Do not trust this review. At least, not entirely. The source, me, hadn’t eaten a hot dog in 20 years until a craving struck, emboldened by an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” on New York, in which he expounded the virtues of an old New York staple, Papaya King. Los Angeles has its venerable and venerated Pink’s, a step up from a food truck on La Cienega, the closest we get to New York’s hot dog-cart vendors. Pink’s recently got some competition when Papaya King decided its all beef dog, Caribbean mojo and juices would suit LA just fine.
The original Papaya King was opened in New York by a Greek immigrant who, at first, only sold tropical juices and what could be looked at as antecedent of the smoothie, to no much success until, in 1935, franks were added as an improbable menu combination. The rest is history. Three successful locations, including the original on 86th and 3rd, are still standing and, now, one in Hollywood. The spot they picked, on Wilcox Av and Hollywood, is close to perfect, in the heart of clubland. A greasy hot dog laden with onion, chili, cheese and the other million toppings that make it hard to decide might just be what the doctor ordered to soak up a night of drinking.
Not exactly a stand but not much more than a hole in the wall, the bright yellow decor is hard to miss. The menu of franks which are advertised as all beef, no fillers, no gluten and no preservatives, allows you to build on many different combinations. I went for a simple jumbo with onions and peppers (which I saw are deep-fried and not grilled or sautéed). The very chatty employee from Detroit who was as enthusiastic about my patronage as he was about being in Hollywood, made me taste the papaya juice and I was instantly sold (coconut and strawberries are also available).
It might be my Californian palate (or my abstention from hot dogs for decades) but the combination of papaya and frank is not as outlandish as it sounds. I enjoyed my wiener (no double entendres here), nestled in a soft roll, with onions and green peppers piled on top, standing at the small window ledge – no seating available. All the better to explain to the boozy lady who came in what a knish was (she didn’t order it) and to dissect the couple with a 20 year divide between him and her, who enquired whether juices were sold (yes) and toilets available (no). “We need this winning combination” the man said, whisking his date away. I am not making this up. Los Angeles is an endless source of improbable characters.
The curly fries I ordered with the dog were of the soggy variety but the juice was excellent. I then proceeded to take a very informal poll amongst hot dog eating friends who have tried Papaya King. With no exception, everybody deemed Pink’s superior. But, then again, none of them hails from New York.