International House of Hot Dogs
407 E. Northern Lights Blvd. (outside Trend Setters)
$6-$6.50 per plate
9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday
I don’t often discuss my plans for Lunchbox reviews in these pages, but in the name of disclosure I’d planned to write this one months ago. A few other people decided to do so first, however, so I thought I’d wait for the weather to improve before stopping by myself.
The International House of Hot Dogs is one of Anchorage’s most unassuming food carts, a long trailer currently parked on Northern Lights Boulevard near the Trend Setters hair salon. It announces its presence not with a sign but with a smell: the aroma of freshly grilled meat rising through the order window, which had drawn several people to the parking lot in which it was set up during my visit. I was greeted by a busy-looking woman within, who had just enough time to hand me a laminated plastic card before turning her attention to other orders.
As I looked down the menu, the first thing that struck me was its focus and simplicity. IHOH, as its devotees call it, features a core offering of 12 hot dogs, each with a regional name based on the type of dog and extra ingredients included in the bun. Almost all of them cost $6 or $6.50 apiece; you can pick up simple sides like cilantro or chili fries, as well as chips and drinks, but the only other item on the list is a $5 breakfast burrito.
Since I wanted to sample more than one hot dog but still wanted to walk afterward, I had a stroke of innovation and ordered two items to go: a Seattle Dog ($6) and a Chicago Dog ($6), which were handed to me in a plastic bag in perhaps five minutes. Driving back to the station with lunch in hand, I headed through the newsroom to seek out our long-suffering afternoon Web editor, Neil Torquiano, and handed him the Chicago Dog.
The Seattle Dog was what drew my attention in the first place, and it was well worth it. A generous Polish dog, too long for its soft and fresh bun but split-cooked with sear marks all along on the inside, the meat was still surprisingly juicy. Its spicy flavor stood up to the items with which it came: a slew of caramelized onions, a swizzle of yellow mustard…and a layer of cilantro cream cheese, tucked between the meat and the bun. Improbably decadent and savory, the cream cheese ties the dish together and makes it work, offsetting the stronger flavors of the dog and making every bite nothing short of craveable.
A few minutes later, I found Neil in the breakroom, sitting back from the Styrofoam container for his Chicago Dog with a philosophical expression on his face. I asked him what he thought of it -- a Polish dog with fresh-diced tomatoes and onions, as well as homemade jalapeno relish -- and he said he liked the kick of the relish, which kicked in about three-quarters of the way through eating it. Although he was a little surprised by the cost, citing the infamous $1.50 hot-dog-and-drink at Costco -- “So I’m eating a $6 Polish dog?” -- he relented on the price when I mentioned that most sit-down restaurants are about $10 per person, and was generally quite pleased by what he had. “It’s definitely tastier than a Costco dog,” he admitted.
There are other, more-established hot-dog players in the local market, ranging from M.A.’s Gourmet Dogs Downtown to Johnny Chicago’s closer to town, but as a relative newcomer IHOH makes a good showing on its own merits. With adventurous items such as the Montecristo Dog (a Polish dog with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and...strawberry jam?) and the vegetarian Bombay Dog also on the menu, there’s more than enough variety to accommodate multiple visits -- and fortunately, the summer is still young.
Contact Chris Klint