For some, Nathan’s is the ultimate hot dog mecca in New York; others flock to gourmet upstarts like Crif Dog, home of the bacon-wrapped tube steak. But on Manhattan, where every corner has a pushcart slinging dirty water dogs, there can be only one- Gray’s Papaya, home of the Recession Special, 2 dogs and a drink for three-fifty.
We ended up there after seeing The Goonies on Pier 46 at River Flicks last Friday, and it was definitely worth the walk. Two seared franks loaded with kraut mustard and onions, with one of their fruit drinks- the titular Papaya, or perhaps the sublime coconut champagne- and your search for post-drinking food is sated, at a bargain price.
Gray’s started in 1973 and has been a landmark since- with three locations along the West side, if you’re in the Village, near Lincoln Center, or near Times Square you’re set. It’s not as old as Papaya King, which started in 1931, but like another relative newcomer, Grimaldi’s Pizza, it consistently gets voted #1 over its aged forebears.Eye-rollingly good.
They don’t offer chili, cheese, or relish like Papaya King, but their roasted pups and their sweet onion sauce stand great on their own. They’re a little on the small size- your typical Sabrett’s weenie slathered with mustard, a mere 3 or 4 bites- but they’re full of flavor and deserve their legendary status. They go perfectly with their Papaya drink, but there’s banana daiquiri, orange, grape, pina colada, and of course, the effervescent Coconut Champagne to choose from. And don’t forget, the Papaya drink is made from the aristocratic melon of the tropics.
Admittedly, much of the mystique surrounding Gray’s is nostalgia, but it’s the quintessential NYC hot dog. Roasted like the original Nathan’s, but with it’s own characteristic flair. It may not be as filling or wild as a Puka Dog, but until the Hawaiians invade, Gray’s will be safe.
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