Every hot dog is a sausage, but not every sausage is a hot dog. The key differences are in a hot dog’s finely ground meat and signature spices (typically garlic and paprika). According to most sources, we owe this variety to Frankfurt, Germany—hence the term frankfurter—and it’s since been associated with everything from baseball to the street-food sustenance of bar crawls (in a pre-Covid world, that is).
An incredible variety of condiments, garnishes and bready bases has peppered the history of the hot dog, and Toronto is home to no fewer than eight triumphant versions. From bacon wrappings and chilli cheese to brie and blueberry jam, here are eight hot dogs you need to eat right now.
The one with jalapeños
1 Small-batch, hand-twisted beef dogs with lamb casings make up the menu at Fancy Franks, a Toronto staple inspired by one of the symbols of hot dog culture: Coney Island. The Fancy Lala, made with a bacon-wrapped dog, is finished with crispy fried jalapeños and melty orange cheese sauce for a slightly spicy, perfectly seasoned, ultra-satisfying dog. $7.99.
The one with blueberry jam
2 An all-beef sausage on a house-baked croissant along with oozy brie and blueberry jam, this unusual take on a hot dog is sweet and savoury in all the right ways. If the blueberry-and-beef combo seems too out there, remember that fruit and meat is a classic combo: think pork and apples, or duck and marmalade. The folks at Grandma Loves You like to bring European influences to their dogs and sandwiches: France is their favourite food destination, hence this particular dog. You can also get it on a regular hot dog bun, if croissants (for some inexplicable reason) aren’t your thing. $9.49 for the gourmet (croissant) version, $8.49 for the regular.
The one with crispy onions and fennel slaw
3 Chef Stephen Payne’s house-made, no-filler dogs with natural casings (and thus, a solid snap) are the stars of Woofdawg’s elaborately dressed hot dog menu. Here we have the aptly named Loaded Dawg, piled high with crunchy fennel slaw, spicy mayo, crispy onions, sweet corn relish, pickles, onions and jalapeños. It’s a textural wonderland, and it tastes as good as it looks. $8.
The one with a pretzel bun
4 Sauerkraut, sour cream and grainy brassica mustard give this hot dog at Round the Horn complex layers of tang and a touch of heat. A sturdy pretzel bun takes the flavour combo in a decidedly Bavarian direction, and flakes of speck add some crunch. Hot dogs are a specialty at this Roncesvalles sports bar: you’ll also want to try the Seoul Dog made with kimchi, gochujang mayo, and gochugaru for a punchy, slightly spicy dog. $9 for the Das Wurschten, $10 for the Seoul Dog.
The one with mac and cheese
5 With a mound of lightly seasoned pulled pork and slices of mac and cheese loaf (yes, that’s a thing) grilled on a flat top, the Ultimate Dog from midtown’s Uncle Betty’s Diner lives up to its name. Finished with cheddar, garlic aïoli and house BBQ sauce, the all-beef dog is served on a toasted, buttered bun for what really amounts to a complete meal—if you’re not too fussy about food groups. No wonder it’s been on the menu for 11 years. (You can also sub meatloaf for the pulled pork.) $16.
The one that’s absolutely loaded with sauces
6 Completo, Leslieville’s South American fast-food destination (there’s also a Broadview location) serves up an extra-saucy Chilean-style hot dog. There’s mashed avocado, house-made salsa and hot sauce, ketchup, mustard and mayo—and somewhere under all of that—a delicious, organic all-beef hot dog. It’s memorable, intensely flavourful and a challenge to eat on the go—you’ll want to find a spot to pause and enjoy this flavour explosion. $7.75.
The one with a secret
7 The recipe for WVRST’s hot dog bun—toasted and remarkably sturdy—is a closely guarded secret. Not-so-secret is their meat supplier: everything is sourced from Perth Farms, which prides itself on humane treatment of its heritage-breed animals. Two free toppings (a choice of sweet peppers, sautéed jalapeños, sweet sauteed onions, or sauerkraut) come with this bacon-wrapped beauty. You can also opt to add their addictive house-pickled giardiniera for an extra $2.75. Also pictured here: the delightfully crispy duck fat fries and traditional German pretzels. $7.50 for the dog.
The one with chili and cheese
8 Nostalgia reigns supreme at Pepper’s takeout counter in Wallace-Emerson, where you’ll find hot dogs spinning on an old-school roller and a display menu repurposed from a bowling alley. The chili cheese dog, loaded with house-made beef chili and shredded cheddar, is a no-nonsense classic that hits all the right notes—flavour- and emotions-wise. Wash it down with something from their impressive selection of Asian soft drinks or a craft beer from the neon-lit fridge. $4.50.