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Great Hot Dog Drive: Five Buffalo-area stops for frank satisfaction

Hot dogs are not a health food.

They don’t seamlessly fit into any food pyramid, nor are they recommended to be a part of any diet that doesn’t induce night sweats. You can boil, grill or charbroil them, and dependent on your level of desperation, thaw and eat them raw.

None of these cooking methods affect the street meat’s nutritional value, so if you’re looking to adhere to the health-conscious course of our times, you should steer away from the nitrate freight.

But I grew up on hot dogs – and today’s Buffalonians are still being raised on hot dogs.

This area is a veritable bastion for hot dog lovers, with its own signature brand (Sahlen’s), mustard (Weber’s) and a slew of seasonal stands to host all comers. This doesn’t even account for year-round grilling, tailgating outside New Era Field or late-night Texas hots hoovered down inside diners and dives. Simply understood, the dog is a Buffalo delicacy – and a necessity come summertime.

Where you go is likely determined by two items: your neighborhood and your friends. But with a car and the right company, you can cross town lines for a frank-filled tour, one that carries the gluttonous to regional spots and stands serving variations of their favorites.

A hot topic: Where does one find the best hot dogs in the area? (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

For this trek, I tabbed longtime friend and noted hot dog enthusiast, Jim Gang. A regular inhaler of both Sahlen’s and Wardynski’s – and repeat passenger on the iconic Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, a vehicle whose image is tattooed on Gang's inner bicep – the Hamburg High School history teacher has always seen the dish as more than a delicacy.

“Going out to grab a hot dog means going out to get a taste of summer, to get a glimpse back in time to my youth,” he said. “The smell of the charcoal, the memories of barbecues. I suppose it’s about nostalgia.”

And that nostalgia is available with all dogs, no matter where they’re dealt. Together with Gang, we drove from one end of the region to the other to enjoy a slather of the season—and delightfully ignore the associated health connotations.

We tabbed the adventure "The Great Hot Dog Drive." Here’s what we found.

Stop No. 1: Connors

8905 Lake Shore Road, Angola

Set off a stretch where beachcombers and Mickey Rats loyalists have been heading for decades, Connors—opened in 1944 by Buffalo police officer Tom Connors, and still operated by his descendants today – is the embodiment of everything Buffalo-area hot dog dining should be.

The smell of the lake intermingles with the footlongs, fries and families that gather at the picnic tables under its covered seating. And with a recent addition to the front of its building, customers now have more room to take advantage of the self-serve condiments station or to decide whether they should deviate from the norm with a Texas hot (as I did).

Method of cooking: Gas and charcoal

Hot dog brand: Wardynski’s

How to eat: Ketchup, onion and dill pickles. Flanked by fries, chased with a medium loganberry ($7.75 plus tax).

Expert take: Gang graded Connors with a solid B-plus. "I do love a Wardynski’s, and hot dogs are for summer," he said. "This is a summer location.”

[Related: Deeper dig into Connors Hot Dog Stand | Where to eat after the beach]

Charbroiled hot dogs perfected at Connors Hot Dog Stand in Angola. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Stop No. 2: Taffy’s

3261 Orchard Park Road, Orchard Park

Perched off the Southtowns traffic nexus that is Five Corners, Taffy’s provides the antithesis of Connors’s beach vibe – but it doesn’t matter. Gang and I pulled into the back parking lot because of its Sahlen’s dogs and shakes, both prepped by second-generation owner Richie Eliah and his staff, and both arguably the best of their kind in the area.

Do you have to deviate from chocolate or vanilla on Taffy’s menu of 138 flavors of shakes? No. But if you do, you can enjoy your choice in a covered table, rocking to the hits of Billy Idol, Huey Lewis and Phil Collins.

Method of cooking: Charcoal

Hot dog brand: Sahlen’s

How to eat: Mustard, onion, dill pickle, Frank’s hot sauce. Flanked by onion rings, chased by Snickers milkshake ($12.33 plus tax).

Expert take: Gang assigned Taffy's an A-plus, noting his hot dog was cooked over charcoal to perfection. He called the service "personable and excellent," and enjoyed the Sirius radio '80s on 8 playing throughout the meal.

[Related: Taffy's makes the list of 10 great humble fries]

Hot dog aficionado Jim Gang and his daughter Elenor Russo pose at Taffy's. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Stop No. 3: Ted's Hot Dogs

124 W. Chippewa St.

Most downtown dogs consumed over the last two decades have been of the 2 a.m. variety, off a cart or under Texas sauce. The return of Ted’s to downtown has changed that, and now offers its approaching-100-year-old fare off the Chip Strip. Indoors or out on its back patio, you can hammer down the same dogs, fries and loganberry Buffalonians like me and Gang have been inhaling since grade school.

Is Ted’s – with multiple locations, and a satellite spot in Tempe, Ariz. – what you think of when you think of the classic hot dog stand? Maybe not – but its taste and experience is what hot dogs in Buffalo are all about.

Method of cooking: Charcoal

Hot dog brand: Sahlen’s

How to eat: Ketchup, mustard, onion, dill pickle and Ted’s sauce. Flanked by a small fries, chased with a regular Johnnie Ryan’s loganberry ($6.83 plus tax).

Expert take: Gang cited consistency when tabbing Ted's with a solid A. He also lauded free refills on drinks, and also reminded that all locales are open year-round "for summertime fun in the winter."

[Related: Where Buffalonians-at-heart eat when they return home]

A footlong at Ted's Hot Dogs. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Stop No. 4: Custard Corner

211 Porter Ave.

A trip up Niagara Street to Porter will deliver you near the site of Ted’s previous Buffalo location, not far from the Peace Bridge. Across the street, its tradition of hot dog purveyance continues via the under-the-radar excellence of Custard Corner.

With tree-shaded outdoor seating, distant views of the waterfront, and passing traffic that can include everything from bicycle brigades from LaSalle Park to woofer-boosted Civics and Accords, the 34-year-old locale provided entertaining ambiance for a few dynamite dogs.

As for its menu, don’t overlook its beef gravy option for orders of fries. If your kids aren’t wild about traditional casing, take advantage of its kids’ meal-catered skinless Sahlen’s hot dog.

Method of cooking: Gas

Hot dog brand: Sahlen’s

How to eat: Mustard, onion, Weber’s hot relish. Flanked by gravy fries, chased with a large root beer ($6.75 plus tax).

Expert take: Gang gave the Corner an A. Among its beneficial factors, he noted its menu as "big, but simple," and also cited its excellent condiment selection (see: Weber's hot relish), friendly service and awesome location.

[Read more: Savor summer at Custard Corner on Porter Avenue]

Stop No. 5: Mississippi Mudds

313 Niagara St., Tonawanda

Scenery. Selection. A locale associated with decades of memories, and the hot dogs to match. The end of the drive has to bring everything together, and Mudds does just that. The place has been a Northtowns outpost for seasonal eats for generations. It has indoor, covered-outdoor and roof-deck seating for families ready to feast on the embodiment of summer, all with a view of the Niagara River.

Simple in its presentation, Mudds' charbroiled dogs deliver, even if they’re mere appetizers for the locale’s available four-flavor flights of Perry’s Ice Cream and the long riverside stroll to walk off the indulgence.

Method of cooking: Charcoal

Hot dog brand: Sahlen’s

How to eat: Ketchup, mustard and relish. Flanked by chili cheese fries, chased with a large Coke ($11.71 plus tax).

Expert take: Gang handed Mudds a solid B, noting its great all-around food, cool history and as "a great summer trip to take with the kiddos."

[Read: A Buffalo boater's guide to docking and dining]

*****

Five for another drive

Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs

707 Kenmore Ave.

Hot take: The longtime food truck favorite and EXPO Market occupant is now slinging its gourmet-style dogs inside its new brick-and-mortar location just over the city line in Kenmore.

[Read: Starters at Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs' first brick-and-mortar spot]

George’s

5808 Herman Hill Road, Hamburg

Hot take: Southtowns family favorite remains a cash-only summertime staple, and boasts the area’s only hot dog stand playground, which comes in handy with the kids.

Louie’s Original Foot-Long

1893 Niagara St.

Hot take: With its new yearlong location on Niagara Street, the previously seasonal Louie's has expanded its footprint from Tonawanda into Black Rock, too.

[Read: New location, familiar favorites at Louie's Niagara Street]

Red Top

3360 Big Tree Road, Hamburg

Hot take: With its Lake Erie views, potato chip-like fries and stellar shakes, Red Top is still a seasonal rite of passage for generations of Southtowns natives.

Tony’s Bayview Drive-In

3804 Lake Shore Road, Blasdell

Hot take: Boasting charbroiled Sahlen’s dogs and location next to a go-cart track and mini golf course (Bayview Raceway & Golf), the longtime Route 5 favorite has been going strong for more than 35 years.

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