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DON'T think PINK: Pink's (Hot Dog Stand) Revisited

  • m

After watching yet another Food Channel tv show wax nostalgic about the myriad hot dog varieties enjoyed all across America, and seeing LA's venerable Pink's featured, I decided (ok, my stomach decided) that it was time to for a visit to the famous wienie haunt on the outskirts of Hollywood, California.

So I rolled up there last night at about a quarter past 11 in the evening, and even at that hour there was a thick line protruding out on to the sidewalk. Undaunted, I happily sauntered up and took my place in a cue that snaked around a number of metal posts and chains set up much like you see outside of the old time movie theatres. People from all walks of life were busily chatting as the smells of cooking bacon and steaming hot dog buns wafted into the midnight air. It was easy to strike up a conversation, which of course in time turned to food, and who had enjoyed the best 'dog', where and when. You may be thinking at this point in my story, "so what's the problem?" Hold on, I'm getting there.

The camraderie and friendship developed while waiting just under ONE HOUR was the only highlight of this hot dog stand adventure. Why, pray tell?

For starters, the WAIT was interminable. Fifteen minutes would go by and the line had not moved. At all.

The problem, in a nut shell, is that whoever set-up their "system" of taking and filling orders must have died sometime in the 1940s and no one since has bothered to revisit the flow chart. A guy who does industrial time and motion studies for a living would surely have a stroke watching, mouth agape, at the incongruously lame brained method they use at Pinks, namely, whoever takes your order, proceeds to make it for you, regardless of how complex your order is or how long it takes to make it. There are only four people behind the counter, so you do the math. Here's an example: Say that the big guy and his posse in front of you orders 3 Pastrami/Hot Dog Combos, plus 2 chili cheeseburgers, plus fries, plus 2 Martha Stewart specials. It could literally take your cook 10-12 minutes, or more to prepare all that, then wrap it up, get your drinks and serves it up to you. A lone "cashier" stands around for the sole purpose of taking your money at the end of your transaction; meanwhile he is otherwise motionless for 11 minutes. Thus, they have served only ONE customer. That leaves only 3 other employees to do the same routine for the next three customers. Meanwhile, 47 people stand in line and cool their (swelling) heels, rocking back and forth, waiting for their turn just to move forward an inch. Mind you, none of those 47 have given their order -- no matter how small or easy their order might be.

While the burgers are cooking, YOUR cook stands around and does NOTHING until its time to flip your burger, etc. The grill employees, low paid and overworked to be sure, nonetheless seem to be working in slow motion. That's not due to laziness, it's just a reflection of a 'system' that's so slow and dysfunctional, it makes US Post Office employees at lunch time look like an Indy 500 pit crew by comparison

Instead of having one cashier, who takes your order, calls it out to multiple cooks, takes your money and makes change, Pink's has ONE person who does it all --everything -- when it comes to EACH order.
He or she may walk back and forth behind the grill, and squeezing around other cooks, 5 or 6 times. pulling together the various components of your order. There is no economy of movment; every step is repeated again and again and again, turning the simple prep of a putting a lowly hot dog into bun a major production.

There is no "assembly line", no handing off, no ONE person making dogs while another flips burgers or cooks bacon. Fifty people in line? They will be served one at a time, each entire meal fully prepared and served in its entirety before the next ORDER is even taken. So, this is why it takes about an hour, or more, to get one lousy hot dog at Pinks.

And lets talk about that lousy hot dog. First of all, the standard dog there about as thin and narrow as a slightly built, man's ring finger; maybe even a woman's finger ring finger. Talk about "where's the beef'? There ain't none. If you plan on buying the standard dog, better plan on buying at least two. What you're buying is a bun with a hint of meat in it. (Notably, the Polish dog IS a decent size).

Then there's the famous Chili. I have one word: yechh! OK, two words, heartburn. Normally I can power through a Tommy's Chili Cheeseburger in no time and be ready for seconds. I barely got through the one dog before that queasy feeling rumbled to the surface.

Maybe the wide variety of ways they dress up a skinny little hot dog (a slightly overweight 'Slim Jim" would be a more apt description) makes this spot enticing. Or maybe it's the fact that its been there for over 50 years, making it a Los Angeles antiquity. Or the stars black and white photos on the wall. Or maybe 'cuz its a fun place to see and be seen. But whatever it is, it ain't a cuz the hot dogs are good, and it sure ain't the 'short' wait and friendly service. This place is highly over rated. My advice: skip it!

As a former Chicagoan, I know a good hot dog when I see one, and when I eat one. And they ain't serving any good ones over at Pinks.

Anyway, that's my opinion --As comedian Dennis Miller likes to say, I could be wrong.

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  1. You're not wrong. I agree. Pinks is pretty bad. I could care less if their dogs "snap" when you bite them. For waiting a half an hour+ in line for a chili dog or whatever is pretty absurd.

    Run out of your Yoohoo? Get in line again! YUCK.

    I think waiting for it actually makes you think its better than it actually is. Just standing there, getting angry watching how slow everything is made just gets ya hungry!

    1. Agree. I've always been baffled by the recent hype about Pinks and I go back a long time in LA. We need traditions, but that shouldn't put them beyond criticism.

      1. "As a former Chicagoan,..."

        'nuff said!
        The rest is well known.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Curt

          When I lived in Asia and people would complain about the smog and traffic and syphilis, I'd lean over and say, 'y'know, the boats run both ways.'

          But seriously...well-written review. (You misspelled 'queue')
          Wow. You didn't like it! I go once a year. That's about how often I can handle a Shaq Dog or whatever it is they're calling it now: tortilla the size of a bed-spread, three hot dogs or Polish sausages, six strips of bacon, ladle of cheese, ladle of chili (and not gourmet chili! this is industrial chili) and I've seen guys get pastrami on top of all that. Gee, uh, what do they call that back in old Chicago?

          Right.
          They don't have it there.

          It's a tradition that Pink's has a loooooong line at all hours, that half of the people in that line are criminally insane or totally wasted, that the counter workers are always happily frantic and miss half of your order the first time. We accept that here. We don't run the gauntlet every day- anybody who eats at Pink's every day is a maniac and won't be around long!

          I love the way Pink's names dogs after current events and celebrities.
          I love how the cashier looks at you funny if you get 3 chili dogs, chili fries with cheese and THEN ask for a DIET soda.
          I love eavesdropping in line.
          And the family that has owned the place for how many years? LOVES that line, that ever-present line. For them, it's the sound of money.
          They could be faster. The Original Pantry could put locks on the doors and clean up once in a while. Cole's PE Buffet could start selling hamburgers- just to see, hey, what happens, maybe we make a few bucks, what's tradition?

          -----
          Original Pantry Cafe
          877 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90017

        2. I, too, cannot understand the hype surrounding Pinks. I haven't been to Chicago, but the hot dogs I've had in NY's "papaya" places (well, I'm thinking Mike's, in particular) run circles around Pinks. It's bizarre that people like Martha Stewart come out here from NYC and rave about the dogs.

          1. I abandoned Pink's years ago and have been going to Carney's for their wonderful dogs and burgers!

            11 Replies
            1. re: John

              Here, here! Carney's *indeed* for an example of L.A.'s very best* when it comes to burgers and dogs. I like the one on Ventura for a more relaxing vibe, but the one on Sunset has a liquor license, so you get a choice!

              My typical Carney's order:

              1. One mongo sized Coke

              2. One or two Carney Dogs (I ask for extra tomato slices and eat them on the side -- great tomatoes at Carney's, by the way, and they offer a wonderful counterpoint to the dog-bun-chili-mustard symphony of flavors and textures! To further enhance this, I like to introduce temperature into the equation by ordering my Carney Dogs with tomatoes on the side. This way, I can have one bite of hot and one bite of cold -- dee-licious!)

              3. One small Chili-Cheese Fries (which are excellent), and finally...

              4. One "Half-Pound" Cheeseburger (Be sure to order the "Half-Pound" size and specify your cooking preference -- I like mine medium rare!)

              Note: Since the "Half Pound" Cheeseburger takes much longer to cook due to the thickness of the patty, I always request my Carney Dogs and Chili-Cheese Fries "right away" and begin enjoying them in anticipation of one of the best fast food hamburgers in the known universe. This way, when my cheeseburger arrives, I am ready to focus full attention on it and all of its deliciousness (to coin a Leff-ism). And what a cheeseburger it is! Truly one of the all-time greats.

              Anyway, just go to Carney's! Their consistency is pretty good. So, odds are you won't be disappointed. On that note, I have found that my best meals there are around the time of the lunch or dinner rush. This way, everything is as hot and fresh as possible.

              * This is not to say that there are others. Just none better. For example, I have yet to sample the dogs and fries at Scooby's, but Steve Doggie-Dog waxes eloquent about them on his site (see below), and they are definitely on my list for a future hot dog excursion. For that matter, anyone seeking an informed opinion on the best hot dogs in Los Angeles should definitely check out Steve's "Hot Dog Spot" website for the wealth of information that it offers. On the subject of hot dogs -- and especially hot dogs in Los Angeles, I take my hat off to Steve Doggie-Dogg for his hard work and dedication to this much beloved tasty treat!

              Link: http://www.hotdogspot.com

              1. re: David Ford

                do you actually eat two chili dogs, a half pound chili burger, a small chili fries, and a jumbo coke all in one sitting?

                1. re: kevin

                  It may sound like a lot at first, but think of it this way:

                  1. The mongo sized Coke is my beverage. Every meal has gotta have one, and this is my choice at Carney's. Normally I like to do a nice iced tea, but this is not an option here. Besides, Coke goes better with chili dogs than anything else I can think of! As far as the size (mongo being the largest) goes, I drink a LOT at a meal. This is why I always end up getting at least one refill of my mongo Coke in any given Carney's sitting!

                  2. The one or two Carney Dogs are the appetizer course -- comparable to a plateful of breaded shrimp with dipping sauce or maybe an order of pork spare ribs at a Chinese restaurant. And since Carney dogs are so delicious, they go down smooth!

                  3. The small order of chili-cheese fries qualify as my "starch" that one would normally order with an entree sized portion of beef -- as I am in this case with my anticipated half-pound cheeseburger. At a luxury steak restaurant such as Mastro's or Arnie Morton's of Chicago, this would be either pan-fried potatoes with onions and peppers or simply a baked potato. But at Carney's, a small order of chili-cheese fries fit the bill nicely, thank you very much!

                  4. My half-pound cheeseburger qualifies at my entree -- a beef entree, in this case. This would be comparable to a standard 8 oz. steak at a luxury steakhouse, which is actually on the small side as far as steaks go.

                  A mongo sized Coke, one or two Carney Dogs, a small order of chili-cheese fries and a half-pound cheeseburger -- all consumed in one sitting? With relish! Pun INTENDED! :-)

                    1. re: David Ford

                      so where's your dessert by that rational?

                      1. re: kevin

                        I have never been much of a "dessert" eater, at least not as a formal part of a meal. Not that I don't like sweets (I do), it's just that I would be more likely to wait a few hours after the meal and enjoy a nice piece of cake or an ice cream sundae either at home or an establishment specializing in said dessert-type fare.

                        But I digress.

                        In answer to your question, after my signature meal at Carney's, I am perfectly content nursing what's left of my mongo sized Coke and munching ice while I relax and take in the environment.

                        1. re: David Ford

                          just joking about the dessert thing.

                          i actually was there a few days and had a new york dog and a chili dog, no fries, and a root beer, and then a split another chili dog with my friend. sounded gooded at the time, but that extra half dog was pushing my limit.

                          so that's why i'll stick to one chili dog next time, and carney's is definitely the best chili dog in la, puts pinks and all the others to shame. But if you ever get out to orange county they make great chili dogs, i mean great, at pch dogs. the chili is just right, it's a sauce rather than a meaty chili, and the shredded cheddar works perfectly on it. carney's is more of a meaty chili.

                          1. re: kevin

                            Thanks for the tip! I have heard PCH Dogs mentioned by others on this board, and specifically for their chili dogs as you say. Huntington Beach, if memory serves, is the city they are located in. They are definitely on my list when I am in the vicinity and looking for a good dog. :-)

                            1. re: David Ford

                              We eat da same. No shame, just grind-um. But I like dessert. Many years ago we go down Hollywood and grindz at Carney’s and den we go down to da Famous Amos Cookies and get da pound bag of Fresh Pecan & Chocolate Chip. His Mother was always cool. Dat place long gone and I miss it. So I told the owner of Carney’s we miss dat Famous Amos fo dessert. Next thing I know Carney’s has Cookies. Now Carney’s sells frozen banana – dat mo better. I go down to Santa Ana and grind very good dogs at Jerry's. A thread on OC grindz say dat da best dog in O.C. is at Hollingshead's Delicatessen on Saturday only, 11:00am to 3:00pm. I trust dat post by oc climber. He posted about Ralph’s Sub’s and already I been there four times and think about it all da time. I think I go down Orange town and grindz some Hollingshead's dogs on Sat.

                              Carney’s
                              12601 Ventura Blvd.
                              Studio City, CA
                              (818) 761-8300

                              Carney’s
                              8351 Sunset Blvd.
                              Hollywood, CA
                              (323).654-8300

                              Hollingshead's Delicatessen (Dogs only on Sat 11:00am to 3:00pm, Sandwiches only Monday through Friday. Try “The Bernie” – hot pastrami on squaw with blue cheese and mayo)
                              368 S Main St
                              Orange, CA 92868-3834
                              (714) 978-9467
                              http://www.hollingshead4beer.com/Sand...
                              (Staples/Duke's Burgers parking lot. Hard to find as it is tucked up in a corner
                              )oc climber

                              Ralph's Subs (Try "The Big Pig,” "Ralph's Favorite” or anything else they make) oc climber
                              1891 N. Tustin Av
                              Orange, CA
                              (Tustin and Taft in the new Home Depot center)
                              (714) 998-1940

                              Jerry’s Dogs
                              2276 E. 17th Street (17th St. At Tustin Ave. Near the 57 Fwy)
                              Santa Ana
                              (714) 245-0200

                              Pacific Coast Hot dog
                              300 Pacific Coast Highway
                              Huntington Beach, CA 92648
                              (714) 969-8799
                              http://www.stockteam.com/PCHdog.html

                              Pacific Coast Hot dog
                              3438 E. Chapman Ave.
                              Orange, CA 92869
                              (714) 744-1415

                              1. re: Like-Go-Eat?

                                Thanks for the very nicely organized information! You just saved me some footwork. :-)

                2. re: John

                  Carney's is so superior. Delicious food, and fast, efficient, and interesting workers. Love the one on Sunset.