My search for the best hot dogs in New York continues….

Up until now, I’ve stuck with the hautest of hot dogs. But if I’m going to really do this hot dog search right, I’m going to have to get down and dirty.

When most people ask me where to get a classic NY hot dog, I send them not to a corner street cart, but instead uptown to either Gray’s Papaya or Papaya King. These indoor stands (along with the myriad of copycats) have been around for decades and aside from Nathan’s, might be the most classic NY dog. And strangely, they all pair the hot dogs with cold, frothy tropical fruit juices.

There’s a lot of controversy over which place is better, if they use the same Sabrett hot dogs, and if their juices are indeed 100% juice, as they claim. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get to the bottom of any of these mysteries, but I can do the taste test. That’s what I do best.

Gray’s Papaya is the newer of the two storefronts having opened in 1973 by a former partner of Papaya King. I had been here many years ago, lured by the nostalgic smell of grilled processed meat (I used to love putting bologna in the microwave as a kid!) but for obvious health and waistline issues, I don’t spend too much time at any of these shops.

This place is like a fun house of hot dogs with paper fruits hanging from the ceiling, headache inducing signs every which way, and a bed of hot dogs grilling away. Each dog costs $1.95, or you can get the Recession Special which now costs $4.95 for two dogs and a juice drink.

I chose the classic Papaya Juice with one hot dog topped with onions and the other topped with sauerkraut. The papaya juice claims to aid in digestion, which would be in direct opposition to what the hot dogs will do. Intellectually  it makes sense to pair the two together since the tart fruit should be able to cut some of the richness of the wiener. But the drink here was overly frothy and creamy (I believe they add yogurt), with very little actual fruit flavor. It reminded me of a bland Orange Julius with a funky sweet aftertaste. The strongest flavor I could pick out was vanilla.

The rather thin hot dogs were almost lost in the unimpressive bun. I was also not a fan of the sweet and sour tomato-y onion topping. It tasted rather sugary and might just not be my thing. I think this is the classic NY onion topping so who am I to say if it’s any good or not? The meat was very salty with some hints of garlic and an overwhelming flavor of junk food. It lacked a serious snap and to be honest, I was unimpressed.

Sauerkraut was a much better topping for me. The bite of the cabbage helped showcase the smoked grill flavor of the meat and somehow this dog had a much more pronounced snap. I think it was detrimental for me to separate the   two toppings. In retrospect, it should have been the onion sauce, the sauerkrauts, and some yellow mustard. I think the balance of flavors would have enhanced the saltiness of the dog.

And that dog was indeed salty. The salinity (or nitrate) lingered in my mouth for most of the night. Not even that creamy papaya thing could help it. The dogs here are maybe slightly better than what you’d expect from a food cart, but still rather underwhelming. The appeal here is that they’re cheap, salty, and taste like the streets. Yum?

Does Gray’s Papaya have the best hot dog in NY? Better than most “dirty water dogs”, but in my opinion, not delicious enough to earn its ranks high in the culinary world. 7 out of 10.

GRAY’S PAPAYA
2090 Broadway (at West 72nd Street),
Upper West Side
(212) 799-0243
402 Sixth Avenue (between West 8th and West 9th Street),
West Village
(212) 260-3532
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Category: Hot Dogs

About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

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