Is Papaya King on 86th Street and Third Avenue and has a rich history in NYC.
Baseball season is upon us and it got me thinking about what is the best hot dog in NYC? I have tried hot dogs all over the city and I think Papaya King is the winner. In 1923 a man named Constantine Poulos immigrated from Greece and ended up in New York City. Poulos found work at a deli. He worked there for several years before purchasing the deli. In 1932 Poulos took a trip to Cuba and discovered a Papaya juice that he fell in love with. When he returned to NYC he was unable to find papaya so he figured out a way to import the fruit to New York. He then decided to sell the deli and open up Hawaiian Tropical Drinks on 86th Street and Third Avenue. In many ways he was the pioneer in juice bars. The tropical juice was a big hit and Poulos opened up other locations. In 1939 Poulos began serving hot dogs at Hawaiian Tropical Drinks. The location of the first Hawaiian Tropical Drinks was in an area known as Yorkville. Yorkville was an area largely populated by German and Polish people and wurst was a very popular food . The addition of hot dogs to Poulos’s juice bar was in keeping with the wurst sold and consumed by people who lived in Yorkville. While seeming to be a very strange combination the papaya juice and hot dog actually go quite well together.
Apparently the name Papaya King was not coined until the 1960’s when a famous Brooklyn Dodger who loved the juice and hot dogs began calling the place “Papaya King”. The name stuck and eventually the place was renamed Papaya King. There have been many imitators but the original is still the best. The hot dog is made with a secret recipe as are the sweet onions that are a must on top. The hot dog has the perfect snap with lots of garlic, salt and spice and is delicious with the soft white bun. You can of course eat the hot dog with mustard or ketchup, or both. Add some sauerkraut if you wish but I highly suggest it with just the sweet, tangy tomato based onions. I am not alone when I say that it is the best hot dog; Julia Child who was a huge fan of hot dogs rated it the “best hot dog in New York” in 1990.
So if you live in New York or are visiting from somewhere I strongly urge you to make a stop at this iconic storefront on 86th and Third.I remember coming here in the 1970’s with my grandparents. We would walk down 86th street and grab a hot dog and then visit some of the other stores in Yorkville like the one that sold beautiful marzipan which has now closed. While the neighborhood changes around it and big buildings are replacing smaller storefronts Papaya King remains the same and thank goodness it does. I now stroll down 86th street with my daughter to grab a hot dog before going to Whole Foods. Eating a hot dog here while sipping the tropical juice is quintessential New York and something I hope never changes.