Chris' Hot Dogs is for many the pre-eminent hot dog joint in Charleston. Its location is convenient (just one block west of the interstate on Washington Street) its atmosphere is delightfully retro and its dogs are always great.
Gus Christo started the restaurant in the 1960's and his daughter still runs it today. Photos of Gus and his family adorn the walls and you get a feeling that nothing in the place has been updated in the forty years since it first opened. Tin ceilings, old wooden booths and a carved wood ornamental bar mirror surround give the place a one-of-a-kind look and makes the dining experience unique.
But it is the hot dogs that makes Chris' most unique. And it is Gus' forty year-old chili recipe that makes the hot dogs unique. It is, in a word, spicy - but not the kind of sweating-from-the-brow and make-your-nose-run kind of spicy. This is not spicy for the sake of being spicy, the burn is integral to the taste of the chili in a way it is hard to relate in words. The meat and everything else in the chili is finely ground. There is obviously chili powder and garlic heavily present and some other pepper (perhaps cayenne)but you can't see any visual evidence of what makes it so darn good. Whatever it is, fans of Chris' hot dogs are very loyal to it. I once took a Chris' fan to Romeo's and he left his dogs half-eaten in protest. He said the chili "doesn't speak to me" like Chris'.
As for the rest of the dog, it is very good. The slaw is finely chopped and sweet, just like good WVHD slaw ought to be, although it applied too sparingly for my tastes. The buns are basic and the weenies are tasty. "Everything" means mustard, chili and slaw. I guess with this much spice onions would be superfluous.
Personally I rate Chris' dogs in my top five favorites in Charleston, but because I value good slaw over good chili, they certainly aren't in the top three. I can certainly see why people love them and are so rabidly loyal.
Thanks to Rick Lee for the photo. See his other Chris' photos here: