Hot dog summer

Wiener window brings hot dogs back to downtown

Photo by Ken Smith

In the not-too-distant past, downtown Chico was a wiener wonderland.

It used to be possible for us hot dog fiends, at reasonable and even unreasonable hours, to find a fix within a few block radius of your favorite downtown drinkery. Numerous street carts once slung wieners, of various styles and quality, for half-cocked bar patrons. Zot’s Hot Dogs and Deli, a fixture since 1972, seemed like it had been and would be in the Garden Walk Mall forever. And when the fever hit you could count on finding a few Big Bites on the roller 24/7 at the Main Street 7-Eleven.

Grilled, boiled, steamed or rolled, when a hankering happened, there were hot dogs to be had.

Alas, the carts seem to have all rolled away into the sunset, and the latter two options closed last year, leaving downtown a hot dog desert. At last, our wienerless winter has ended with the opening of Hoff Dogs.

Hoff Dogs hocks dogs through a walk-up window on Wall Street, from the location formerly occupied by the venerable Zot’s. It’s a genuine family business, founded and run by the brother-sister team of Noah and Mariah Smith and their respective partners, Coral Imhoff and David Treher (Imhoff is the inspiration for the establishment’s name).

Hoff Dog’s co-owner Noah Smith slinging from the walk-up window on Wall Street. (Photo by Ken Smith)

The Hoff crew started slinging ween from a cart last summer, and took over the old Zot’s spot in January. After sprucing up the kitchen, they started serving in March, experimenting with mostly late-night hours, and in early April added lunch-time service. They’re now open from 11 a.m. to midnight, everyday except Sunday. The cart still operates and will be at the Thursday Night Market throughout the season, and they also do brisk delivery business through DoorDash and GrubHub.

Hoff Dogs’ menu is unlike anything you’d be likely to find at your grandpa’s favorite hot dog stand. Well, that’s with the exception of a few classics like The Foley (featuring ketchup, mustard, relish and onion, $7)—which is actually named after the Smith’s beloved, late grandfather. There’s also the ubiquitous chili cheese dog (here called The Buster, $8), and other mainstays resembling a Chicago dog and a Polish sausage, but here known as the Louie Dog (with tomato wedges, dill pickle, pepperoncini, chopped onion, mustard, and relish, and sprinkled with celery salt and poppy seeds, $8) and Ein Prosit! (Polish sausage piled high with sauerkraut and smothered in mustard, $8).

Then there are the more exotic selections, like the Hawaiian-inspired Somewhere Over the Rainbow, topped with sweet salsa (made from pineapple chunks, lime, onion and cilantro), sliced jalapenos, and teriyaki sauce ($8). Another of their more unique offerings is the BLTHD, with romaine lettuce and applewood bacon, drizzled with ranch dressing ($8).

“We never wanted to do simple hot dogs, our goal from the beginning is to have a locally owned restaurant offering unique food,” Mariah said. “Foodies are a real thing, and we wanted to appeal to people looking for something new and different.”

Hoff Dogs hot dogs and polish sausages are quarter-pound, all-beef, and quite tasty (Noah said the specific brand is a trade secret). They are served on Tin Roof Bakery brioche rolls, and all of the produce is fresh and replenished regularly.

The menu is still expanding as the Hoff Doggers experiment with new recipes, many of which—like a pizza-esque dog with marinara, pepperoni and mozzarella cheese—are offered as daily specials. They also have chips, soda, Italian sodas, and dessert drinks ranging from root beer floats to fruity concoctions made with homemade mousses. They are still experimenting with vegetarian and vegan wieners they hope to add in the near future, and say they also sell a fair amount of dog-less versions of their menu items (basically the toppings and sauces on a bun).

Now, I don’t like to brag, but I consider myself something of a globe-trotting hot dog connoisseur. I’ve mawed down NYC street dogs in the shadow of the Empire State Building, eaten countless bacon-wrapped wieners up and down the Baja peninsula, stood in line at Pink’s in Hollywood, and seek out exotic doggeries whenever I travel. I rang in 2022 with a wiener topped with caviar, the creation of a friend who is a straight-up sorceress when it comes to hot dogs. In fact, Hotdogs might as well be my middle name.

The Somewhere Over the Rainbow dog, topped with sweet pineapple salsa, sliced jalapenos and teriyaki sauce. (Photo by Ken Smith)

To ensure I had a good grasp on what Hoff Dogs is cooking up, I went three times in one week, double-doggin’ it each visit without trying the same thing twice. All of them were very good, some exceptional, and by far the most pleasing was the Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The sweet salsa and spicy peppers are a magnificent blend, but the most surprising element was the unexpected addition of teriyaki sauce.

Hot dog lovers are a friendly bunch. While walk-up windows often make for lonely dining experiences, during two-out-of three visits I ended up having interesting conversations with other diners. These always began with, “Hey, what kind of hot dog did you get? Have you tried the ‘X’ dog yet?”

The window also makes it a great option for late-night grub, or to grab-and-go for a quick picnic at One Mile or some other outdoor destination.

Hot Dog Summer … commence!

Hoff Dogs
225 Wall St.

Hours: Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight; closed Sundays

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