There’s something about using the name of another city or state to get people to buy your product. Philadelphia is used a lot, and so is New York. Still, it’s odd to be wandering through the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania and see a place called Texas Hot Dogs.
Texas is a good name for a hot dog, though. Texas is a big state, and these hot dogs are as good as Texas is big. Since I grew up in Altoona, Texas Hot Dogs might have even set a standard in my brain for what a how hot dog should taste. Having my first Coney Island Hot Dog in the 1980s was somewhat of a disappointment. After all, if there’s a bigger place, at least regarding ego than Texas, it’s New York. And it would seem anything so famous must naturally be better.
But there was skin on the New York hot dog and funny curls at the end. Plus beans… like the kind in real chili. Texas Hot Dogs came with an all-meat sauce. New York had nothing on Altoona…well, at least as far as hot dogs go.
The first Texas Hot Dog I had was at a drive-in that no longer exists, on a stretch of road south of Altoona that was replaced by a Texas-sized highway. The small chain always has several locations, however, and a family feud of some sort has even brought about several different versions of the name. But the best place to get a Texas Hot Dog is on 12th Avenue in Downtown Altoona. On most days, in most places, most of the downtown Altoona is void of street life, but the immediate area around Texas Hot Dogs often hums.
There are two reasons why the 12th Avenue store is the best location. First, the place has been there the longest. The walls are decorated with old pictures of downtown, and the shelves lined with old soda bottles and remnants of the restaurant’s past. Secondly, there’s a big wooden barrel that dispenses red Pennsylvania birch beer.
The people inside seem to know the place as well as their kitchen. Some know it even better because while the secret sauce recipe is something many have tried to recreate, coming close is still not as good as the real thing. The people who work there seem to take special pride as well. It’s not just a place to get a quick bite to eat. In a world of chains that are the same from Boise to Boston, Texas Hot Dogs is something that’s as much apart of the city as the railroad that built it, or the Horseshoe Curve that visitors flock to town to see.
Though the storefront has been badly remodeled, the big glass window still provides a glimpse of the cooking hot dogs and steaming buns. The smell of the sauce blends with the onion aroma in the air to provide a good idea of what heaven is like even before you take the first bite. Don’t worry; there’s more to live for. A line of the zesty brown mustard makes the first bite even better.
If you can’t get enough of the hot dog sauce, try a side-order of Texas Macaroni and cheese. One of the most bizarre, but tasty ideas, the thickly-cheese-coated macaroni, comes smothered with hot dog meat sauce.
Don’t let the name Texas fool you. There can’t be a hot dog as good in the Lonestar State, or anywhere else. And the name doesn’t say a thing about Texas–these hot dogs are all Altoona.
1122 12th Ave
Altoona, PA 16601