“Cheap Eats” is my post-series on cheap restaurants and prepared food options in New York. I recommend cooking your own food most of the time, but every once in a while it is nice to indulge and you don’t have to pay through the nose to do so. I plan to review many of the cheap options I find on various websites and will let you know if they are as good and as cheap as advertised. If you have a suggestion for a place to review, feel free to let me know through my contact page.
Hot dogs. What a great food. One summer years ago, when I was home from college, I started “the great hot dog experiment”. I would buy a pack of hot dogs each week and test my hypothesis: anything that tastes good apart from a hot dog will taste good on the hot dog. Spoiler alert: I was wrong. Sure, potato salad is amazing on a hot dog and so is mac & cheese (at least to a 19-year-old college guy). However, I found some losers as well. Sour Patch Kids candies were NOT very good. Chocolate didn’t really fly either. I think my favorite discovery, though, was putting strawberry jelly on the hot dog’s bun. It was strange, but surprisingly delicious. Those days are behind me, but I still enjoy a good hot dog from time to time.
Gray’s Papaya used to have multiple locations on the west side. Whenever I needed a hot dog fix in my mid-twenties (usually after a late night in NYC), I’d head there. Sadly, they are down to just one location. The good news for me, is that I live on the same block as the last remaining outpost on the Upper West Side.
Normally, I just grab one or two hot dogs and be on my way. But in preparation for this blog post, I decided to go with their signature deal, the Recession Special. You get two hot dogs plus one of their signature juice smoothies. I opted for the banana flavor. Of course, wanting to get as much bang for my buck (and because I enjoy all sorts of crazy hot dog toppings), I asked for “everything”, which basically means sauerkraut and red onions. There’s also a self-serve ketchup and mustard station.
THE CHEAP EATS BREAKDOWN
How was the ordering experience? Gray’s Papaya is always an easy ordering experience. The doors are usually propped wide open and since people are filtering in constantly, I’ve never had to wait in too long of a line.
How unique is the food? This might be the least unique food ever on Cheap Eats. Simple hot dogs.
How delicious was the food? The hot dogs are great! They definitely hit the spot and the buns compliment them well. There’s nothing fancy here, just a good, tasty hot dog. I will say that I really DON’T care for the smoothies. I later tried another flavor and concluded that they all have a very fake, and way too sweet taste for me. Feel free to try for yourself, but next time, I am sticking with just 2 hot dogs and maybe a cup of water.
Did it fill me up for $5 or less? Yup! For me, two hot dogs is a light lunch, but if I have 3, it seems excessive. The smoothie, while not my favorite, did help to round out the meal so that I was full. Final price for the Recession Special: $4.95. Of course, each hot dog is $1.95, so if you want to skip the smoothie, it will be a little cheaper.
Conclusion: Gray’s Papaya is a NYC staple. It’s worth hitting up once and if it’s convenient for you, worth stopping by whenever you get a hot dog hankering!
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