Steve Cuozzo

Steve Cuozzo

Food & Drink

Papaya King returns to Manhattan, but is it really NYC’s best hot dog?

Hot dog lovers rejoiced this week with the reopening of Papaya King at 206 E. 86 St., around the corner from where the original stood on Third Avenue for 89 years until it was demolished two years ago.

It’s great to have it back in all its tacky glory. Goofy signs again tout the benefits of its signature fruit drink, including “enhanced male fertility.”  Along with vintage photos, they make the new location feel like its predecessor despite its square footprint; the original was memorably long and narrow.

The outdoor sign oddly lacks the word “King,” but the man at the counter assured me it was only a printing goof that would be fixed shortly.

The condiments make the dog at Papaya King. EMMY PARK
Vintage photos make the new Papaya King location feel like its predecessor. EMMY PARK

But what about the dog itself? As a long time fan of Papaya King’s simply grilled all-beef dog, I was eager to see how it’s held up after two long years of closure.

It tastes exactly as I remember it, I’m happy to report. It’s just as good, though pricier now at $5.34 with tax. It went down too easily with a sugar-packed, zero-alcohol “banana daiquiri.”

True, the meat still tastes generic with just a hint of butter and limited seasoning. But it’s more about the great mouthfeel when heaped with mustard, sauerkraut and onions. 

It’s a satisfying, hunger-beating, protein fix that’s ideal for gobbling on the street, as I’m fond of doing. And it’s instant! Unlike when you order a burger or gyro, they’re ready when you want them — ideal for New Yorkers like me with zero tolerance for exhausting, five-minute waits.

In this summer of unprecedented hot dog hysteria, the Papaya King redux begs comparing with the true king of Big Apple wieners — Nathan’s Famous, which staged its annual July 4th “competitive eating” event last week without longtime champ Joey Chestnut for the first time in 17 years.

The new winner, Patrick Bertoletti, downed 58 franks in 10 minutes, or 55 more than I was able to consume of either brand in a day.

Nathan’s Famous hot dogs are much flavorful than Papaya King’s franks. Steven Cuozzo

Nathan’s says it uses the secret, “same original” 1919 recipe of founder Nathan Handwerker, a formula in which many fans detect a garlic undertone. I tried it at a truck on West 47th Street near Seventh Avenue, where service was a lot faster than at the long-lines on the Stillwell Avenue and Coney Island Boardwalk locations .

Nathan’s $8 hot dog had three more bucks more of flavor than Papaya King’s. But two of three casings were so cellophane-like, extracting the meat was like squeezing toothpaste from a tube.

Neither product could challenge what I regard as the gold standard — the much pricier, foot-long, half-pounders at Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery at the Broadway and 49th Street location.

The $21.95 gut-buster, served on a crunchy challah bun, comes with French fries, relish and sauerkraut.

Junior’s perfectly scored link is the best hot dog in town. Courtesy of Junior's

Junior’s claims its dogs, which are sourced from Newark-based beef providers Best Provision, are cooked in real —not liquid — smoke on a charcoal grill. A secret mix of spices imparts a complex flavor. The frank is well scored and perfectly juicy.

Junior’s giant is definitely not for on-the-street consumption. But, consumed at a table,  it reminds you of how good a simple hot dog can taste — without the need for hype or nostalgia to boost the flavor.

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