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Eat a (great) hot dog here

Let’s be frank: hot dogs in Buffalo are better than hot dogs anywhere else. And if you’re a Buffalonian by birth, there’s a good chance you vividly recall the first time you ate a hot dog outside of Western New York.

Mine was a street vendor dog in downtown Toronto during a family vacation in the mid-1980s. My young mind reeled as I bit into a dog that seemed like, well, a sausage. This was not Sahlen’s, and I was not satisfied. Ted’s hot dogs will do that to you.

The local hot dog scene is growing and evolving, and there is certainly more to it than Ted’s, of course. There are other long-established names, like Taffy’s and Louie’s. There are riverside favorites, including Old Man River and Mississippi Mudds. And there are bold new kids on the block, like Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs. Quite simply, there has never been a better time to go on a

Western New York hot dog run. So let’s dig into some top dogs.

Ted’s Hot Dogs

Amherst, Cheektowaga, Buffalo, Depew, Lockport, Orchard Park, Tonawanda & Williamsville

What makes Ted’s Hot Dogs the undisputed king of the bun? Some say it’s the charcoal-grilled dogs themselves. Some say it’s actually the loganberry that’s a perennial accompaniment. For me, it’s the hot sauce, something that, when combined with the rest, makes Ted’s utterly unique. Or perhaps it’s the delightful simplicity of the Ted’s experience. You enter. You order your hot dog, burger, or sandwich at the grill. You order fries or rings. You watch, and smell, and wait. You pay. You fill your little plastic cup with ketchup. You eat.

What has changed, of course, is the number of locations. Ted’s opened a new restaurant near the Walden Galleria Mall in 2014, a rather gargantuan building that dwarfs the size of any other Ted’s location. In 2015 the long-awaited downtown spot opened at Chippewa and Delaware. And there is a Ted’s food truck that makes appearances throughout the area.

Also changing, to some degree, is the menu. In recent years, Ted’s has added items like the “Bacon Stack,” a double burger stacked with lots of bacon and even more cheese. Also new is a fish sandwich, a “mac and rings” hot dog, and a half fries-half rings split. These are all well and good, but if you’re going to Ted’s, you’ve got to start with the dog. Then follow it however you’d like, and thank me later.

Taffy’s Red Hots

3261 Orchard Park Rd., Orchard Park

The paint on the building may change, but the sign announcing “TAFFY’S” has not. Indeed, the dog stand and its sign are iconic in Western New York. Located at the busy intersection of Southwestern Boulevard and Union Road in Orchard Park, Taffy’s has been an outdoor dining destination since 1949.

Like Ted’s, the restaurant has moved beyond brick-and-mortar to the food truck arena. And one of the first things you’ll notice when the food truck pulls up is its design. It looks like a giant cow on wheels. That’s intentional, as Taffy’s milkshakes rank among its most popular items. There are — wait for it — more than 130 flavors, and that’s pretty staggering.

The shakes are divine, but the hot dogs are a must. The two together taste like a WNY summer.

Old Man River

375 Niagara St., Tonawanda

Have you driven down Niagara Street in Tonawanda lately? If so, you’re unlikely to have missed the sign for seasonal standout Old Man River. A blue, happy-looking cartoon whale jumping through a life preserver while ready to chomp into a hot dog tends to gain notice. While Old Man River’s sweet potato fries and seafood are noteworthy, the hot dog list is something to behold.

Consider some of the options: “Poutine Weenie” (a Canadian-friendly concoction of fries, cheese curds, and gravy); “Piggly Wiggle” (a deep-fried hot dog stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon); “Dog in Heat” (a spicy delight featuring Old Man River’s iconic hot sauce, peppers, and onions); the “Chicago Dog” (featuring mustard, neon green relish, and a poppyseed roll); and the “South Philly Dog” (with grilled onions and cheese).

Take these unique menu items, add a riverside location, and you’ve got a Tonawanda gem.

George’s Hot Dogs

5808 Herman Hill Rd., Hamburg

At the bottom of Herman Hill Road in Boston sits George’s, a simple establishment surrounded by trees and two playgrounds. If you grew up in the Southtowns, you know this spot well. You know the hot dogs and fries well, too. If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting, note that George’s is cash only, and that you put on your own condiments. So feel free to overload your dog.

As a parent, what stands out as much as the food are those two playgrounds. These are not to be taken lightly. They’re not far from the tables, which means adults can continue eating while keeping an eye on the little ones. There’s a wooden, castle-like playground, as well as a more advanced model for older kids. Both add to the charm of one of the area’s most family-friendly establishments. Oh, and did I mention the fries and dogs?

Reid’s

150 Lake Ave., Lockport

It’s a local hot dog truism that if you lived in “X,” you grew up on hot dogs from “Y.” Case in point? Reid’s, an establishment near and dear to the hearts of Lockport natives. Known for a special sauce used on its dogs and burgers, Reid’s is affordable, simple, and instantly memorable. (Note that like George’s, Reid’s is cash-only.)

Connors Hot Dog Stand

8905 Lakeshore Rd., Angola

Located in Angola, Connors has been serving hot dogs for 70 years. This summer sees the unveiling of some new structural additions to the iconic lakeside spot. Enjoying a charbroiled Wardynski’s dog and a loganberry, while taking in a view of the lake, makes Connors a hard stand to beat.

Mississippi Mudds

313 Niagara St., Tonawanda

Originally established a quarter century ago, Mississippi Mudds is, like Old Man River, one of Tonawanda’s most beloved eateries. Both have the same owner, and each offer a remarkable view of the water. The hot dog selections are more limited at Mississippi Mudds, but when they are this tasty, who cares?

Sahlen’s is the brand of choice for the classic dog, as well as the “Dixieland” dog, which features cheese and bacon. There is much to recommend at Mudds — the barbecue “Memphis” fries, the chicken sandwich — but you can’t go wrong with that classic hot dog.

Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs

Expo Market, 617 Main St., Buffalo

If you’ve ever had a hot dog from the Frank Gourmet Hot Dog truck, then you understand why everyone was so excited when they opened a permanent spot at the Expo Market on Main Street in February — it brought a unique new option for the many folks working, playing, and visiting in Buffalo.

Everyone has their Frank favorite, but mine is the “Modern Chicago,” a dog featuring tomato jam and house peppers. It rivals Chi-town’s finest. The “Holy Moly” is another must-try, a delightful melding of guacamole, sriracha, jalapenos, and cilantro. Thanks to such creative options, Frank is the hot name to watch on this list.

Hot Dog Heaven

1551 Harlem Rd., Cheektowaga

A ubiquitous sight at the corner of Harlem Road and William Street in Cheektowaga, Hot Dog Heaven is an oh-so-Buffalo diner known for its Texas hot, a Sahlen’s dog smothered in sauce, onions, and mustard. Simple, affordable, and comfortable, it’s a must for fans of the old Texas Red Hots
restaurants.

Louie’s Texas Red Hots

Three locations in Buffalo, Depew, Orchard Park, North Tonawanda & West Seneca

Entering Louie’s feels a bit like entering a hot dog establishment two or three decades ago. And that’s not a bad thing. The decor doesn’t change much, and neither does the inimitable greek sauce that’s generously slathered on Louie’s hot dogs. Louie’s is open late, so whenever you’re reading this, there’s a good chance some Texas hots are waiting for you.

Red Top

3360 Big Tree Rd., Hamburg

How stellar are Red Top hot dogs? Let me illustrate: My sister-in-law, Hamburg native Melissa Augustine Goldsmith, and her British husband, Tom Goldsmith, live in London. They make it to Western New York one or two times each year, and always look forward to hitting their Buffalo food faves: Mighty Taco, Tim Horton’s, the Now Pizzeria in Hamburg. At the top of their list? Red Top on Big Tree Road.

As Tom puts it, part of the charm is the “anticipation of a sunny day, sitting outside with some hot dogs, and the smell of charcoal wafting through the screen door.” He’s eaten all over the world, but there’s something about Red Top’s “quirky character” and charcoal-grilled dogs that makes it inimitable: “Red Top has a simple low-frills menu, but who cares when everything is so cheap? It’s not a destination restaurant, but a perfect place to grab a tray of the past on your way to the beach.”

Tom has zeroed in on what’s made Red Top popular for seventy years: killer Wardynski’s hot dogs grilled over charcoal and fresh-cut fries, enjoyed in a scenic location. It all adds up to one of WNY’s seasonal treasures.

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