07/11/2014 04:45 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2014

America's Best Hot Dogs (PHOTOS)

Crunchy. Spicy. Topped with chicharrones and kimchi. The latest Spanish-Asian fusion dish? Nope -- it's a hot dog. At least, that's how they make 'em at 4505 Meats in San Francisco.

The Zilla Dog is a far cry from the traditional franks that competitive eaters choke down each year at Coney Island's famous July 4th contest. Indeed, this quintessentially American snack is having a renaissance, swept up in the nouveau gourmet enterprises of today's innovative culinary talent. But just because chefs are teaching old dogs new tricks doesn't mean the traditional tube steak has disappeared. In our quest for America's top dogs, we found reasons to love both old-style and newfangled.

So next time you find yourself in a hot-dog hotbed, don't settle for the nearest street cart; seek out one of these puppies instead. Unadorned or heavily garnished, they're worth a detour.

  • 1 Belly Shack, Chicago
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    At Bill Kim’s industrial Logan Square joint, the “belly dog” comes fully loaded with egg noodles, pickled green papaya, and spicy togarashi fries. Don’t forget the curry mayo. —Shane Mitchell

    Photo: Kevin Miyazaki
  • 2 Garden District, Washington, D.C.
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    The “dachshund in the grass” slaw dog gets our vote at this casual beer garden—best with a side of hush puppies. —Shane Mitchell

    Photo courtesy of Garden District
  • 3 Bronwyn, Somerville, MA
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    Tim Wiechmann recently introduced the smoky “Brondog,” covered with melted Emmentaler cheese and vinegary sauerbraten on a poppy-seed potato bun. —Shane Mitchell

    Photo courtesy of BRONWYN
  • 4 Beer Bar, Salt Lake City
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    Viet Pham’s “brat Reuben” is a hungry-man mash-up of beer-braised bratwurst, pastrami, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on a basic white bun. 161 E. 200 S. —Shane Mitchell

    Photo: Cedric Angeles
  • 5 Hog & Hominy, Memphis, TN
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    Bocce meets boiled peanuts here in East Memphis, where a pretzel bun is stuffed with a beef-and-cheddar dog. —Shane Mitchell

    Photo: Matt Rogers
  • 6 Hot Doug’s, Chicago
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    “The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium” is how Doug’s describes itself, so you know it takes the item between the bun most seriously. The dogs’ names, however, are more playful, like The Elvis (smoked Polish sausage), The Paul Kelly (beer-soaked bratwurst), and The Bo Derek (the “Mighty, mighty, mighty hot!” andouille). Every day—closing time is at 4 p.m.—brings a special or two, like a spicy Thai chicken or curry lamb sausage. Despite the wide range of links, The Dog—a Chicago-style sample with the quintessential trimmings—is de rigueur. On Fridays and Saturdays, insiders know to stop by for the deliciously decadent Duck Fat Fries. —Charlotte Druckman

    Photo: Zenas Lu
  • 7 Original New York System, Providence
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    A landmark, this humble shop has been standing since 1927 and continues to serve its trademark grilled tube steaks (also known as gaggers) to an adoring public. The dogs, distinguished by their squared-off edges, are doused with meat sauce; chopped, raw onions; mustard; and celery salt. For celebrity chef Chris Cosentino, who grew up in Rhode Island, the Original New York System dogs are the ones against which all others (excluding, of course, his own) are measured. —Charlotte Druckman

    Photo: Travis Lynn Kelley

--Charlotte Druckman

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