Dining Out: Crif Dogs


We all succumb to late night Manhattan munchies. At least do it the right way.
We all succumb to late night Manhattan munchies. At least do it the right way.

It was one a.m. in the morning in the Lower East Side. I was hungry. Like all human beings, my stomach wanted something indulging, satisfying and slightly immoral. Unable to find a decent food truck, my starving stomach and I crawled down Saint Marks, and looked up to see my only salvation: a picture of a hot dog that said “eat me.” I had arrived at Crif Dogs.

Crif Dogs, the self-proclaimed “#1 weiner,” is a small restaurant that serves hot dogs. Now, this is not just any restaurant, and this definitely is not just any hot dog. Crif Dogs was opened in 2001 by New Jersey childhood friends Brian Shebario and Chris Antista. The idea evolved from the simple desire to serve hot dogs in the alley behind the (now closed) Lansky Lounge in the Lower East Side.

After two years of research, which included touring the entire Northeast on motorcycles, and sampling every hot dog they could find, they finally opened Crif Dogs in Saint Marks. Today, Crif Dogs is one of the most popular downtown late-night eateries, with a location in Brooklyn and a catering truck.

As for their name, it originated when Brian tried to say Chris’s name with a hot dog in his mouth.

Unlike the classic dirty water New York hot dog, a Crif Dog is made from beef and pork, smoked and deep-fried to order. Oh, and for all you sad and cranky vegetarians out there, they also have grilled veggie dogs.

Crif Dogs has an expansive hot dog menu that will guarantee to satisfy any hot dog fantasy you have ever had. One of their most popular orders is the Spicy Redneck ($4.75), which is a bacon-wrapped house dog with chili, cole slaw and jalapenos, with a side order of tater tots ($2.50). Since every hot dog is deep-fried and made to order you may have a heart attack on the horizon, but your first bite will always be a warm, juicy and pleasurable experience.

The Spicy Redneck is great, but I’m going to let you in a little secret. The employee-favorite hot dog, and my favorite, will surpasses your wildest imagination. It is the Jon-Jon Deragon ($3.75): a bacon-wrapped crif with cream cheese, scallions, everything bagel seeds and hot sauce.

I’m convinced that biting into a bacon-wrapped, deep-fried hot dog is one of life’s most pleasurable experiences. When your teeth break through the crispy bacon and sausage casing, and you drink up the juices from the grade-A hot dog, it makes you question how anything bad could happen in this world. The greatest thing about my favorite hot dog is that the cream cheese cools down your palette, the bagel seeds provide extra saltiness, and the hot sauce ties the whole experience together. Shame never tasted so good.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why there’s a long line that isn’t lined up in front of the cash register, it’s because there’s a hidden speakeasy called PDT (Please Don’t Tell) that’s accessible through the inconspicuous vintage phone booth. But you didn’t hear that from me.

So, at one in the morning in the Lower East Side, while I ate my hot dog, I took in the heavenly smells of bacon, listened to the sounds of hot dogs hitting the fryer and stared at the mural of a bikini-clad woman embracing a wiener. I was happy.

What I’m trying to say is, go to Crif Dogs.