Papaya King: the best hot dog / juice joint in New York

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There is one food pilgrimage that I make without fail every time I'm in New York. It's not a visit to a famous, expensive restaurant. It's not even a bagel stop at my favorite bagel place (Ess-a-Bagel) or a trot around my favorite gourmet mega-mart (Fairway). It's a stop at the best hot dog joint in the city, if not the world, Papaya King.

You see bright yellow hot dog slash juice joints occupying many a New York street corner. They look suspiciously the same: garish printed or neon signs stuck all over proclaiming it to be the Best in New York, little if any space to sit inside, an assortment of fruit juices.

I have tried many of these others. Gray's Papaya may claim to be the same, and they are darned good. But nay, Papaya King rules them all.

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The Papaya King I have to go to is in my old neighborhood on the Upper East Side, on the corner of 86th Street and Third Avenue. Apparently there are other Papaya Kings around the city, but I am drawn, like a moth to a flame, to the one I used to stop by at least once a week, back in the day.

What do I have there? Always the exact same thing. Two grilled hotdogs, just slightly blackened, on buns that are just a bit toasted so that they are crusty at the edges. Toppings? Not for me. I love the juicy meatiness of those "Tastier Than Filet Mignon" franks unadorned or with just a controlled squirt of brown mustard. And of course, a genuine papaya juice to go with it. The Papaya King papaya juice is more like a nectar than a watery juice, thick, fruity, cool and delicious.

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I would ponder on the perfect pairing of two hot dogs and papaya juice, such as the digestive powers of papain (a main ingredient in commercial meat tenderizers), but the bottom line is they just go so perfectly together. It's the perfect snack or small meal. Okay, not the healthiest perhaps but hey, you gotta live on the edge sometimes.

I know, sausages in general are much better over on the other side of the Atlantic, especially on the streets of Swiss and German towns. But there's nothing to match Papaya King anywhere else.

Related: The Papaya King website includes a great history of the company.

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