There are plenty of cheap-and-easy carts in the capital area that cater to visitors in search of a quick bite of beef on a bun. But why go for a mass-produced dog when you can check out some of the city’s most celebrated spots for sausage? In the center of the action or off the beaten path, these kitchens are grilling and steaming the best hot dogs around — and even the most bedecked options cost less than $5. – Alexandra Clark
Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
You’re likely to leave with new knowledge of local history as well as the memory of a mighty good half-smoke hot dog after stopping by this friendly storefront. Founded in 1958, this restaurant was the only business on U Street to survive the riots that swept through the city 10 years later and now stands as a monument to local entrepreneurship. In addition to the pork-beef half-smoke, topped with fragrant chili con carne, satisfied customers also love to scarf the veggie-chili and turkey varieties. Best of all, the grill stays fired into the wee hours, even on weeknights. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday, 6 a.m. to 4 a.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. to 4 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
423 8th Street SE
Washington, DC 20003
Every city has its favorite style of hot dog, and this quirky, no-frills spot decorated like an old-school aviator’s watering hole gives you the chance to sample them all. The portions are a bit small for heartier eaters of the male variety, but why complain when you have an excuse to order two of the kitchen’s supremely clever takes on classic sausages? Chicagoans will find the local dog of their dreams, coated with celery salt and green relish so bright it’s christened “nuclear,” while Philly transplants can go home again with a cheesesteak dog doused in Cheez Whiz on a pretzel roll. Don’t forget an order of fried pickles or waffle fries to complement your meaty madness. Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
120 East Maple Avenue
Vienna, VA 22180
City life can be stressful, leaving many a Washingtonian with a hankering for the tastes of home — and you’ll find those comfort seekers at this suburban throwback to the Kennedy era, where hot dogs were all about simple, salty, greasy fun. The signature dish here is a chili dog, cooked in beer and served on a plush white bun with a slick of bright yellow cheese. No-nonsense and never altered, with a price of less than $2, this dog is best washed down with a pint of Bud or Miller while a local football game plays on TV. It’s a D.C. classic that will live on. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.