Photo by Tenaya HillsIf Huntington Beach is the last stronghold of Orange County's white working class, then the shopping plaza on the corner of Beach Boulevard and Garfield Avenue is its culinary Little Bighorn, the place where you find grand, eponymous monuments to the republic's diet—Bravo Burgers; Toober's Chips, Dips and Cheese Steaks; and East Coast Hot Dogs.
Of these, East Coast is the simplest. No tables inside—just counters and stools. No air conditioning—that's why there are two tables outside. There's a great Italian roast beef sandwich, a multi-folded pastrami, fries, onion rings and tater tots (more on which in a minute). But people line up five deep for the 11 hot dog varieties, ranging from Chicago to chili cheese to something called the Wow! dog.
Any great hot dog lunch involves ordering two kinds, and that's how I ate at East Coast Hot Dogs one recent lunch break. Business was hectic. There were only three workers, and two didn't look old enough to get past Liquid Lounge security—but the teens wrapped and prepared my choices quickly. I first munched on the New York dog. The bun was soft and steamed; the beef wiener fit snugly inside, lean and a little sweet. Layers of sauerkraut covered the wiener, which glistened with a chameleonic sauce that veered from the bitterness of Worcestershire to the sweetness of chili within the same bite. The New York dog was gooey but didn't disintegrate under my harsh chomps and vice-like grip: excellent.
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The New York dog took only about two minutes to finish, but I meditated for some time on the mere appearance of the mysterious Wow! dog. Like the New York dog, this dawg was spartan—a blackened kielbasa, sautéed onions and a schmear of thick, gritty mustard. It didn't seem worthy of its exclamatory name—but then I took a nibble. The slightly salty kielbasa fused with the sugary onions and the mustard's spicy kick into something superb, something extraordinary—okay, something wow! I looked around—almost everyone, from the Japanese businessman to the elderly lady and her mom to some tattooed bros, was munching on a Wow! dog.
My Wow! dog combo came with fries, but I swapped them for tater tots. It was strictly nostalgia: I hadn't snacked on tots since my lunches at Anaheim's Sycamore Junior High, and it's one of the few pleasant memories my mother has of attending junior high as a Mexican immigrant in Orange County during the 1960s. My dear mother in mind, I doused the tater tots with mustard, shoveled a couple into my mouth, and savored America's sweet, hearty promise.
EAST COAST HOT DOGS, 19092 BEACH BLVD., HUNTINGTON BEACH, (714) 378-0364.