Well, it finally happened. After three months of writing for the AJC, I got my first piece of hate mail.
When Gene, Jenny, and I were hired for this job, I looked at our respective beats and realized that, of the three of us, I was probably going to provoke he most people. I’m tasked with finding the best pizza, burgers, BBQ, etc., and all of these elicit powerful reactions. It is nearly impossible to please everyone on these topics. No matter how much I believe that barbecue joint “X” is the best in town, there will be 10 people that think that I’m a moron for believing so. But my job isn’t to keep people happy.
So, when Shane Harrison tapped me to help with the Best of the Big A’s search for the best hot dogs in town, I embarked on a hot dog eating tour that would make even Anthony Bourdain grow sick of his beloved tubed meat. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t love this task, or that I didn’t gain 5 lbs doing research for it. But I wasn’t looking forward to actually ranking some of these, because the race was extremely close.
So, after eating hot dogs for almost every meal for over a week, and spending at least 5+ hours driving around metro Atlanta just to try some of the best dogs in town, I came up with this list. I stand by my rankings, though any hot dog lover won’t go wrong with any of these Top 5 choices.
However, someone out there (who chose not to include their name) disagreed with me, as I’m sure that some of you will too. Fortunately, I have thick skin.
#5 – The Varsity – Atlanta
Being an Atlanta native, I’m sure that some nostalgia played a part in including The Varsity chili dog on this list. On paper, these shouldn’t be that good. The hot dogs themselves aren’t particularly impressive, the buns feel a little cheap, and the chili isn’t the best in town. But there is something undeniably “Atlanta” about the Varsity dogs, and I will still line up any day to suck down three of these with a side of onion rings and an FO. Purists may knock their dogs for being low quality, but where is it written that a hot dog has to be fancy to be good? They are greasy and delicious, and I’ll always love these dogs.
#4 – America’s Top Dog – Chamblee
At America’s Top Dog in Chamblee, it is all about the toppings. With a topping bar offering over 35 choices, customers can customize a Sabrett’s all beef hot dog, a spicy red hot, or a half-smoke to construct their perfect dog. I recommend trying the Georgia dog, topped with chow chow, chili, pimento cheese, and cole slaw.
#3 – Barker’s Red Hots – Marietta
This one was a very popular choice, and one that friends recommended to me more than once. In fact, Barker’s won the reader’s poll for best dog in town. Serving Sahlen’s dogs grilled over a charcoal fire for that backyard taste, Barker’s makes a fantastic hot dog. My favorite is their “signature” dog, topped with onions, pickles, and Barker’s hot sauce, which is really more of a sweet and spicy relish.
#2 – Holeman & Finch – Atlanta
Going into this, I honestly expected that Holeman & Finch would come out the winner. They are the only restaurant in town (that I’m aware of) that makes every component in house, including the bun, pickled jalapenos, and the wiener itself. Priced at $10, this is the most expensive hot dog in town, but you definitely get what you pay for. I won’t say that it came down to a coin flip between this and #1, but it was just about that close.
So which hot dog took the top spot?
#1 – Brandi’s World Famous Hot Dogs – Marietta
Opened over 30 years ago as Betty’s, Brandi took over about 10 years ago and changed only the name. Thankfully, the new owner didn’t mess with the biggest reason why these hot dogs are so delicious – the chili. The chili that tops all of their dogs – it comes standard on all of their dogs, unless you specify otherwise – packs a lot of flavor, and a lot of heat. Brandi’s hot dogs are everything that a great dog should be: sloppy, greasy, and downright delicious.
If you can’t handle spicy, then you might want to reconsider getting their chili, but without it, I can’t say that it would be the best dog in town. I recommend getting the slaw dog, which comes with their signature chili, onions, mustard, and creamy slaw. Open only for lunch on weekdays, expect to find a line of regulars no matter when you arrive. And for good reason, because Brandi makes a hell of a dog.
So, there it is. No doubt, this list won’t please everyone, and it is really just one man’s opinion. But after embarking on this task, no one can convince me that Atlanta doesn’t serve any great hot dogs. You just have to know where to look.
UPDATE: I didn’t include any address/contact info for the Top 5. Sorry about that. Info is below, except for the Varsity, because you all know where it is.
America’s Top Dog
3352 Chamblee-Tucker Rd, Chamblee, (770) 771-3823, americastopdog.net
Barker’s Red Hots
3000 Windy Hill Rd, Marietta, (770) 272-0407, www.barkersredhots.com
Holeman & Finch
2277 Peachtree Road Northeast, Buckhead, (404) 948-1175, www.holeman-finch.com
Brandi’s World Famous Hot Dogs
1377 Church St Ext, Marietta, (770) 422-3681
– By Jon Watson, Food and More Blog
- Jon Watson writes about Popular Eats for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Live To Feast