Redhots in the Rapids: 8 anchors of the West Michigan hot dog scene

Redhots in the Rapids: 8 Anchors of the West Michigan Hot Dog Scene

Photo courtesy of Canva

By Lisa Green

October 4, 2023

From pickles to kimchi, West Michigan is getting wonderfully wacky with their hot dogs.

MICHIGAN—Detroit may have given rise to the famous coney dog, but the Grand Rapids area has a hot dog scene all its own.

If you live in Michigan, you know that coney island isn’t an amusement park, it’s a diner-style restaurant that serves coney dogs alongside regular Greek fare. The star of the coney island menu is the coney dog, a hot dog that’s similar to a chili dog, but different in the sense that it uses a beanless chili sauce (coney sauce). The Detroit coney features a steamed hot dog with natural casing, most traditionally from Koegel’s Viennas, then slapped on a bun and coated in coney sauce and topped with yellow mustard and diced white onion. 

The Detroit coney originated from two infamously dueling coney islands—American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island, both of which opened in 1917. But that doesn’t mean you should count out the rest of Michigan. 

Michigan foodies generally know that there are four regional variants on the coney, each one deriving from a specific coney-island restaurant dating back to the early 1900s. The Detroit style is the most well-known and most popular, but there are others. The second most popular variety is the Flint-style coney, which generally has drier sauce than the Detroit style. The coney sauce is made of loose beef, usually using a combination or choice of ground beef or coarse ground-beef hearts. The Flint-style coney’s origin story can be traced to Flint’s Original Coney Island and Angelo’s Coney Island, both of which are now closed. But there’s still plenty of places to get a Flint-style coney dog.

Kalamazoo and Jackson also have their own styles, and though they’re lesser-known, they’ve been around the longest. Jackson opened the first coney island restaurant in 1914 with Todoroff restaurants. The Jackson style is very similar to the Flint-style coney, but generally uses spicier beef products. Kalamazoo has the honor of being home to the longest continually operated coney island restaurant in Michigan: Coney Island Kalamazoo, which opened in 1914. They’ve got the Kalamazoo-style coney, which is quite similar to the Jackson style with a different topping recipe.

But there’s a whole other side (literally) of the Michigan hot dog scene that you don’t know about. West Michigan, specifically Muskegon, has an underdog hot dog tale all its own. Read on to learn more about the origins of this unique regional cuisine and where it came from.

G&L Chili Dogs

1705 Holton Road, Muskegon

2510 E. Apple Ave., Muskegon

771 W. Sherman Blvd., Norton Shores

1133 E. Sternberg Road, Norton Shores

Redhots in the Rapids: 8 Anchors of the West Michigan Hot Dog Scene

Photo courtesy of G&L via Facebook.

G&L Hot Dogs is an institution of the Muskegon area, where it serves up its trademark Amazing Greek Chili Dog at four different locations. The chili dog was the clear winner in an MLive readers’ poll for best coney/chili dog in Muskegon

G&L actually has a history in Muskegon dating back almost as far as the most infamous coneys. The first location opened in downtown Muskegon on Western Avenue in 1926. George Baldas and Louis Couredas opened the location as one of more than 15 Greek-run restaurants in downtown Muskegon, but G&L stood the test of time. 

Muskegon became an industrial hotspot in Michigan following the Great Depression and into World War II, and at one point, military production had 10,000 people working downtown—with many of them coming to the little sandwich shop for lunch.

Nearly 100 years later, the original downtown location has since closed. Though G&L has since outsourced some products to nearby Request Foods, the sauce recipe is still the same as it was in 1926. G&L still offers crowd-pleasing dogs at affordable prices, including the original chili dog, a regular hot dog, the cheddar chili dog, special Chicago dog, and more.

Yesterdog

1505 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

By far the most popular and famous hot dog joint in Grand Rapids is Yesterdog, partly due to the fact that the restaurant was the creative basis for Dog Years, a fictional hangout of the teen protagonists in the hit 1999 film American Pie. Yesterdog consistently wins Grand Rapid Magazine’s Best Hot Dog category and LoveFood called Yesterdog Michigan’s best cult-favorite restaurant.

Bill Lewis opened Yesterdog in 1976 with the intention to make better hot dogs just six blocks from where he grew up. The restaurant has since become a staple of the Eastown neighborhood, with plenty of carvings and graffiti inside the restaurant that hold years of local charm and character. Even political candidates like Hillary Clinton have stopped by to taste the magic of Yesterdog.

The best-selling hot dog at Yesterdog is the Ultra Dog, a skinless half-pork and half-beef hot dog loaded with chili, cheese, mustard, ketchup, onions, and pickles that goes for $2.70. The eponymous Yesterdog is just like the Ultra Dog, but without cheese. Also available is the Cheddar Dog, with just chili and cheese.

Grand Coney

809 Michigan St. NE, Grand Rapids

Redhots in the Rapids: 8 Anchors of the West Michigan Hot Dog Scene

Photo courtesy of Grand Coney via Facebook

If you’re looking for a legitimate coney island in Grand Rapids, your best bet is Grand Coney. Not only is this coney-island eatery popular among our readers, but the several different types of hot dogs are local favorites available 24 hours a day. It’s one of the only hot dog joints in the area that uses Koegel hot dogs, with their signature snap, just like the traditional Detroit, Flint, and Jackson coneys. But to add flair, their dogs also use steamed S. Rosen’s Chicago buns.

You can get the signature style Calder City, which has Detroit-style chili with Colby cheese, onions, ketchup, mustard, and a pickle, combining the best of the Detroit-style coney with the Chicago-style hot dog. If you’d prefer something more traditional, they also offer the classic Detroit-style coney; its Flint regional variant with seasoned ground beef instead of chili; or the Chicago style with peppers, relish, tomato, and celery salt.

Aside from the hot dogs, Grand Coney also has a full menu of diner favorites. Among these offerings is Hippie Hash, the signature hashbrown-based dish of the Fleetwood Diner, another Michigan 24-hour diner popular among the student populations of Ann Arbor and Lansing.

Mad Dogz

3916 W. River Drive NE, Comstock Park

Redhots in the Rapids: 8 Anchors of the West Michigan Hot Dog Scene

Photo courtesy of Mad Dogz via Facebook

If you’re looking for a new spin on an old favorite, Mad Dogz in Comstock Park is the place for all kinds of weird and wacky varieties of hot dogs you won’t find elsewhere. Though they’re a newer player in the Grand Rapids hot dog scene, only having opened in 2009, they’ve been thinking outside of the box that whole time. And with more than 20 different varieties of hot dogs, that’s some pretty delicious thinking.

Among their many toppings, the most popular one is, surprisingly enough, pickle. This topping often found on Chicago-style hot dogs can be found on multiple hot dogs at Mad Dogz, including the regular Mad Chili Dog and the Goofy Chili Dog, which features chili and a pickle with peanut butter and corn chips. Some of the more unusual variants include the Mac Daddy, which features mac and cheese with bacon, crispy fried onion, and jalapeno. Another unusual one is Don Ho, with pineapple, cream cheese, bacon, teriyaki, and crispy fried onion.

If you’d just like a regular coney or chili dog, you’ll be happy to know that they’ll make it for you. They just won’t put that on the menu because it’s considered “too boring.”

One Stop Coney Shop

154 Fulton St. E, Grand Rapids 

Redhots in the Rapids: 8 Anchors of the West Michigan Hot Dog Scene

Photo courtesy of One Stop Coney Shop via Facebook

K-pop and Korean culture may be all the rage right now, but finding Korean street food items in Michigan can be a struggle. Not so at One Stop Coney, a popular cheap-eats location in downtown Grand Rapids. Aside from the rare Korean corn dog, made with mozzarella and finished with sugar, One Stop Coney also has 13 different hot dog combos, including all the local regional varieties you could ask for.

One Stop Coney re-opened in 2020 when newlyweds Conor and Olivia Malloy took over the storefront from the retired former owners. The Malloys managed to triumph over the pandemic problems that faced restaurants old and new at the time and are now one of Grand Rapids’ hottest new eateries. Among their hot dogs, you can order the GR, which combines the Detroit-style chili of a coney with the regional variety of dill pickles, topped with onion, mustard, and ketchup. 

You can also play it straight with Detroit-, Flint-, and Chicago-style dogs. A unique variety offered is the Elote, which brings Mexican street corn to the hot dog with roasted corn salsa, Parmesan cheese, lime mayo, and a “flaming hot crunch.” Aside from the Korean corn dog, you can also get the Korean-inspired Kimchi dog, a bacon-wrapped deep-fried dog with kimchi, spicy mayo, and scallions.

Cook’s Drive In

6874 Hammond Ave. SE, Caledonia

Redhots in the Rapids: 8 Anchors of the West Michigan Hot Dog Scene

Photo courtesy of Cooks Drive In via Facebook

Generations of Grand Rapids residents have been coming to Cook’s Drive In since 1948, though the location has shifted some since then. One of the biggest attractions of this drive-in is the ice cream, including root beer floats with house-made root beer. But even if you come for the ice cream, you’ll stay for the hot dogs.

Cook’s features a signature Grand Rapids Dog with secret sauce, sauerkraut, mustard, relish, and onions. It’s not quite Detroit- or Flint-style, but an exclusive recipe that’s been working for thousands of happy customers since 1948. They also offer a popular chili dog among their more than 20 different hot dog choices. The dogs go perfect with the hand-dipped malts and shakes.

Rockford Corner Bar

31 N. Main St., Rockford

Redhots in the Rapids: 8 Anchors of the West Michigan Hot Dog Scene

Photo courtesy of Corner Bar, Rockford Michigan via Facebook

The Rockford Corner Bar calls itself the “Official Hot Dog Capital of Michigan,” and it certainly has reason to claim that. The oldest brick building in Rockford was built in 1873 and survived not one but three separate fires. Those flames couldn’t keep this building from playing host to our favorite roasted wieners. 

As one might guess, this iconic hot dog has a story. In the 1930s, owner Carl Hyde created a signature hot dog to comply with a post-Prohibition law requiring establishments to also serve food if they want a liquor license. That signature hot dog was the Corner Bar Hot Dog, which, with its never-changed chili sauce recipe, has drawn prospective hot dog enthusiasts from near and far. The restaurant even launched its own Hot Dog Hall of Fame in 1968, inducting any hungry patrons who could eat a dozen or more hot dogs in a single sitting. Today, they’ve digitized the Hot Dog Hall of Fame into a searchable database on their website

The legendary dogs feature Kent hot dogs and are made as fresh as possible with cheese likely shredded that very day and hand-diced onions. During busy summer days, the Rockford Corner Bar can churn out up to 1,000 dogs. Their famous chili dogs are among the most popular but you can also get different varieties like the Chicago-style dog, dogs topped with slaw or sauerkraut, dogs using Polish dog or bratwurst, or even weirder varieties like their burrito dogs and falafel dogs.

The Rockford Corner Bar has a holiday tradition, too—couples can kiss under the mistletoe hanging from its outdoor sign to donate money to buy necessities for local residents in need.

Blue Dog Tavern

638 Stocking Ave. NW, Grand Rapids

Redhots in the Rapids: 8 Anchors of the West Michigan Hot Dog Scene

Photo courtesy of Blue Dog Tavern via Facebook

This cozy bar in Grand Rapids’ West Side resides in a former bank building known as the Stockbridge building, which dates back to the 1930s. And the old-world charm it lends to the atmosphere at the bar is palpable. The Blue Dog Tavern opened in 2014, replacing the old Kopper Top, and instantly became known for its hot dogs. It’s since been dubbed a “neighborhood icon” and expanded back in 2022.

Their dogs, called Blue Dogs, are intended to be spins on old classics. The Cooper Dog is a popular choice, featuring a 100% beef dog with a butterfly-cut. The crowd-pleasing toppings include chili as well as delicious nacho cheese sauce and onions. Another popular option is the $8 Loaded Dog, a beef hot dog smothered with cheddar cheese, diced bacon, charred onion aioli, house-made onion jam, and spicy ranch.

 

READ MORE: Grand Rapids Culinary Tour: 8 Must-Try Restaurants During Hispanic Heritage Month

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