Pesto, feta cheese, pico de gallo, strawberry jam -- not necessarily what springs to mind when one contemplates hot dog toppings, but International House of Hot Dogs isn't afraid to venture outside the ketchup-and-mustard box.
IHOH got its start last summer as a stand near Fourth Avenue and G Street. But while the tourists dissipated and cooler temperatures moved many Alaskans indoors, owner Luis Rodolfo Portillo decided he wasn't done selling hot dogs. A white trailer adorned with a brightly colored "IHOH" sign has been at Northern Lights Boulevard and Eagle Street since October.
Originally from Mexico, Portillo was splitting his time between San Diego and Anchorage before he decided to stick around. "I love Alaska, and I'm not getting out of here anytime soon," he said.
Inspired by Anchorage's range of ethnicities and cultures, Portillo developed a globally inspired menu that ranges from the familiar (the Texas dog is topped with chili, cheese and diced onions) to the unexpected (the Bombay dog consists of a soy sausage topped with caramelized onions, pesto, pepper jack or Swiss cheese and chipotle crème sauce). Hot dogs are either $6 or $6.50.
Taking advantage of unseasonably warm weather and "spring forward" daylight hours, I picked up dinner and drove to Earthquake Park to watch the sunset. As IHOH is grab-and-go only, this seemed the best option. I perused the menu which consisted of 10 hot dogs plus the McKinley dog, Portillo's "signature" offering.
The Chicago dog ($6) features a Polish sausage topped with jalapeno relish and diced tomatoes and onions. The Greek dog ($6) consists of a pork or beef sausage buried beneath a pile of mustard, bleu cheese crème, caramelized onions, black olives and bleu cheese crumbles. True to its name, the Monte Cristo dog ($6) is topped with strawberry jam, along with Swiss cheese and caramelized onions.
I eventually decided on the Hawaiian dog ($6.50), which seemed middle of the road in terms of strangeness: A beef sausage with bacon, ham, pineapple, caramelized onions and chipotle crème. I also ordered the cilantro fries ($4.50).
Service was quick, and all told I probably waited about seven or eight minutes for my food. Since the hot dog clearly required both hands, I was content to snack on the fries until I reached my destination. The cilantro flavor was fairly subtle but the potatoes were piping hot, crisp and perfectly salted, which is all I require of a French fry.
The sausage had a snappy/crispy texture and a nice char, which immediately elevated it above a typical concession stand hot dog. The bun was seriously stout and boasted an egg-y quality that stood up well to the considerable toppings. The caramelized onions weren't particularly caramelized and fairly forgettable, but the chipotle crème mayo-type sauce was darn good and had a nice amount of spice to it. The ham and pineapple lent the hot dog a savory-sweet quality, which complemented rather than overpowered the other ingredients.
I returned for lunch a few days later, this time opting for the New Yorker -- buffalo sausage, caramelized onions and chipotle crème.
The sausage was good quality, with a mild flavor like a white bratwurst. I had the same complaint about the onions the second time around -- they weren't terrible, but they appeared to have been stir-fried as opposed to caramelized properly. On both visits the service was friendly and prompt, and the facility was well-kept.
Portillo said business has been good, and he feels "grateful and blessed" to be serving hot dogs year round. With its convenient Midtown location and tasty, imaginative offerings, I'll be adding IHOH to the regular rotation.
Want to rave or pan? Write your own review of this restaurant or any other recently reviewed place at adn.com/dining.
By Carly Horton Stuart
Daily News correspondent
Alaska Dispatch Publishing