In the Dog Haus (Alhambra, CA)

I’ve been grocery shopping at the Alhambra Ralphs countless times when I’ve visited my wife’s family in the San Gabriel Valley. (As a sign of the times, this Ralphs has officially closed and construction has begun on another 99 Ranch Market in the Valley.) Across the street is Dog Haus, which I’d never patronized. Maybe it was because its name and appearance reminded me a lot of Der Wienerschnitzel, a fast-food hot dog chain that’s been in Southern California for ages. But, my wife took our grandkids to Dog Haus last year and declared their food “not bad,” a review I wasn’t expecting based on my preconceptions.

Last night, she and I decided to get a quick bite before Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy” at the Edwards (fun and definitely for McCarthy fans. The fight scene with a female would-be assassin was hilarious for not only what she does with a frying pan but is a parody of all movie swordfights though no swords are used). Dog Haus was close by.

Inside were customers of all demographics: whole families, teen friends, couples, seniors, and (this being SGV) a good ethnic cross section. This is no typical fast-food restaurant interior. The dominant colors are black and red, the dining space brightened by plenty of windows along the south and east walls. Wood planks line the floor. The walk-up counter looks more like a mini food market’s than a McDonald’s, with displays of beverages, desserts, even a row of cereal boxes (to attract the kids?). A sign announces the availability of Fosselman’s ice cream. Though taro, my favorite Fosselman’s flavor, is not offered, two that are sounded tempting: Oaxacan chocolate and horchata.

Free condiments are located at a bar—mustards, a red housemade relish made with peppers, ketchup, sliced jalapeños, minced onions, mayo, crushed red peppers, celery salt, Rooster sriracha, Tapatio and more, any of which can be ladled or squeezed on your sandwich or taken to the table in little plastic tubs.

Sixteen custom hot dogs appear on the menu above the counter, special combinations of all-beef skinless dogs or sausages, plus condiments. A popular choice is Sooo Cali, which puts together wild arugula, spicy basil aioli, crispy onions, avocado, and tomato. Capitalizing on the Korean flavor craze, Tae Kwan Dog combines bulgogi glaze, kimchi, fried egg, and korean chili powder. I had to smile at Bad Mutha Clucka, just for the name alone.

If you’re not into hot dogs, there is a good selection of burgers, using black angus ground beef. For example, Freiburger comes with white American cheese, haus slaw, and fried egg, with fries.

Personally, I favor uncomplicated dogs. The only condiments that mine will see are relish, mustard and onion. Luckily, you can customize your dog by ordering just the wiener with bun, as I did for Polish kielbasa.

The “bun” is not traditional ballpark but rather grilled and split Hawaiian rolls, giving each dog an added sweet element. Because the rolls are larger than normal buns, it’s best to hold the dog from underneath. The kielbasa casing was thick enough that I had to take a careful, complete bite without tilting or pulling the sausage out of the bun. This was a superior sausage though, flavorful, nicely seasoned, grilled and snappy, not a surprise when the würstmacher is none other than Food Network celebrity Alan Gertler. While I like Hawaiian rolls, they seem more like a gimmick as a substitute for a good old-fashioned bun. And I could do without the noticeable sweetness. Otherwise, this was a very fine hot dog. (☆☆☆)

Besides customizing a dog, you can also do the same with a corn dog. Pick any of the available sausages, all-beef skinless frank or vegetarian option. While cornmeal batter is typically sweet, Dog Haus interestingly sweetens theirs with root beer soda, which does a good job of lightening the batter and hardly has the intrusiveness you’d expect. My wife’s all-beef wiener was speared with two bamboo skewers. Their thin, sharp points became more exposed with every bite, but a firm, slow push of the wiener from the other end removed the danger. A good thing about a thinly applied batter is that you don’t have to plow through much dough before reaching the sausage, but it’s also harder to keep crisped. A very good, high-quality wiener dressed in a corn dog outfit. (☆☆☆)

The sides are beyond ordinary, too. There are the standard fries, onion rings (beer-battered) and slaw (two kinds), but also “haus” chili, sweet potato fries and, to give poutine-loving Canadians pause, either fries or tater tots smothered with cheese sauce, chili, cheddar and seasoned green onions. Sweet potato fries are not as crispy as regular frying potatoes, such as Dog Haus’ Kennebecs, tending more toward mealiness though producing more interesting flavor. We discovered that dipping them in mustard is much preferred over ketchup to counterbalance the natural sweetness. The haus slaw (the other choice is Asian slaw) was exceptional for its balanced dressing and finely shredded cabbage.

From its humble beginnings in Pasadena, Dog Haus has gone on to open franchises throughout the Southwest. For me, the visit was a pleasant surprise. Did I mention I had preconceptions?

Dog Haus
410 E. Main St.
Alhambra, CA 91801

Hot Dog Heaven: Dogs-A-Foot (Port Townsend, WA)

I discovered Dogs-A-Foot several years ago when my wife and I were strolling down Water Street and came upon it. Occupying a small corner lot on Water and Madison Streets at the northeastern edge of the Waterfront District, it has been serving hot dogs to legions of fans for over 25 years. Today, I discovered that John Sheehan, the original owner, sold the business about five years ago to Paul and Lisa Flor. There doesn’t appear to have been a beat missed during the transition, for the dogs are as good as ever.

Though there are tables outside, some with umbrellas, and though Port Townsend benefits from the “rain shadow” effect of the Olympic mountains, absorbing more than half as much precipitation as falls on Seattle, it can rain on your parade, not to mention get blustery from the winds that come in from Admiralty Bay. When the weather turns bad, the only shelter is a tiny enclosed space outside the trailer in which the kitchen is housed, or you’ll have to eat in your car. Today, however, was a perfect day to eat outside. During the winter months (November-late March), the whole operation shuts down. Many a local eagerly await its re-opening every year.

The secret to its superb hot dogs are a high-quality sausage, which is grilled, and a New York-style grilled bun, an excellent complement with its gluten-y chewiness. For me, grilling is essential to accentuate a sausage’s flavor. Boiling them is heresy—all the flavor gets leached out. If there is any difference between Sheehan and Flor’s hot dogs at all, Flor’s buns are somewhat over-toasted for my taste, though it doesn’t affect the dog’s enjoyment. Other sausages include spicy smoked, smoked chicken, smoked Italian and andouille. Years ago, Sheehan (the original owner) told me that they are sourced from a local company. Flor obviously does the same. You can order any one of them with or without the usual condiments (mustard, catsup, sweet relish and onions), or you can get any of the ten specialties, including a Chicago dog, which apparently is new owner Flor’s favorite (having hailed from the Windy City) and the only dog with a steamed sausage. I recall Sheehan’s special combinations having been slightly different. New is a gluten-free bun that can be substituted for $1.25 extra. Extra condiments include bacon, cream cheese, cheddar, homemade slaw, jalapeños or sport peppers, spicy onion sauté, sauerkraut, tomato, and pickle.

Polish hot dog with the works

Polish hot dog with the works

Gonzo lonzo

Gonzo lonzo (a Polish with the works and pickled jalapeño and Thai peppers)

Hot dogs made by John Sheehan in 2007

Hot dogs made by John Sheehan in 2007

Aside from the off-season, Dogs-A-Foot is closed on Tuesdays. This is important enough that I will likely schedule by next visit to Port Townsend on other days of the week. Seriously? You betcha.

Water & Madison Streets
Port Townsend, WA 98368

Ramen Burgers: What’s the Beef?

“Want ground beef and cheese with your ramen?”

This question you don’t ever expect to hear at a ramen restaurant. At least, for now anyway. But can it be that far behind when the latest craze of Japanifying popular American food is the ramen burger? Yep, that’s right, a ground beef patty sandwiched between two ramen “buns.” But, before I get to that, let’s consider what has gone on before, what blazed the trail to this brain child of enterprising Manhattan Japanese chef, Keizo Shimamoto.

When pizza became an international food, Japan was quick to adapt it to its tastes. While some toppings may be familiar to Americans, others such as octopus, squid, scallops, clams, crab, tuna, mayonnaise (Kewpie brand, no doubt), shimeji mushrooms, bamboo shoots, nori (seaweed), shiso (perilla), among others, are about as alien as making pork & beans with natto. Personally, a lot of those toppings don’t sound half bad. But, the pizzas are made for Japanese consumption and what people eat on their own shores is, to put it mildly, none of my business.

Pizza topped with clams, shrimp and nori (from

Then, in Vancouver, B.C., some ambitious businesspeople launched Japadog. The concept is simple: offer traditional Japanese condiments to accessorize a standard hot dog. To some die-hards, the idea might be sacrilege. Substitute teriyaki mayonnaise for catsup, grated horseradish (daikon oroshi) for sauerkraut, wasabi for mustard? You get the idea. But, at least, the foundations remain the same: sausage and bun. With the right combinations, could this work? Happily, it does at Japadog. Along the same lines, Seattle has its Gourmet Dog Japon.

Oroshi dog

Oroshi dog (Japadog)

And now, live from New York, we have the ramen burger. If the concept were similar to the Japanese hot dog, namely replacing traditional condiments with Japanese ones, okay. For someone like me who’d rather have an unadorned burger, maybe the addition of grilled shishito peppers, Japanese green onions (negi), a dash of shichimi might be worth a try. But Shimamoto’s idea was to replace the burger bun entirely with coiled ramen noodles shaped like buns and fried. Granted, like bread, ramen noodles are taste-neutral, but viscerally the thought of biting through a bunch of chewy and crusted pasta and a beef patty at the same time just doesn’t do it for me. How about adding a slice of cheese with that, which is actually an option? The bun is supposed to play second fiddle, a supporter of the patty, not an equal partner. You don’t normally pay much mind to the bread, unless it’s dry or otherwise indisposed. But ramen? It competes for your attention. And therein lies its lack of appeal for me. While the adaptations described above have some draw (to me, anyway), the ramen burger doesn’t, not even remotely.

The next thing you know, someone’s going to want to pair musubi with Spam.

Ramen burger (image from

Hot Dog Fusion: Gourmet Dog Japon

Hot on the heels of the hot dog concept started by Japadog in Vancouver, BC, Seattle saw the opening of Gourmet Dog Japon in 2010 that offered up riffs on the American hot dog with Japanese condiments. Could this work here? The reviews have been positive. As with any adventurous food fusion project, no matter how “way out” it appears, success still boils down to whether unlikely combinations of ingredients taste good together in fresh ways. Japadog has been doing very well with its offerings. The oroshi dog I had there was delicious.

Could we say the same thing for the Samurai Dog here, which Andrew Zimmern had the hots over? Well, yes, to a large degree. Rather than the apple chicken sausage that comes standard (c’mon, really? Apple chicken?), I substituted a beef dog. Sandwiched between a lightly toasted Kirkland (i.e., Costco) bun—that glutinous wunderkind of bread—the sausage also comes with sliced Japanese green onions (negi), grated horseradish (daikon oroshi) and wasabi mayo. There was also a special soy sauce that complemented the oroshi. This was a very fine dog (☆☆☆½), substantial, savory and pungent. My wife asked for a modification to her Matsuri Dog (☆☆½), substitution of daikon oroshi for grated carrots. Otherwise, there were also slivered seaweed (nori), teriyaki glazed onions and Japanese mayo (Kewpie) dressing a kielbasa sausage. Her complaints were that the teriyaki onions made the dog too sweet and daikon oroshi was insipid from not having been freshly grated. Otherwise, the nori provided excellent toasty, briny notes. I discovered after getting home that the Kabuki Dog features red ginger, cabbage, bonito flakes (katsuobushi) and Japanese mayo, which I would really like to have tried. It wasn’t on the menu, so I wonder if it’s no longer offered. Or could it be a combination that just didn’t sell?

Some of the dogs on the menu were not what I’d expect from a business trying to promote Japanese flavors, making one wonder if they’re trying to appeal to American tastes. A Pizza Dog is topped with mozzarella and pepperoni. Chili Maru & Cheese has bacon, chili and cabbage.

For now, Japadog is still king but Gourmet Dog Japon is a good substitute.

Gourmet Dog Japon
Corner of 2nd Ave and Pike
Seattle, WA

Japadog (Vancouver, BC)

There’s something incongruous about the term Japanese hot dog. I mean, do they actually eat this stuff over there? I know they must if some of the winners of the Coney Island Hot Dog contest have been Japanese. Okay, that’s one thing. But to have the Japanese open up a hot dog stand? When first introduced in Vancouver, Japadog became an instant success. Their formula was to add distinctively Japanese condiments in place of the venerable ketchup, mustard and sweet pickles.

After many years, we decided to give the place a try, non-PC name notwithstanding. There are now several locations throughout the city. We had our Japadogs by the Waterfront terminal.

We ordered the beef terimayo and oroshi dogs. The oroshi was better. Who would’ve thought that grated daikon oroshi) would pair well with a dog? It really is a happy marriage. What ties it together is the “special” soy sauce poured on the radish with a sprinkling of green onions.

Oroshi dog

Helped by a squirt of wasabi mayo, the beef terimayo was good too, which otherwise would have been one-dimensional with just a teriyaki flavor.

Beef terimayo dog

One problem is that the sausages are kept in hot water which tends to hydrate them and dilute their flavor, giving them a boiled taste. I’ve always preferred pure grilled weiners. However, the server does finish off the sausage on the grill. We noticed that each Japadog location has a unique dog not sold at any others.

Granville St and Cordova St
In front of the Waterfront Skytrain Station

Poutine Dog at Zog’s (Whistler, BC)

Poutine is a dish that got its start in Quebec and has become quite popular and widespread throughout the rest of the country. French fries are topped with a brown gravy and cheese curds. Ever curious, I had a substitute—a poutine dog at Zog’s, a hot dog with gravy and curds. With fries, you can at least dip them in the gravy and maybe spear a curd or two, before putting them in your mouth. With a dog, there’s a challenge since you have to put your mouth to the bun and bite, but with all that gravy slipping through my fingers, I resorted to fork and knife. Personally, the combination of gravy and curds do nothing for me. Canadians love the stuff. Maybe if the gravy were tastier, it would be a little different.

Poutine dog at Zog’s (Whistler Village)

4340 Sundial Crescent
Whistler, BC V0N 1B4

Slaw Dog (Pasadena, CA)

The O.G. Thai Slaw Dog

The O.G. Thai Slaw Dog put Slaw Dog, a hot dog restaurant located in Pasadena, on the food scene in So Cal. The Food Network chimed in with a segment. The menu strikes you with this: choices, choices, choices. Not only is the standard list extensive, but you can even create your own from a staggering list of not only wieners, sauces and veggie toppings, but also other kinds of meat, cheeses, even kimchi.

The Thai dog consists of a split chicken sausage topped with a satay dressing, peanuts, sriracha aioli and a slaw (cabbage, carrots and cilantro). Pricey as it is at $6.59, it isn’t the most expensive. That honor goes to the TNT Super Dog (from their menu: “12-inch rippered dog, chili, cheese, bacon, pastrami, fries, grilled onion, wrapped in giant tortilla, fried egg upon request”) at $8.88. The Thai dog arrived so smothered with toppings that I had to eat it with a fork and knife. For such a resplendent creation, it wasn’t possible to judge it as a hot dog where the flavor of the wiener should be predominant, with condiments that support, not compete. I barely tasted the sausage.

Are we genuflecting before the gods of excess? When is too much, too much?

My advice? If you come here, keep it simple. Give me a Costco hot dog any day, with deli mustard, a small squeeze of relish, and minced onions. Plus I’d save $5.

Slaw Dog
720 North Lake Ave. #8
Pasadena, CA 91104
Also locations in Woodland Hills and Duarte