Kathy Hernandez is a slight woman, the kind of gal you figure sits behind a desk for a living and spends weekends getting pedicures. Yet she spends most weekend late nights in Costa Mesa, lugging a cart twice her size by herself—and that's just the first trip from her car. Next come bricks, then a butane stove, then containers of food, setting up shop in front of a bar to keep drunk hipsters fed and happy.
Hernandez runs Danger Dawgs, only the third food cart in Orange County devoted to the wonderful art of bacon-wrapped hot dogs. She caters and does special events, but the Santa Ana resident is almost exclusively known to the Costa Mesa bar scene, as those are the only folks smart enough to invite her to cook. I've had her dogs in front of the Commissary, Avalon and Kitsch Bar, and the reactions are the same despite their different scenes: slavish devotion, as though Hernandez were the Virgin of Guadalupe of the hot dog world, offering salvation from a late-night Taco Bell run.
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The genius in Danger Dawgs is in the austerity—what could be an understandable mess is downright dainty. Sure, Hernandez piles on the sautéed onions, bell peppers and (if you ask) jalapeños, but she does it within the confines of a regular, sweet, toasted hot dog bun and uses a standard-sized frank: no Dirk Diggler-esque wieners here. Yes, the fatty, crispy bacon wraps around said frank as does a snakes around a caduceus—but the hot dog is made from turkey, a meat I've never cared for until tasting the way Hernandez prepares it: instead of a porcine overload, the turkey's slight sweetness gets enlivened by the bacon seeping into and clinging onto the hot dog. And while Hernandez squirts on judicious amounts of ketchup, mayo and mustard for the bacon-wrapped hot dog's signature tartness, her coup de grâce is Sriracha. The traditional Sonora dog uses a jalapeño salsa topped with Valentina—but this is Orange County, where chinitos and wabs demand miscegenation in their food, and Sriracha on a bacon-wrapped hot dog is as wonderful a combination as Dos Chinos and Soho Taco sharing a clustertruck. The Sriracha adds a garlic aftertaste you never knew a bacon-wrapped hot dog demanded, plus a heat note that plays along with the jalapeño's.
At the end of a long night, after the hipsters cleared through Danger Dawgs, Hernandez packs up by herself, sometimes with the help of friends and fans. Bars of Orange County, unite! Get this gal a gig, and see your customers rejoice with the joy of the saved.
Danger Dawgs, dangerdawgs.com.
This column appeared in print as "Our Lady of Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs."