Culinary history is in dispute as to the origin of the term “hot dog” to describe frankfurters, a cooked sausage named for the city of Frankfurt, Germany. Some historians mistakenly credit a newspaper cartoonist for coining the term “hot dog.” According to a popular urban myth, that cartoonist used the term in the caption of a 1906 cartoon depicting barking dachshund sausages nestled warmly in rolls. Not sure how to spell “dachshund” he simply wrote “hot dog!” (By the way, The Dude, our debonair dachshund, hates the term.)
My dear friend Becky Mercuri blows the lid off that theory in her fabulous tome, The Great American Hot Dog Book. She cites several sources which prove without a doubt that a cartoonist did not coin the phrase “hot dog.” So, just where did the term originate? According to Becky, extraordinary word etymologist Barry Popik “doggedly pored over issues of the Yale Record, and triumphantly found the elusive evidence in the October 19, 1895 issue…describing students who “contentedly munched hot dogs.” Popik’s research is always unimpeachable. So is Becky’s knowledge about all things hot dog and sandwich.
There’s no dispute that hot dogs are as American as apple pie, the Dallas Cowboys and well…hot dogs. In the Duke City, there may be no better example of the quintessential hot dog than at the Dog House Drive-In on historic Route 66. The Dog House’s vintage neon sign, circa the 1950s, celebrates the cultural heritage of Route 66 with an animated neon sign that, when lit up, depicts a dachshund wagging its tail merrily as it consumes several sausages strung together.
The Dog House is an absolute institution, a local legend and and example of living memorabilia reflecting a bygone era! Its current location was built in the 1960s and remains one of the most enduring and popular neon-spangled representations of the halcyon days of Route 66. The actual restaurant itself is the size of a shoe box, a bona fide hole in the wall with more charm than ambiance. With extremely limited seating (about five four-top tables and an old-fashioned counter with stool seating), many diners park their cars and wait for the sole (sometimes harried but seldom hurried) waitress to come take their orders. Because there are no shaded canopies under which to park, mid-summer dining under the blazing New Mexico sun can be a smoldering experience.
Still, the parking lot is crowded with a phalanx of parked vehicles (including on the day of my April, 2019 visit, the 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 pictured above) toting hungry patrons willing to endure the sun’s scorching rays to partake of some of the very best hot dogs in New Mexico, maybe the southwest. The most popular dog is the foot-long chili cheese hot dog (with or without onions and cheese). This isn’t the Tex-Mex aberrational “chili” (a pathetic brown sauce with ground beef) we’re talking about. It’s a fiery red hybrid New Mexico style chile with ground beef ameliorated with a pinch of cumin (its only flaw). In March, 2019, 10Best named this hot dog among the 10 most interesting chile dishes in Albuquerque.
By the way, Becky’s Great American Hot Dog Book includes a recipe for the Dog House’s world-famous chili (SIC) dog. Taking a cue from most self-respecting New Mexicans, she points out the distinction between chile (“New Mexico’s state fruit“) and chili (“what those fruits in Texas eat“) even though the Dog House doesn’t. Her tome clarifies: “Note the spelling is chile, not chili, which New Mexico frowns upon as some kind of perverted Tex-Mex soup.” With a wicked sense of humor like that, is it any wonder she and I are such great friends. By the way, her recipe is accurate to the point of listing that accursed one pinch ground cumin ingredient even though like me, she has a rather low opinion of that spawn of the devil spice.
Though your friendly neighborhood blogger rarely succumbs to the wiles of any chile ameliorated with cumin, the Dog House’s chili has an addictive alchemy that has ensnared my affections. Rather than repel me with its odorant qualities, the cumin-laced fragrance wafting toward me makes my mouth water. Thankfully the well-practiced cooks construct and serve hot dogs faster than the babysitter’s boyfriend when the car pulls up. Tasting the chili dogs is far better than smelling them. Yes, it’s a weirdly addictive chili with enough heat to frighten most Texans. Dog House’s dogs are thin and trim, sliced in half. They’re the antithesis of the plump behemoths you can’t fit into your mouth unless you’re a politician. The Dog House uses sweet bready buns that help temper any piquant qualities the chili might have. So do the chopped onions.
Ironically not only does the Dog House make a great hot dog, its burgers are better than those served at many burger joints. A double meat, chili and cheese burger with onions is red chili’s best retort to New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger. It’s got the same great red chili that’s served on the chili dogs and it’s even messier, if possible. You can also get a green chile cheeseburger at the Dog House, but few diners do.
As for “American style” hot dogs (mustard, relish, onions), the Dog House doesn’t disappoint. The only Albuquerque hot dog in the same class (until it closed) for hot dogs that aren’t classified as “gourmet” was the incomparable “Ripper” at Howley’s. The Dog House is also an absolute rarity in that it serves decent French fries. These fries aren’t flaccid and oily like at many other restaurants. They have a crispy texture and are excellent for dipping into the red chili.
Milk shakes and malts are also available. Alas, the chocolate shake has that indistinguishable “generic” shake taste that makes you wonder why they call it chocolate. It’s also cloying, almost tooth-decaying in its sweetness. Still, they’re served cold and can put out the fire in your tongue (if you’re Texan) from that oh-so-good red chile.
Okay, you’ve read my take on the Dog House Drive In. Now let’s get the perspective of Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) with whom I’ve shared Jack Handy level deep thoughts for a few years about the Albuquerque dining scene. Over the past forty years or so Bob has consumed about 586.75 foot-long chile cheese dogs with onions, so you can trust his observations. Bob observes that:
- The dogs are split to be cooked on the flat plate grille which I’m guessing is the original. Going that extra mile of splitting obviously brings out the true essence of hot dog flavor which is obviously also enhanced by the grille being seasoned after so many years.
- Newbies should eat inside till they master not slopping chile all over their fingers and thus, possibly their clothes by eating in a car.
- Ketchup with one’s fries will help cut the heat for newbies.
- Wait till after 1 to avoid the lunch crowd.
- Lastly, a coke to accompany your meal is sooo gauche; besides, its sweetness clashes with the chile. I recommend the orange soda (any year is fine) to really enhance the chile’s flavor! Muy Sabroso!
When it comes to chili dogs at the Dog House, Bob is E. F. Hutton (remember the commercials touting “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”). Heed his advice.
The Dog House made a “cameo appearance” and was one of the few saving graces of a sophomoric 2004 movie called “Elvis has Left The Building” which was filmed mostly in the Land of Enchantment. While most New Mexicans (and everyone else in the world) avoided that movie, most New Mexicans take great pride in the many times we’ve seen The Dog House on both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, the two popular acclaimed television series filmed in the Duke City.
In May, 2018, Food and Wine partnered with People magazine to find the best hot dogs in every state. Named the Land of Enchantment’s best was Albuquerque’s Dog House Drive In, a “no frills spot on Route 66” which “serves “footlong chili (SIC) dogs (served with red or green chili), tater tots and a killer Frito pie.” Four months later, The Daily Meal listed The Dog House as one of the 50 best Drive-In Restaurants under the spacious skies. In the perfunctory nod to Breaking Bad, the Daily Meal noted that though you won’t find Jessie Pinkman at the Dog House, “you will find foot-long hot dogs and other classic drive-in fare like Frito pies, burgers and shakes,” advising that you should “top your hot dog or burger with their signature chili; it’s simply to die for.”
Dog House Drive In
1216 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 3 April 2019
# OF VISITS: 9
BEST BET: Double Meat Chili Cheeseburgers, Chili Dogs, Double Meat Chili Cheeseburger, French Fries, Frito Pie