The hot dog may have arrived in the US from Germany but it quickly became a quintessential American food. When you think of iconic hot dogs joints, a few places come to mind: Nathan’s which started in Coney Island in 1915, the Lower East Side’s Katz’s Deli, Dave’s Red Hots in Chicago and Pink’s Hot Dogs in LA.
Pink’s has been on my food bucket list for years. On a recent one-day drive through LA tracing Historic Route 66 we had no plans to go there; we were on too tight a schedule. But when we crossed La Brea (Pink’s Street), we had to detour a few blocks. We were too close to pass up this opportunity to visit the iconic hot dog stand that’s been serving up dogs since 1939. Paul and Betty Pink started it in a vacant lot with a 50 dollar loan. The current stand opened in 1946 on the same spot. The Pink family still runs it.
Location: 709 N La Brea Avenue (at the intersection of Melrose), Los Angeles, California.*
Menu: Most people come here for the hot dogs; after all, that’s what they’re famous for. There are 35 different dogs from simple ones to those loaded with unexpected ingredients such as pastrami or mushrooms. Not a fan of the dog? You can choose from a handful of burgers including the over-the-top Double Pastrami Swiss Cheese Burger or Jaws (a grilled Polish dog, hamburger, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo) as well as a host of sides.
Every hot dog and every burger on the menu has a name. Some are named for what’s in them while others bear the names of famous people, places or even movies and TV shows. Non-red meat eaters can order turkey dogs or turkey burgers. Vegetarians aren’t left out either. They can order the Patt Morrison Baja Vegan Dog, named for an LA food writer.
Thoughts: If you are a hot dog lover, you have to go to Pink’s! It’s a Mecca for serious hot dog aficionados. While there may be better places to get these American treats only a few share the longevity and tradition this almost 80-year-old LA landmark brings to the table.
Pink’s is popular with everyone from just plain folks to the celebrities Hollywood is famous for. It doesn’t hurt that Pink’s is just minutes from Paramount, Universal Studios, and Disney. We hear it’s not uncommon for a limo to pull up to the stand. Some stars send their people, others like Steve Martin stand in line with the rest of us. In Hollywood’s heyday, aspiring actors often put their headshots up on the walls hoping to be discovered by someone like Howard Hughes or Orson Wells while they were their dining on dogs. Wells holds the record for the most dogs consumed in one sitting at Pink’s: 18. The walls in the small dining area (it seats 12 to 15) are adorned with photos of the hundreds of celebs who have chowed down on Pink’s dogs.
When we arrived at Pink’s at 3 pm there were about a dozen people in line. At a prime eating time, the line must be a bit outrageous. Pink’s has crowd control down; they have lane markers set up to keep the line orderly, think Disneyland. According to Richard Pink, son of Pink’s founders, the busiest days are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with long lines from lunch through closing (3 am on Fridays and Saturdays). Anyone in line at closing time gets served though it could take 45 minutes or so. It’s one of the few places open to serve the after club crowd. While there can sometimes a wait of up to two hours, Pink says the crowds seem to enjoy the experience. People strike up conversations with those around them who often hail from around the country and even around the world. There’s also great people-watching.
The wait gave us time to scan the extensive menu board and get our thoughts together. When it’s your turn, you better know what you want or you could earn glares from those waiting behind you. Coming from New York City, I’m a purist; I like my hot dogs with spicy mustard and sauerkraut. I searched the board; no mustard and sauerkraut dog. How could that be? I felt a twinge of panic. Then, my eyes lit on a sign posted on the order window proclaiming the Karl Reiner: a nine-inch “stretch” hot dog with mustard and kraut. I heaved a big sigh of relief. Reiner, like me, a former New Yorker, understands how a hot dog should be eaten. The crowds here don’t agree; Pink says the hottest seller is the chili cheese dog.
They have a great ordering system. When you get to the window, you give your order to one of the people behind the counter; that person sees your entire order through from beginning to end. Watching them put the dogs together and collect the sides is like watching a well-choreographed dance. With five people, all working at a fast pace, it’s amazing that they don’t trip over each other in the confined space but they have it down to a science. Pink’s website says that they get the dog made and delivered in about 30 seconds. You order your drinks at the register where you pay for and pick up your order.
Food in hand we headed outside to the back patio grabbed a table and bit into our dogs. (Steve ordered the stretch chili dog). They were juicy and tasty, which is what we wanted. The commercial fries and onion rings were crispy. Finished we headed back out to Route 66 with another food bucket item crossed off our list. Richard Pink says the eatery is known as “the little hot dog stand that could.” In our opinion, it did!
If you have a busy day full of fun L.A. activities, this is an easy break to get a quick bite to eat.
Prices: Hot dogs run from $4.50 for a chili dog to $9.50 for El Mandril Dog (jalapeño dog, grilled onions, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeños, and bacon). Burgers are priced from $5.25 for a basic burger or chili burger to $9.55 for JAWS. If that’s not enough, you can add another burger patty and a slice of cheese for an additional $2.15. Fries run from $2.95 for plain fries to $5.90 for Holee Molee fries topped with topped with nacho cheese and guacamole (add jalapeños for $.50). Onion rings are $3.85. The side portions are HUGE!
A few things to know about Pink’s Hot Dogs: Pink’s is open from 9:30 am daily. Sunday through Thursdays they close at 2 am, on Fridays and Saturdays, they’re open until 3 am. Park on the street or in their lot. Being LA they also offer valet parking. They don’t take phone orders.
If you’re looking for a hotel in Los Angeles, you’ll find a variety of choices here.
*Author’s note: Pink’s has opened other locations around the country and even one in Manila, Philippines. This review is for the original LA location.
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