Las Vegas, it seems, wants to have it all. The Eiffel Tower. The Statue of Liberty. A sphinx or two. The canals of Venice. A pirate ship. And outposts of some of the world’s great restaurants. Nobu. Bouchon. Joel Robuchon. Mario Batali’s Carnevino. Hubert Keller’s Fleur. At the lower end of the food chain, there’s the Las Vegas incarnation of Pinks, the renowned Los Angeles hot dog stand that’s been feeding that city’s rich and the poor for 77 years.
And now, at 4503 Paradise Road, across from another import, the Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas has a second imported hot dog institution: Papaya King.
Growing up in New York, the original Papaya King, on 86th street and 2nd avenue, was a regular stop for after-school fill-ups. And still, decades later, whenever I return to New York, I never leave without checking in at least once for my standard order: a couple of dogs (one with sauerkraut, one with onions) and a glass of papaya juice.
The menu has expanded, to include a long list of “specialty franks,” topped with the likes of chili and cheddar cheese sauce (the C&C), jalapanos, pineapple, sweet perrpers, sauteed onions, pepper flakes (the Hula Hula), and pastrami, sauerkraut, pickle chips (the Upper East). But whenever I pop in for a meal, it seems that most of those standing shoulder to shoulder with me at the counter are still ordering the old standbys, simple dogs with either mustard and kraut or onions. And yes, papaya juice. As unlikely a combination as that might seem, it works.
The last time I was in Las Vegas, I sheepishly treated myself to a couple of Pinks hot dogs. Sheepishly, because I now live in Los Angeles and regularly drive by the original Pinks, on La Brea Avenue. But it’s been years since I was willing to fight for a parking space and wait in line for a chili cheese dog (American cheese, chili, mustard, onions, $5.99). On the other hand, at the Vegas Pinks, in the Miracle Mile Shopping Mall behind Planet Hollywood, the line was short and there was plenty of seating. The frank was every bit as oversized as it would have been back in L.A., and the toppings were sloppily generous. But something was missing, some ineffable sense of authenticity.
I’ll probably sample Papaya King’s dogs the next time I visit Las Vegas. But even though everything they do in New York is precisely replicated in their Vegas outpost, I expect something to feel lacking. Like the Eiffel Tower, some things simply don’t translate.
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
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