Fourth of July On a Plate

Orange County is a bazaar of astounding dining bargains. Foot-long, two-dollar Vietnamese sandwiches. Ten-dollar Korean dinners for four. The one-dollar combo at Tacos el Charito in Huntington Beach—a culinary stick-up that is two tacos and unlimited pineapple juice. But such specials often require knowledge of a foreign tongue and a cast-iron tummy. You want something affordable, something American. Welcome to COSTCO's $1.50 hot dog-and-soda combo.

Part of the combo's appeal is the price, of course—the county's great hot dog stands like PCH Hot Dogs and Jerry's Wood-Fired Dogs sell their wieners for at least $1.50, and even the smallest soda will set you back a buck. But I'd recommend a visit to Costco even if they tripled the price. A Costco hot dog is the Fourth of July on a plate. It triggers memories of Little League games, of Mom boiling a quick, easy snack for your grade-school friends. The franks are all-beef Hebrew National—that accounts for the clean, meaty taste. The boiled wieners are so long that the teen cooks who prepare them must chop the lengths in half. The bun's bottom doesn't split into two, and is slightly toasty. Costco skimps on the condiments—onions, relish, mustard and ketchup are the only ones available, although the Polish dog comes with a side of sauerkraut.

Costco's food courts sell more than just hot dogs, but the rest of the menu is rudimentary—pizza, churros, salads—and overpriced. There's one exception, and, like the hot dog, it's a gem: the Chicken Bake, a foot of pizza dough filled with chicken-breast chunks, bacon, onions, a dab of Caesar salad dressing, and a mixture of melted Parmesan and mozzarella. If the Costco hot dog is the epitome of wholesome American cuisine, the Chicken Bake represents the New American: sheer fat. You really can't taste much in terms of subtlety—it's all overwhelmed by the gush of melted cheese that spills into your mouth with each bite. Like fried Twinkies, that's the point. The Chicken Bake is so awesome in its size and disregard for the public health that it prompted a fretful American Heart Association spokesperson last year to tell the Seattle Times, "I don't want to single out Costco, but their portion sizes tend to be pretty large." That's the point, honey—large and affordable is what matters in the Republic. And if it's edible? Better.


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