My search for the best hot dog in New York continues….
Papaya King was the one that started it all in New York. No, they didn’t invent the hot dog or even bring it to New York, but they were the spearheads in this strange phenomenon of pairing encased meats with fresh fruit juices. Back in 1931, Greek immigrant Gus Poulos opened a store selling tropical fruit juices in the very German neighborhood of the Upper East Side. Eventually (thanks to his romance with a German lady), he decided to pair German sausages with the juices. Who would have guessed the combination would become one of NYC’s most iconic pairings?
Since that time there have been many imitators throughout the city. You’ll find everyone from Gray’s Papaya to Mike’s Papaya to Papaya Dog slinging the dogs and juice. But it’s the original location uptown that many celebrities swear by and the one I would be visiting.
There’s lots of atmosphere at these tiny festive hot dog joints. Enough neon and cheeky signs are littered throughout the store that it might be possible to shut down from overstimulation.
The hot dog and juice options were overwhelming and everything moves so fast in this store. I didn’t have much time to think about anything so I ordered the classic NY dog and paired it with, what else, papaya. This place isn’t called the Coconut Champagne King, is it? Although you can get one of those here too (whatever that is)!
NY style means topping the dog with sauerkraut, mustard, and a special NY-style onion sauce. The sauce is made from softened onions, tomato paste, vinegar, and some secret ingredients. This is really what separates NY-style hot dogs from any other city’s.
And just like most, Papaya King uses Sabrett wieners. These are blistered on the grill and put inside a toasted bun. I heard another customer order his “well done.” Unfortunately, this was after I was already downing my dog. Mine had a nice snap, but could have used just a bit more of a blister.
The dog was smoky and salty, but not overwhelmingly so. Topped with the sweet onions and tangy sauerkraut, the flavors worked together as they should.
I wasn’t as convinced about the watery “papaya” juice. I just returned from Hawaii, where they truly know what papaya tastes like. And sadly, this wasn’t it. This is a frothy drink that brings back childhood memories of Orange Julius, which was more milkshake than fruit juice.
So how does it compare to its descendant over at Gray’s Papaya? It might be interesting to do a side-by-side blind taste test, but at this point I declare the King the victor. Although I’m still not convinced with either’s strange papaya concoction.
Does Papaya King have the best hot dog in NY? It’s probably the best of this cheap, classic style and it’s a bona fide taste of real New York. 8 out of 10.
|179 East 86th Street (at Third Avenue),
Upper East Side