Top Dog is, undeniably, a UC Berkeley staple. Young and old alike, from students sick of dorm food to anyone looking for a cheap bite to eat, Top Dog is there to satiate those cravings. Serving primarily hot dogs, Top Dog offers a diverse variety of sausage types — there’s a flavor for everyone.
In my time in Berkeley, I have tried every type of hot dog at Top Dog. And I’ve come to this conclusion: Not all hot dogs are created equal. So here is my comprehensive tier list of every dog at Top Dog. While these rankings are simply my opinion, I hope it helps you choose which hot dog you choose the next time you’ve got a hankering for a top-tier hot dog.
Smoked chicken apple (chicken, juicy bits of apple — low salt)
Bockwurst (1/2 pork, 1/2 veal, milk, eggs)
Lemon chicken (chicken, fresh lemon and garlic — low salt, low fat, no preservatives)
Rounding out the bottom tier, we have the hot dogs that make you feel nauseous. In all honesty, any of the Top Dog dogs will make you feel sick if you eat too many of them (like I have), but these ones truly drop to the bottom of your stomach.
The taste of the smoked chicken apple reminds me too much of applesauce, so I can’t take it seriously whatsoever. Meanwhile, the lemon chicken lacks a distinct flavor other than lemon, it doesn’t have that crisp sausage snap and the aftertaste is strangely gamey. The bockwurst is also way too rich for its own good. The combination of veal, milk and eggs makes it actually taste like dairy in the worst way possible. The texture of the bock also reminds me of tofu, so take that as you will.
Bratwurst (pork, marjoram — genuine old world taste)
Mango with jalapeno (chicken, mango, jalapeño pepper)
Calabrese (pork, paprika, chili, fennel — semi-hot)
The Wienie (veggie: wheat protein, bell peppers, fennel, eggplant and fresh garlic — no preservatives)
In the middle of the pack, these are the hot dogs that are refined to a specific palette. I wouldn’t be surprised if your favorite dog is in this tier because these sausages are pretty tasty. However, they are somewhat of an acquired taste; it’s either a dog you’ll always get or a dog you’d try on a whim and never order again.
Starting with the bratwurst, it is everything the bockwurst wants to be — the brat has all of the best flavors of the bock. It’s rich, it’s hearty, it’s juicy. But sometimes it leans into that gelatinous bock texture, which holds it back from being a favorite.
The mango with jalapeno is probably one of the most creative in Top Dog’s arsenal of sausages. The fresh mango pairs nicely with the spicy jalapeno flavor, and overall, you get a dog that simmers on the tongue. But if you want a bump in spice, the calabrese kicks it up another notch. While not as spicy as the hot link (more on that later), the calabrese reminds me of spicy salami. It is a rather dry dog, but its flavor is meaty and full of flavorful herbs.
Finally, we come to the Wienie. The name doesn’t do this dog justice, but I get where they were coming from. If you are a vegetarian, a hot dog joint feels kind of counterintuitive, and I can recommend a ton of better options out there. Still, it’s pretty OK for a veggie dog. It’s less of a dog and more of a bunch of tasty veggies squished together on a roll. But hey, at least it tastes decent.
Kielbasa (2/3 pork, 1/3 beef — hearty)
Hot link (beef and four kinds of pepper — h-h-hottt)
Top Dog frankfurter (all beef — Kosher style)
Now we come to the dogs that stand apart from the rest. The kielbasa is a long sausage full of hearty rich flavor and a snap like no other. When I say snap, I mean that satisfying snap from biting through the hot-dog casing — and the kielbasa has a clean snap with every bite. This one goes great with the Russian mustard, a nice balance of spice to salt.
If you are looking for a truly spicy option, go with the hot link. It’s on another level of spicy in comparison to the mango and calabrese; it literally drips hot-red grease. Full of cajun flavors, it’s a very good, very luscious beef hot dog. It reminds me of a summer backyard hot dog fresh off of the grill. Finally, we have the Top Dog frankfurter. This hot dog tastes the most like a classic hot dog. Extremely beefy, extremely juicy, it’s the blank canvas dog: Its flavors are baseline enough for anyone to customize it with toppings to their delight. It goes well with each and every condiment, and it’s a dog for each and every person.
The Top Dog to rule them all
Garlic frankfurter (3/4 beef, 1/4 pork, fresh garlic)
This is the hot dog for everyone; the garlic takes the regular frankfurter up a notch, unlocking everything in this sausage. The aromatic herb enhances the juiciness and flavor of the regular frank. Its flavor has more body to it while still remaining adaptable to any toppings or condiments. And the snap is out of this world: It’s sort of crunchy and smoky, but it still gives that satisfying little snap with each bite. This is the best a hot dog can ever get, which is what makes it the top dog of Top Dog.