Next to spotting orange groves and tracking the return of the swallows to Capistrano, one of the best geographic parlor games in Orange County is spotting old Taco Bells, ones from the era in which the company put up faux-adobe buildings. Those structures are almost all repurposed now, from Korean barbecue joints to actual taquerías, teriyaki joints to quick-stop pizzerias, but perhaps the best of the bunch is Game Day Fire-Grilled Hot Dogs, in the eastern part of Orange near El Modena High School. The owners turned what was once a dank, depressing place slopping enchiritos into a mini-sports shrine, complete with pictures of the greats (Ali, Jordan, Ruth), pennants, license plates—all that's missing is a kegger, and you'd have the type of sports pub found in Ann Arbor or Chapel Hill.
There's no liquor license, alas, but more than making up for this are hot dogs taken from the many American regional traditions of the foodstuff—and great takes, too, not Chicago dogs deemed as such because there's a pathetic sprinkling of celery salt. Here, those dogs have the requisite green relish, the sport peppers, the overall complexity of a great Chicago dog's tang and spice. The New York dog is spartan, featuring sauerkraut and spicy mustard, a tart smack to the senses. There's a Coney dog with chili heavy on the cumin; a spin on the Sonoran dog that throws in avocado for creaminess; even a Carolina dog, a wonderful mess of chili and vinegary cole slaw that'll make its bun disintegrate the moment you try to pick it up. Ask for the bun toasted, and behold one of the better hot dogs offered in Orange County right now.
Even though Game Day is a tiny operation, run by a group of brothers whose only previous wiener experience was grilling them in the back yard, one quickly sees their ambition. A separate menu features their hot-dog creations, everything from a chorizo and egg version (with a Polish sausage and chorizo) to one housing pastrami and sausage topped by a fried egg, to a gargantuan Emperor topped with noodles and furikake, something borne from the same part of the brain that created the Oki dog (and on that note, they have a take-off on that pioneer of Southern California fusion, wrapping a foot-long frank in a tortilla alongside French fries and beans; it makes the California burrito seem as filling as oregano). Game Day also sells burgers—all excellent, especially the "Box Seat" variety, in which their imaginations (Bimimbap burger? Spectacular) run amok like many a field of dreams.
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This column appeared in print as "Get Your Game Dog On."