If its website ticker is to be believed, Best Wurst has served roughly 8 million hot dogs since going into operation 20 years ago. This was one of the original Austin food trailers, way before it was trendy (and frankly, when food trailers were still considered a little suspect), and owner Jon Notarthomas is just the nicest man. He will chat with you at 3:00 in the morning as you nurse one of their dogs, trying desperately to avert a morning hangover -- not that I know from experience or anything. Unlike more recent wurst iterations in Austin, Best Wurst keeps its menu simple, with a classic German bratwurst, an all-beef frank, and smoked jalapeno/smoked Italian versions. Because at 3:00 in the morning, you can't possibly be expected to make too many decisions.
Frank just does so many things right, it almost isn't fair to other restaurants. There's the killer location (4th and Colorado), their sharp, hip branding, their glorious craft cocktail menu (bacon-infused vodka Bloody Mary's, anyone?), and finally, their food. Oh, their food! Frank has an in-house sausage program, and their specialties include a pleasantly sour pork and beer brat, as well as an antelope, rabbit and pork sausage (that isn't overpoweringly gamey). Frank wasn't the first beloved hot dog institution in Austin, but since opening four years ago, it has upped the game of every self-respecting hot dog purveyor in town.
Remember when you were 12, and you and your friends dared each other to eat things? ("I'm going to make a magic potion of ketchup, salad dressing, and Coke and will bet you five bucks you can't DRINK IT.") Man Bites Dog is like the grown-up, foodie version of that, with menu items like The Cartoon Dog: It's made with a beef frank, peanut butter, grape jelly and Cap'n Crunch cereal. This all isn't to suggest that owner Jeremiah Allen doesn't have a sophisticated palate (note the classy brioche buns), just a playful one, and my personal favorite is the understated-by-comparison Reuben: It starts with a beef frank base, and is then topped with sauerkraut, swiss, and Thousand Island dressing.
What will be the fate of you, Honky Tonk Hot Dogs? It was recently announced that the S. Lamar Food Trailer Court, where you reside, has just been sold to a condo developer. But I have talked up your cowboy hat-sporting owner, your mini dance floor, and your juicy hot dogs to so many people that perhaps we should start a petition, your fans and I. Or perhaps we will help you purchase a real honky tonk, so you can do the only thing you love more than serving hot dogs inspired by country musicians, and that is serve up country musicians themselves, for our two-stepping enjoyment. Whatever you decide, I'm here for you, Honky Tonk Hot Dogs. And I'm especially here for your Roger Wallace Pulled Pork Dog, because that thing -- topped with shredded pork, BBQ sauce, onions and cheddar cheese -- is a revelation.
Banger's has quickly turned into one of my favorite round-up-everybody-you-know-and-let's-go-drink-some-beers kinda place. With a staggering beer selection and DIY sausage menu (pick your bun, pick your meat, pick your toppings), plus the outdoor stage, picnic benches and dog run, it's the wonderful kind of restaurant setting that feels easy and broken in, even though it's brand new.
If you're a "size matters" type of eater, you should know that Wurst Tex sells some of the biggest dogs in town. They are also the official game warden of Austin hot dog stands, specializing in offbeat meats like rattlesnake (yes, rattlesnake), elk, rabbit, and duck. Speaking of which, I recently tried the "Predator and Prey" brat, made with rattlesnake and rabbit sausage -- pleasantly moister and juicier than I expected.
The quintessential "New York hot dog," Big Top is late-night food for late-night Austinites. Nothing fancy here, just straightforward beef hot dogs here cooked perfectly, retaining that sharp snap of casing when you bite in.
MIKE & mike's like to play up its Vienna beef Chicago-ness, but to me, it is the steamed poppy seed bun that is the real standout here. It's thick enough to hold all the classic ballpark toppings, like highlighter yellow mustard, sweet relish, and chopped banana peppers. But in the end, it's probably not the bun you'll appreciate, but the fact that you'll feel like your taking a little bite of Wrigley Field, with the cheers of White Sox fans and the crack of a far-off baseball bat echoing in your ears.