Berkeley Dog - Irvine
I've never been to Top Dog, but have known Cal alums who swear on its greatness the same way a Chicagoan would bleed for Superdawg or Portillo's. But I had my doubts. This is why: I've been disappointed by highly-touted hot dogs before. When I tried Pink's at their Knott's Berry Farm store for the first time, I found it kind of...ordinary. It turned out to be just another dog that just happened to have a bit of history and the enviable monopoly of what represents an L.A. hot dog on food and travel shows.
So when Berkeley Dog opened in Mission Viejo, then Brea, and finally Irvine, I tempered my expectations for this unaffiliated outlet of Top Dog, the hot dog joint that's been feeding collegiate bellies at UC's oldest campus since 1966. They purportedly do everything that Top Dog does, including the use of its sausages and buns, just without the Top Dog name.
The Irvine store resides where the old Arriba's used to be, the place where I used to get my fill of $1 greasy tacos on Tuesdays. Berkeley Dog has transformed it into a spotless and clinical space so clean and hygienic you could perform surgery there. The chopped onions, relish and pickles can be found behind a sneeze guard with not a drip dropped or errant piece out of place. It also gets points for plastering the place with UCI banners and pennants. Obviously, it wants to be the Anteater's own version of Top Dog; and after tasting the food, I think it deserves to be.
The fries are done well, cooked to a golden and rigid crunch at least two decibels louder than the drive-thru. The sausages are roasted properly to a shiny burnish flecked with char and bursting with juice. Along with frankfurters, their menu boasts an eclectic array of tube steaks from a rattlesnake sausage to a milky bockwurst made of equal ratios of pork and veal. Sauerkraut is free, but you could top your dog with kimchi for small upgrade fee should you want to channel your inner Roy Choi.
But what I like most about the are the buns, which aren't just buns but a sesame-seed-crusted, crackly-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside baguette-type roll. They're exactly the kind of bread that can answer the thick snap of the natural-skinned Lousiana Hot Link I chose with the sturdy and tactile crispness of its crust. Too offset the hotness of the sausage, I slathered it with a sweet Hawaiian mustard and a touch of sauerkraut; but it still kicked my ass. My forehead became soaked with sweat halfway through it.
Berkeley Dog also has one of those newfangled Coke machines with the computer touch screens and the infinite flavor combinations. Now if it were somehow tapped to a keg, they'd have a hot dog joint no college crowd could argue with.
4249 Campus Dr. B148
Irvine, CA 92612
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