428 G Street, Downtown San Diego
The guy in the wheelchair sits at the corner of Fifth and G, waving his “Hot Dogs!” sign toward G Street. That’s all you need. You can see the crowd halfway down G, clumping around in a pool of light under the green canopy. Huh. Used to be a smoke shop there. Now it’s all white, with green and orange neon stripes.
And another sign: “Hot Dogs @ 428.”
“This is nothing,” says the big guy at the cash register — name’s Savash. Turkish — when I finally fight my way inside. “At one, two o’clock, we have a line that goes right around the corner.”
“Eat me!” says a T-shirt on the wall. “Dee-licious 5¢ hot dogs,” says an ancient poster. “Please, no smoking,” Betty Boop coos from her placard. There’s a three-stool counter tucked against the wall, narrow, because the whole place is narrow. But that’s the thing with hot dogs. You don’t need no counter. Most folks just haul the little cardboard skiff out onto the street and start scarfing.
I am hungry, but not crazy-hungry. Probably, like the rest of the crowd here, just needing a little something to sit on the suds I seem to have been sinking. Something to get me home.
The guy ahead asks for a bacon dog. Everything’s listed on the wall menu, starting with the “Naked Dog & Bun” ($2.99). The cheapest is the corn dog at $2.49. Savash says they have the fastest service in town, and also the “best hot dogs in California, period!” The “signature dogs” are all-beef, kosher, and made by Hebrew National.
I believe the thing about speed. The guy in front of me has barely paid Savash when the gal behind the display cases calls out, “Bacon dog ready!”
“That’s Nora,” says Savash. “Fastest hot dog–maker in the West.”
The bacon dog comes with jalapeños and salsa and whatever else you can slosh on it from the extras tray. Costs $3.99. But guess I should go for the Big Daddy. For a buck more, it promises everything but the kitchen sink. Nora says it includes bacon, cheese, chili, whatever you want.
Hmm... Can’t quite decide. I drop back to the end of the line to have more time for deep thoughts. Like, didn’t all this hot dog phenom come from New York? So shouldn’t I have the New York Dog ($3.99)? It has mustard, onions, sauerkraut. That has to be the, like, classic. But then they have a bunch of regionals, too. The Deep South ($3.99), with coleslaw, plus mustard, and cheese. The Texas ($3.99) has BBQ sauce, and the Sushi ($3.59) has wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce. Not sure about that one.
By this time, I’m getting back to the front of the line.
“Bacon dog, but can you add avocado?” says the girl ahead of me. Tanya. “Sure,” says Savash. “Any way you want it.”
She hands over $4.34.
“Which are the spiciest?” I ask. “The Diego and the bacon,” Savash says.
Oh right. The ones with the jalapeños.
“Go for the chili cheese dog,” says a guy standing on my side of the counter, chatting with Savash. “You won’t go hungry with that.”
“It is about the most popular,” says Savash.
“Okay. Chili dawg it is.” It’s a little up there at $4.59. I mean, yes, this may not be the hottest hot dog deal in town — I noticed a hot dog joint at City College trolley stop on 12th (Park) and C advertising dogs at 99 cents — but it’s late nite, and you do get all these choices, and hey, Hebrew National…
It’s pretty delicious, once you load it up. Plus, hot dogs is all about circumstances, like tacos: out on the street on a cold night, they feel just right. Eating inside, at a linen-covered table, while your friend attacks a filet mignon and mushrooms, don’t cut the, uh, mustard.
No problem here. I’m out on the sidewalk chomping and chatting with Savash’s friend Darren. Turns out he’s an architect. Designed this place. He’s here to talk with Savash about permits to extend it out onto the sidewalk. “We’ve had to go through hoops because this is a historic building,” he says. “It was built in 1892. Actually, this was the center of town, once. You see that Queen Anne across the road?”
He points to a building on the other side of G Street, a redone old place where Johnny Love’s has the corner. Arched windows, lots of curlicues. “Built in 1879,” Darren says. “See the sign above the door? That was City Hall for 50 years, 1887 to 1938.”
Huh. The carved sign above the door still says “City Hall.” Incredible, but I never noticed before.
“Savash is an extraordinary guy,” says Darren. “He’s from Turkey, he speaks about five languages, he worked as a translator in Iraq, and then he was an executive recruiter. Now, he’s here till 3:00 every morning.”
“We run it military-style,” Savash says a moment later. He’s taken advantage of a lull inside to catch a breath of air. “We can process one order every minute. It’s the pilot for a franchise.”
Not only that, but every Wednesday at 6:00 p.m., Savash takes 120 hot dogs down to the Salvation Army building at Seventh and E and gives them away. Anyone can go in and eat. “I do it with an organization called ‘Embrace,’ ” he says.
My dog is good, messy. Not the most outrageous dawg ever, but that Hebrew National is one excellent, meaty, filling hot dog. Lean, but not mean. And I like that even at this late hour, they don’t gouge you. Heck, they have a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich for $2.45. If you’re really pinched, you can get chicken soup and crackers, or stuffed grape leaves for $1.99. Coffee’s only 99 cents.
Now, if Savash could just add Turkey’s real gift to the world: doner kebabs…
The Place: Hot Dogs @ 428, 428 G Street, between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, Gaslamp Quarter, 619-544-0428
Type of Food: American
Prices: Corn dog, $2.49; naked dog and bun, $2.99; bacon dog (with jalapeños, salsa), $3.99; Big Daddy (“everything but the kitchen sink”), $4.99; New York dog (with mustard, onions, sauerkraut), $3.99; Deep South (coleslaw, mustard, cheese), $3.99; the Texas (BBQ sauce), $3.99; the Sushi (wasabi, ginger, soy sauce), $3.59; chili bowl, $2.99; sandwiches, including roast beef, Italian ham and cheese, chicken breast, turkey breast, tuna salad, veggie, $3.95
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–2:00 a.m.; Friday–Saturday, till 3:00 a.m.; closed Mondays
Buses: 3, 11, 120
Nearest Bus Stop: for #3: Market at Sixth (northbound), Fourth and G (southbound); for #11: Market at Third (southbound), Market at Fourth (northbound); for #120: Fourth and G