We were strolling through the East Village last weekend and walking through St. Marks Street when we stumbled upon Papaya King.
It turns out, I should have known about this place before, because it is a New York institution.
Let’s go over it’s resume for a bit. Kings Papaya opened in 1932, so it has been around for a long time. They say they are the original. “Accept no imitations”. A Greek immigrant fell in love with tropical fruits and decided to start selling them to New Yorkers as juices (the birth of smoothies?). Then he fell in love with a German woman, so they decided to sell frankfurters in the tropical juice store as well. Weird combination, but it worked. It worked so well that this combination was replicated in other hot dogs stands, such as Gray’s Papaya, Papaya Heaven, Papaya Paradise, Papaya Place, Papaya Circle, Papaya World, Original Papaya, Mike’s Papaya or Papaya Jack. It became a New York institution.
Their first restaurant was on 86th Street (an area populated with German and Polish immigrants at the time), and that original store is still there. It was only in the 1960’s that it became “Papaya King”. Legend has it that a famous Brooklyn Dodger became addicted to Gus’ fare and coined the name. The name stuck and customers began to refer to the stands as the “Papaya King”, so the owner adopted the name. You can check out the full story here.
The East Village store, where we went, was actually opened in 2013. But its reputation is old. Julia Child, the queen of French cooking, said they served the “best hot dogs in New York”, Anthony Bourdain agrees. Critic Ed Levine of New York Eats went even further, calling it the “best hot dog in the world”. Martha Stewart named them one of her “guilty pleasures.” Zagat said it was the “best, cheapest (stand-up) lunch in the city” and “more vital than the subway.”
We had to walk in and give it a try. Luckily, it was around lunch time, and we were already hungry.
The idea is simple: it’s a hot dog, with a Frankfurter sausage, and you can choose unlimited toppings from this list: bacon, coleslaw, cheese sauce, chili, curly fries, hula hula, jalapenos, mushrooms, New York onions, onion crunch, onion rings, pastrami, peppers & onions, pickle chips, raw onions, relish, sauerkraut, sautéed onions. As you can see, they have a lot of options that involve onions. But, even if you’re like us and don’t really enjoy onions, you can still choose a bunch of other options.
If you get confused and are unable to decide, they have some suggestions on combinations with cool names. My boyfriend got the hula hula, which is peppers, chili and pineapples:
The frankfurter recipe goes somehow like this: beef seasoned with garlic, oregano, and other tasty spices. I chose my own combination, which included mushrooms, pastrami and pickles. Plus, of course, the mandatory ketchup and mustard. This should came as no surprise, but I really, really liked it.
For drinks, they have, of course, the tropical juices. The very friendly guy that served us gave us a few options to try: papaya, of course, and coconut champagne. They were a little too sweet for my taste, and I am not sure I completely enjoy the combination with the hot dogs, but it’s worth the try.
We let the sweetness for this amazing desert:
Any guess what this is? Fried Oreos! The best thing ever. Here’s how it looks inside:
Really worth the calories!
The decor is pretty nice too. The East Village location is a concept store, so it’s supposed to reflect a historical and cultural crossroads in New York City’s East Village neighborhood. So the store has many of the classic elements that characterize the original store on the 86th Street location, along with additional items such as vintage arcade games, and a foosball table. In the front of the store there’s also a recessed patio area , widely referred to as “the stoop,” where customers and locals gather.
And while you wait for your hot dog inside, you even have some reading material. They have some witty and funny sayings on hot dogs and such. But I must say, don’t believe everything you read. As a Brazilian, I never heard the expression they say we call hot dogs down there.
It’s really worth the visit! They also cater for parties and a have a food truck now…
Address: 3 St. Marks Place (between 2nd and 3rd Ave.) in the East Village