any iconic food, there are bound to be other versions that pop up. We have hundreds of Coney Island restaurants in metro Detroit. Really, almost any diner you walk into will have some version of the coney on the menu. However, there are a couple versions that are worth some exploration.
While not much different than American or Lafayette in terms of the menu, Duly’s Place is one of the most historically fascinating places in Detroit. Open since the 1920s, Duly’s has seen it all and shows signs of age, which is absolutely endearing. The unique lunch counter set up with approximately 15 seats along with a few tables gives customers a chance to chat with the guys behind the counter. Aside from the atmosphere, some argue that Duly’s coneys are the best in Detroit. Is it true? Well, let’s just say that this 24-hour joint has their coney game rocking all of the time. Next time you’re hankering for a true coney, try Duly’s – maybe your entire outlook will change.
Who says a coney needs to be in a bun? Vinsetta Garage (among other places) serves a coney island pizza. Vinsetta’s version affectionately called Sir Shakes Coney Pie is topped with hot dog, coney sauce, red onion, cheese and mustard. For my money, this is a tremendous way to enjoy a coney dog. The well-fired crust is somewhere between charred and chewy and is an inspired transportation vehicle for the coney toppings to reach your mouth. Sure, it’s a decent sized pie, but with enough wherewithal and confidence, this could most definitely serve one hungry dude.
Hot dogs: they’re not just for baseball games anymore. You might see hot dogs being served at high-end restaurants, too. The places we’ve outlined are merely a start. Try these places, but go forth and adventure for hot dogs elsewhere. Maybe even extend your definition of what a hot dog is. Have you tried a banger? Maybe knockwurst? There are even vegan versions out there. Compare, contrast, just have fun. You’re eating a hot dog – how can that NOT be fun?
Originally published in Real Detroit Weekly