A Tale of Two Dogs: J Dawg’s and Johnnie Beef’s interpret the great American hot dog

All hot dogs are not created equal. The ones at J. Dawg’s in downtown Salt Lake (and other locations) are proudly all natural, whether you choose Polish or all-beef. The buns are made fresh daily. The special sauce is a family recipe. Opt for peppers, onions, sauerkraut and/or pickles, add a bag of chips; pour yourself a soft drink. Those are all the choices you get, and you serve yourself. The dogs (they’re big) are cooked on a griddle in the middle of the room, there are shelves of J Dawg’s merchandise, T-shirts and baseball caps. And that is it. It’s a bit mystifying why the restaurant is so large—maybe they’ll add live entertainment, a dance floor, a skating rink?—when the menu warrants no more than a hot dog stand, or cart, but there it is. J Dawg’s is open (relatively) late in the evening, so it can be a great post-beer option.

Hot dogs are caught on the cusp between pure junk and pure nostalgia; Johnnie Beef’s banks on the nostalgia. Few cities are as enamored of itself as Chicago—based just on the Cubs and the deep-dish pizza, Chicagoans have established a separate culture. Throw in the Chicago hot dog and it’s a three-pronged empire. Johnnie Beef’s is all about the Chicago dog, dragged through the garden, topped with mustard, onion, pickles, tomatoes and that weird neon-green relish. But there’s tolerance here. You can, and I did, order other toppings on your hot dog. Being from Texas, I prefer chili dogs. (No beans in the chili, onions, steamed all-beef weiners and a steamed bun.) But you can explore​— try a hot dog topped with pastrami, pineapple or pesto.

If you dare.

Most in Utah don’t dare much and that’s why there’s a “Utah dog;” yellow mustard only.

Once the most iconic American food—remember the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile? Or the Weiner Whistle?—hot dogs’ rep has suffered ever since (how long ago?) it was revealed that there is an acceptable amount of insect parts per dog. This is true of all processed foods, but hot dogs get the bad rap. Add the pink slime and the nitrates and you’ve got the most factory-made, non-artisanal food imaginable. The whole idea of a hot dog can be repugnant if you examine it too closely. So, don’t. Because the taste of a good hot dog is more delicious than its ingredients are gross.


  • J Dawgs: 341 Main St, SLC
  • Phone: 801-438-6111
  • Web: jdawgs.com
  • Johnnie Beef’s: 6913 S. 1300 East, Cottonwood Heights
  • Phone: 801-352-0372
  • Web: johnniebeefs.com

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photos by: Adam Finkle

Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Maloufhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Mary Brown Malouf is the late Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She still does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.

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