Every Thursday, I’m going to share something (or someone) I’m thankful for. And I realize that it’s somewhat offensive to have my first item be chili dogs. It should probably be my wife, or my kids, or something like that. But I’ve been promising a post about chili dogs for quite a while now, and it’s time.
Chili dogs are one of my favorite things. Allow me to rank my favorites here (I’m sure there will be omissions, but this is as-of-right-now). But first, a few words. I don’t really care if you disagree with me, because you’re wrong. I’m learning a lot of humility in most of my life right now (trust me…I’m being humbled)…but not in the realm of chili dogs. Chili dogs don’t have ketchup on them. EVER. If you do that, you’re disqualified from being trusted by me in any capacity. Onions are out for me, but allowed for others. I can see how they would add to the experience, but I simply hate onions. #theymakemegag
The chili itself cannot have whole beans. I like chili in a bowl, too…and that can have beans. But NOT on my hot dog. Chili beans are totally a thing here in the Central Valley (and on the Central Coast). There’s a place called Frank’s in San Luis Obispo that has so much potential. But beans in their chili means they’re disqualified from my list. What about cheese? I don’t mind it at all, but it’s not necessary. And please don’t try to be fancy and put shredded cheddar on there; I prefer a slice of American. But again…cheese isn’t even needed.
Just TONS of mustard. Let’s get to the list!
Chili 9/10 • Dog 4/10 • Price 8/10
This place is legitimately so good. The fact that it’s a big chain does NOT downgrade it in any way! Don’t bother upgrading to a premium dog. The chili actually goes better with the cheap dog anyway. I always feel ripped off paying for the cheese here, so I avoid it. But if I’m ever in pig-out mode, the 5-for-$5.55 (or whatever it is now, they keep raising it!) is a great deal. A close second to my love for chili dogs is my love for corn dogs, so I usually go 3 chili dogs, 2 corn dogs. And if the mini corn dogs are on sale, they’re legit. PRO TIP: both in Santee and in Fresno, my nearest Wienerschnitzel is next door to a Costco. I have been known to get a cup of chili and put it on a Costco dog. #yum
Triangle Drive In:
Chili 9/10 • Dog 8/10 • Price 5/10
This is a Fresno institution. I want to be cool and tell you to go to the original location on Belmont, but it’s legitimately sketchy. I don’t mind going there myself, but if I’m taking my girls (who LOVE chili dogs, by the way! #parentingwin), I’m heading to the MUCH cleaner, much more family-friendly Barstow location. The chili dog is great. Premium beef dog, toasted bun, great chili…so good. I was surprised to discover that their chili actually has pieces of bean in it; real fine, small pieces. The flavor is great. I’m pretty sure they prepare it on site every day! I don’t like it with the shredded cheddar (I just have to remember to ask for a slice), and the price is hefty ($6). But it’s totally worth it.
Chili 10/10 • Dog 6/10 • Price 10/10
The Chuck Wagon is another gem in the Fresno area. It’s actually located in Sanger,
which puts it more than a half-hour from my house (but only 15 minutes from my work!). This place is so old-school. Order at a window from a lady who has probably been working there for 20 years. The dog is a foot-long, but it’s a cheap dog. Thankfully, the price you pay reflects that! (Something like $2.25 a dog.) It was here that I overheard another customer requesting dill pickle slices on their chili dog. That’s been a game-changer for me. Thank you, random stranger! For about a year, I thought their chili had beans in it, so I avoided it. I was just flat-out wrong (I think I confused myself with a bad experience with onions my first time there). In any event…you just need to go there!
Chili 6/10 • Dog 3/10 • Price 10/10
The beauty of a place in Visalia. So I really shouldn’t have been here as many times as I have, but it’s just the sort of establishment I want to support. It’s a tiny shack in the heart of downtown Visalia. The old lady working the register has probably worked there since the 70s. The signage is gorgeous! The hot dogs are cheap (Farmer John). They come with chili, mustard, and relish. Relish with chili?!? Yup. It totally works. They’re super cheap, so I usually order 3 or 4. They come wrapped in thin paper and packed into a little box. No frills (no fries!). Just bags of chips. And they don’t even offer Frito boats (a mistake, says me). In any event, if I’m ever in Visalia, I’m stopping for Taylor Bros.
Chili 6/10 • Dog 10/10 • Price 7/10
Oh…I didn’t mention this earlier, but another thing that doesn’t belong in hot dog chili is vegetables. I know that some of you like those green peppers in your chili. But not me. I love Rocket Dog. They’ve got a great beer selection (multiple sours, even!). The other stuff on the menu is great. I’m just not about their chili. But go, for the love of all things sausage-centric!
Chili 11/10 • Dog 10/10 • Price 8/10
If you’ve made it this far, you are to be rewarded with the answer to the burning question: who makes THE ABSOLUTE BEST chili dog on the planet? It’s Tommy’s. I was introduced to Tommy Burgers at the original location on Beverly and Wilshire in Los Angeles by an adventurous scoutmaster named Ron Plumb. As a teen, I’d pound several of their chili burgers, and it was heaven. Tommy’s chili is the kind that turns your hands orange. It has no discernible pieces of meat (relax, it’s just fine ground), but it’s the best chili ever. And they’re not shy about putting a ton on your burger. Fast forward to some year in the early 2000s…Tommy’s decided to add chili dogs to their menu. And they did it right. I can’t remember right now which brand (Caspers? Sabrett’s?), but they went with a hot dog in a natural casing. You know…the kind that pop when you bite into them. So you’ve started with the best chili ever, put it on one of the best hot dogs ever, then put mustard and pickles with it? The best. If you argue, you’re wrong. If I had tons of money, I’d start a Tommy’s franchise up here in Fresno. For now, I’ll just have to wait for my occasional trips down to SoCal.
Others that deserve mentioning:
Cincinnati-style: This is a style all its own. It’s a bean-less chili with hints of chocolate and cinnamon. They put the chili on spaghetti, too, but I’m all about the coneys. They’re super-cheap, tiny little hot dogs piled high with a super-fine cheddar cheese. They’re all good (Gold Star, Camp Washington, Skyline), but my favorite is the Camp Washington variety; it’s just a touch spicier than the others. A little known fact about this style of chili is that it’s Greek in origin (which leads me to my other gem for you…order the greek salad!)
Raleigh area: This doesn’t really belong on this list but if you ever find yourself in Raleigh, North Carolina, ask your host to take you out for slaw dogs. Side note: one of the best things on the planet are the hush puppies in this area.
Sonic: Not. Worth. It. Get some tots and a Diet Cherry Limeade, but skip the dogs. That being said, I’ll still get a footlong coney on occasion, but #meh.
7-Eleven: No. Just do mustard and relish here.
That’s it. The long-promised treatise on chili dogs. Done.