Is there anything more American than taking what was originally from another culture and improving it a little? It allegedly happened with the hot dog in the early 1900s when a German sausage vendor in St. Louis lent white gloves to his customers so they could handle and eat his hot sausages. But they kept walking off with the gloves. So he decided to tuck his frankfurters inside bread instead. A couple of decades later in Texas, the corn dog followed. Legend has it that German immigrants in Texas realized dipping their frankfurters into a cornmeal batter and frying it was a convenient way to sell them to Americans.
Since then, the tube meat has seen innovations from bacon-wrapped hot dogs to breakfast sausages encased in fried pancake batter. And now in Orange County, there are two new Asian interpretations with which you can indulge on America’s favorite sausage meal and later suffer the same inevitable heartburn.
What started as a pop-up at Coachella, Sumo Dog then graduated into a Koreatown brick-and-mortar and later a stall at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. Those two incarnations closed, and now it’s a cart at Irvine Spectrum, just around the corner from Old Navy. Despite the downgraded setting and an abbreviated menu, when you walk up and order one of its Japanese-inspired hot dogs, you get the same product as at the previous two locations.
Just as in the Big Apple, the hot dogs at Sumo Dog’s cart are plucked from a vat of boiling water. These wieners, however, are of a much higher pedigree. They’re all-American Wagyu beef from Snake River Farms—possibly the most expensive hot dogs on the market. There’s an audible snap when you bite into one, and the flavor is so pure you almost don’t want it masked with anything other than a thin swipe of mustard.
But it’s the toppings that make a Sumo Dog a Sumo Dog, and there’s an encyclopedia’s worth to consider. It takes several minutes for the cart employee to decorate the eponymous dog with almost everything he has stored in his plastic tubs. Zigzags of spicy mayo and teriyaki sauce go on first. Then wasabi relish, pickled peppers, onion, furikake and kizami nori. A cacophony of Japanese notes play in the background as you eat, but Sumo Dog isn’t just about Asian flavors. The best topping happens to be the guacamole, which is found in the Spectrum Dog. Yet even here, Japanese elements of tempura flakes and furikake make an appearance. It’s as if the founder—a chef named Jeffrey Lunak, who helped Masaharu Morimoto open several high-end eateries—is still carrying the torch for his former boss. 670 Spectrum Center Dr., Irvine; eatsumodog.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Hot dogs, $8.
CHUNG CHUN RICE HOTDOG
Offering a Korean take on the corn dog, a street food that’s gone viral in Korea thanks to a series of mukbang videos, is Chung Chun Rice Hotdog. And with not one, but two locations in Orange County opening nearly simultaneously, the chain is aggressively expanding to get ahead of MyungRang, its main competitor, who has a planned outlet in Buena Park.
The arms race is all about the product both sell: a hot dog on a stick covered in a thick rice batter, breaded in panko, then deep-fried. But in a move you’d expect more for a churro, it’s rolled in granulated sugar before serving.
Prior to eating a Chung Chun Rice Hotdog, you have the option of sauces and seasoning powders. There are squirt bottles of habanero, Sriracha mayo and honey mustard, as well as shakers of chamoy, ranch and onion powders.
The base rice dog is sold for a reasonably cheap entry price of $1.99, but if you want some of the other, more interesting variants, the cost effectively doubles.
The most expensive are the potato and sweet potato rice dogs, which start out the same as the original, but then get pockmarked with square chunks of either potato or yam before being plunged in the oil. Though what comes out looks like a medieval weapon of war, the flavor difference between the basic two-buck dog and this nearly five-buck upgrade is nominal. The batter on both tastes like an old-fashioned doughnut, and the unnamed frank has the soft texture and a flavor reminiscent of Libby’s Vienna sausage.
There’s a squid-ink-tinted batter on a rice dog that also has the wiener splayed open so that it spreads apart like tentacles when fried. And there’s an all-mozzarella rice dog if you’re vegetarian. But when it comes to hot dog innovations that might stand the test of time, nothing beats the crushed ramyun noodles breading whose crunch is so loud it could be heard from Frankfurt, Germany. 9760 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 583-8099; also at 4800 Irvine Blvd., Irvine, (657) 660-5078; chungchunhotdog.us. Rice dogs, $1.99-$4.49.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.