By: Edward Bennett for The Dirt
I stopped by The Hotdogger after their lunch rush to grab a bite and learn more about an old Davis favorite. There I spoke with owner Cheryl and her son Tad and learned about hotdogs, an international mustard seed shortage, and the subliminal sway of small details.
A realist scene by an erstwhile UCD grad student (Evan Thomas Lily) ages in place by the entrance to the smallest hotdog time machine I know. The Hotdogger is a Davis culinary institution much like the hotdog is an American culinary endpoint (akin to deep-dish or PB&J); innovation is tolerated, but tradition is a stubborn gatekeeper.
Of course their Chicago Dog is consistently delicious, but if you want to shake the habitual, try ordering Tad’s recent favorite: the Ortega-style spicy mango chicken sausage. Hotdog aficionados please note: one of the owners, Ivan, has embarked on an expedition around the globe to startle his senses and translate these adventures into hotdogs for a developing World Wiener menu. I am as transfixed by that last sentence as you are.
These new creations will work their way into the 21st-century Hotdogger experience as the business expands out through two newer locations (Wednesday and Saturday at the Davis Farmers Market; Friday at Ruhstaller) in addition to the original 129 E Street location.
I set down my Chicago Dog, then unceremoniously tried the best fries I’ve had since I can recall—even as I can’t recall the last time I ate fries worth mentioning. I honestly thought I preferred deep-fried fries, so I sat thinking about the baked wedge fries as more small details came into focus that make the restaurant seem slightly larger than it could possibly be. At approximately this moment I realized the ketchup’s flavor profile was different than I expected, yet perfectly complemented the wedge fries. I called Tad back at The Hotdogger and he confirmed a serendipitous detail—The Hotdogger has been using Hunt’s ketchup since the restaurant opened.
Those new to Davis may be unaware a proper Hunts-Wesson tomato factory once stood where the Cannery development is today. I hold no preference for Hunt’s over Heinz, so I objectively point to the +1g sugar difference that lends Heinz a palpably sweeter and more tomato-y finish while Hunt’s leans tart and vinegar-forward—a real treat for potatoheads.
It should be no surprise then that The Hotdogger’s mustard selection is amazing as you dream it to be, even amidst rapidly changing tastes and the havoc of an underreported 2022 mustard seed shortage. These past few years have forced The Hotdogger to renegotiate with some distributors in an effort to continue serving as many of their preferred mustards and other condiments as possible.
Curiously enough, The Hotdogger has never actually advertised (save for a spot in the Enterprise’s 2023 Pride issue and sponsoring various Davis community events), yet endures as one of the few small spaces I can relish and share small time with my kids—like we do at Newsbeat or the Delta of Venus; like I did at Bogey’s Books, Discoveries, or the State Market.
Among their few marketing materials, The Hotdogger still employs the original logo designed by Dan Dan the Skydiving Man—a cheerful continuation of the old, folded into the present.
3 locations + offerings:
- Davis Farmers Market: fresh corn dogs and world wieners served on Wednesday evenings.
- 129 E Street: All the condiments and their fullest menu (no corn dogs; no world wieners at present).
- Ruhstaller: Grill menu includes world wieners and cheese-skirt fries.
But is it local?
All of The Hotdogger’s meats are sourced from Schwarz in Fairfield, buns are baked daily by Village Bakery in Davis, wedge fries and corndogs are made to order, and the in-house sauerkraut traces seasonality & availability at the Davis Farmers Market.