Davis, CA 95616
So up front, right off the bat, full disclosure: I love The Hotdogger. It was the place of many seminal college moments packed with crude penis jokes and Nalgene bottles of vodka.
If you’ve never been, The Hotdogger is the tiny restaurant packed into what probably used to be the broom closet for the neighboring Sophia’s Thai Kitchen. It opened up in 1982 and was purchased by new owners, Cheryl and Ivan Franks, in 1994 (and, yes, their last name really is Franks).
The humble hut can seat three inside, though there are two tables set up outside as well. Customers are expected to bus their own trays. Filthy humor and bad puns are mandatory.
Look closer, past the slightly dingy floor and canine memorabilia, and you’ll find that this is not your typical schlong shack. All the hot dogs are sourced from Fairfield’s Schwarz Fine Sausage and use American beef. The rolls are baked daily from Davis’ Village Bakery, one of the best bakeries in all of Northern California. Produce is sourced from local farmers markets whenever possible, so gone are the tasteless tomatoes that fast-food joints normally use, replaced with burgundy-skinned beauties.
There are more mustard choices here than there are houses on Davis’ Frat Row; no matter what mood you’re in, there’s a mustard to match it. Feeling jaunty? The garlic-and-onion mustard is for you! Your twee personality beginning to annoy even you? A savage Düsseldorf mustard with a horseradish kick will take things down a notch. Pissed at an ex because he’s dating someone else already? Burn the world away with the intestine-scalding jalapeño mustard.
While customers can customize their dogs, there are also a few premade options and a variety of wieners available. The Louisiana Hot Link is fire-engine red and sure to send lava coursing through your tender insides. Be sure not to pair it with a spicy mustard or top with jalapeños, as it’s a sure way to meet a fiery end.
The beef hot dogs are simmered as opposed to grilled, but they have an old-fashioned flavor, and the casing snaps sharply with each bite, making for a visceral eating experience.
The Kraut Dog is a bit sad, with a gaping bun-to-wiener ratio (insert obvious crude joke here), as the sausage used is just too slim and gets engulfed in the bread. In addition, the kraut is as sour as a child having every birthday wish fulfilled.
The Gut Bomb! is an accurate name for a hot link buried in spicy salsa and peppers, house-made chili, cheese, diced onions, and tomatoes. If you’re over the age of 30, you should expect to crack open both the antacid and a window.
For the vegetarian who gets dragged to a meat joint, there is also a tofu dog. Served on a spouted-wheat roll, the “sausage” is juicy, with plenty of meaty flavor that takes well to pickles and pineapple mustard. So popular is the tofu dog that one meat eater in the joint ordered it with a topping of chopped bacon (a shockingly common order here).
The potato salad is reminiscent of the nondescript neighborhood-potluck kind—both filling and fine. The potato-wedge fries are, sadly, nothing to be too amazed by but make for a fantastic method of shoveling more chili into your maw.
The staff members manning the stand are fun, knowledgeable and can crack jokes about anything with anyone. Hiring is obviously done with personality in mind, and it’s part of the reason The Hotdogger has such a dedicated following.
There is one challenge, and that’s figuring out the place’s odd hours. They are beyond random: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on some days, but only 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on another? In a college town? Really?
Nonetheless, for a hot-dog joint operating in 163 square feet, what the Franks do here is pretty damn impressive: fantastic, responsible, affordable food that fills you up and preps you for a night of beer and buddies.