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Cheap Eats: America's Top Dog

The wiener joint gives franks for regional tastes

Atlanta's next big food trend is already being established: wieners. The Streatery hot dog cart has been slinging dogs around Atlanta for the past year. Holeman & Finch Public House serves a formidable homemade dog. Delia's Chicken Sausage Stand recently opened in East Atlanta. And (top) chef Richard Blais is purportedly opening "Haute Doggery" in the old San Francisco Coffee location in Poncey-Highland. With all of these intown choices, America's Top Dog (3352 Chamblee Tucker Road, 770-771-3823, www.americastopdog.net) might get overlooked — but it's worth the trip.

Because its only signage says simply "Dogs Fries Burgers," America's Top Dog is easily missed. It's located — perhaps appropriately — next to Little Cuba in the North Hills Shopping Center right off of I-285. Inside, the space is decorated patriotically, fitting because the restaurant specializes in all manners of regionally inspired dogs. Seriously, there's something for you no matter whether your hot dog loyalties lie in Chicago, New York, Jersey, Los Angeles or the South. Quirky cartoony hot dog diagrams illustrate the offerings, but the most entertaining piece of décor is a large poster displaying Steve Hodgin's "Ode to the Hot Dog."

The main attraction at America's Top Dog is the serious topping bar, which is stocked with 40 hot and cold items — sautéed onions and peppers, sauerkraut, gooey nacho cheese, every type of mustard imaginable, homemade salsas, exceptional coleslaw, shredded cheese, crushed potato chips, you name it. Start with one of the many naked dogs — Red Hot (a spicy skinless Southern style), Big John (smoky pork sausage), half-smoke (a mild or spicy dog made by the same family-run business that's been around since Lincoln was in office), all-beef Polish, or the Original Top Dog (a natural-casing all-beef dog also available in a foot long version), and then hit the bar to create your masterpiece. If you're short on inspiration, there's list of tried-and-true topping ideas, including President Obama's favorite dog.

If you're not in the DIY mood, go "simple" and order one of the regional dogs. The sloppy, sinful mess that is the Georgia dog — a Red Hot piled with pimento cheese, chow-chow relish, chili and coleslaw — sounds kind of gross, but the flavors totally work. The L.A. Chihuahua takes traditional Mexican ingredients — beans, Cotija cheese, salsa, guacamole, crema and jalapeños — and stuffs them in a fresh bolillo bun along with a spicy half-smoke dog. The flavors of the classic Chicago Cubs dog — neon-green relish, sport peppers, tomato, pickle, onion, etc. — combined with the snappy natural-casing link are spot on, but the wrong bun (a soft bun with little heft and no poppy seeds) provides insufficient structure. The whole thing fell apart.

This hot doggery also serves up burgers. The hand-formed, 100 percent Angus patties are juicy enough, but the "bakery style" roll is a bit too dry to make the burger sufficiently squishable. The sides, however, are excellent. Hand-cut, skin-on fries are served in ample portions either plain or smothered in cheese, chopped jalapeños and your choice of chili — either the spicy Texas-style or savory Cincinnati-style made complex with bits of chocolate and cumin. The thick-cut, Southern-style onion rings are also made fresh in house, and offer plenty of crunch, salt and natural onion sweetness.

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