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Good dogs: Frank appraisals of some local hot dog joints

<p>The Pastrami Dog at Sammy&amp;#8217;s on Decatur. PHOTO: BILL HUGHES</p>

The Pastrami Dog at Sammy&#8217;s on Decatur. PHOTO: BILL HUGHES

I like hot dogs. Not out of irony, perhaps out of nostalgia, but mostly because hot dogs are an amusing, action food. You’re on your way somewhere, so you hit the food cart, food truck, drive-through, dining car. Or you’re already at the game, concert, festival, park, waiting on a 100-person line in the parking lot of a pawn shop …

Buldogi’s (2291 S. Fort Apache, 570-7560) seems a bit twisted for straight Summerlin — the name is a hybrid of the Korean bulgogi style of grilling meat and, of course, hot dog. Tucked into one of the area’s upscale strip malls, it offers hot dogs, burgers and fries turned out with high-end ingredients and eccentric tastes. Such as their “Angry Kimchi” fries — a bizarre twist on nachos rendered as sweet potato fries piled with pork bulgogi, kimchi, cheese, green onions, jalapenos and topped with a fried egg. Sounds weird and weird it is — but it’s also addictively delicious.

The hot dogs offer similarly odd combinations — the Angry Dog is topped with pork bulgogi, Asian slaw, jalapenos and spicy mayonnaise. It’s linger-on-the-lips, tongue-tingling spicy and the vinegary slaw is a new take on the usual grilled peppers. There are a variety of more traditionally American hot dogs, but even those have a unique spin: The Buckeye Dog is piled with pork belly bacon, corn relish and cheddar cheese, drizzled with a zigzag of garlic mayo. The dog has a nice heft and snap to it, the bacon adds texture and a slightly smokier variation to the pork taste of the dog.

Also serving up hot dogs way the hell out there is Great Links (6010 W. Craig Rd., 877-3647), nestled into a strip mall among a handful of chains peddling inferior food — Burger King, Qdoba, Starbucks. It’s a small storefront with a dozen tables and a counter that offers a view of the dog assembly; a sign above the grill reads “Vegetarian Selections: Hot Dog, Italian Sausage, Bratwurst, Keilbasa, Chicken Patty, Burger Patty, Bacon, Chili.”

When it comes to toppings, Great Links believes more is more, so make sure you’ve got napkins and a backup fork. There are the usual coleslaw, relish, chili and cheese, but also unexpected items. The Mob Boss is topped with sautéed onions and peppers, but also mushrooms, marinara sauce, mozzarella sticks and a sprinkling of parmesan. The Las Vegas dog is even more drenched: sage sausage chili, jack cheese, tomatoes, cayenne sour cream and mustard. It’s drippy and gooey and tasty — the subtler chili is a pleasant change from the usual spicy red hot dog topper, even if I’m not certain what makes this a “Vegas” dog. (But a true Vegas dog would probably have vodka, glitter, cigarette butts and shredded slot machine tickets on it, so …)

Sammy’s L.A. Style Pastrami (4035 S. Decatur Blvd., 644-8747) is best known for burgers and pastrami — the Travel Channel recently named it one of the nation’s top drive-throughs — but it also makes a damn fine hot dog. Sammy’s is housed in a peculiar blue-roofed cottage that seems more like it should house the seven dwarves than two guys and a grill top, but it’s still pretty enchanted. The garlic Romano fries will make you say, “Damn” — you will actually put them in your mouth and immediately say, “Damn!” or possibly “Motherfucker!”

The pastrami dog is a pile of delicious, thin-shaved pastrami heaped on a hot dog with melted cheese and a pickle spear tucked somewhere in the side. The whole thing melts in your mouth, a delicious heap of fat and dairy and meat products that will probably stick somewhere inside your arteries for decades, but it’s totally worth it. If you want something less weighty, there’s the Chicago dog, loaded with onions, relish, jalapeno and tomato on a poppy seed roll. In lesser hands, it can be a grayish mess, but Sammy’s uses fresh ingredients, with a good frankfurter base (again, tell by the snap) and a fluffy roll.

The Chicago is one of many urban-specific hot dog variations. Another is the Detroit Coney Island — a chili-topped dog named for a New York City beach, but sacred to the folks of the Motor City. Detroit is dotted with hot dog joints like Lafayette Coney Island, National Coney Island, Leo’s Coney Island and American Coney Island. The last recently opened a Vegas outpost. Located in the D downtown, American Coney Island (301 Fremont St., 388-7200) sticks to a basic menu of hot dogs and fries, topped with its signature, secret-recipe chili. It’s a yummy hot dog, largely because you cannot go wrong with that chili — it’s got a sort of warm, brown-sugary mild-yet-hot tang with a trace of barbecue.

This isn’t the most welcoming space — a little antiseptic, and luridly red, white and blue. But a hot dog’s pleasure is in its portability: Take it over to the D’s Longbar, have a beer and watch one of the many TVs. If you can’t bring your hot dog to the game, you can still bring the game to your hot dog.