Hot dogs are having an unpleasant moment. Sure, you can get plant-based dogs at the Swedish Deli inside Downtown San Francisco’s new Ikea, but city friction with unlicensed street vendors boiled over when a city employee upended a hot dog cart near Pier 39, sending buns and dirty water flying. Then there’s the unsanctioned night market, thick with bacon-wrapped hot dog carts, that coalesces around the exit gates to Outside Lands, irritating some neighbors.
A quintessential American classic suddenly looks like it needs a time out. Nobody wants things to get as heated as they are in Chicago, where hairline fractures are appearing in a once-unanimous hatred for ketchup—to say nothing of the eternal debate over whether a hot dog is a sandwich. (Merriam-Webster says yes.)
Maybe it’s no coincidence, then, that the best hot dog in San Francisco is barely even visible, partly because it has so many condiments and partly because it’s not actually on the menu.
This would be the "Prog Dog," a Korean-Japanese variant served at The Progress in the city’s Fillmore district. The $16 creation is a smoky, snappy pork dog slathered in kimchi, bonito flakes, toasted sesame, herb aioli and a generous quantity of crispy fried shallots. What’s more, the one-Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by the husband-and-wife chef team of Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski makes only 12 of them a day.
According to a bartender, the Prog Dog’s scarcity owes itself to the lightly toasted, togarashi-seasoned milk buns, which are labor-intensive to make. But it’s also because off-menu items are intrinsically fun and give those in the know a little treat to smile about. Although as far as hidden menu items go, this one’s more of an open secret on par with In-N-Out’s animal fries, since The Progress teases it on Instagram from time to time.
Whether a $16 dog constitutes affordable luxury or a late-capitalist outrage will probably be an eye-of-the-beholder thing. A reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle recently caused a stir by slamming a $19 hot dog in Oakland as "obscene" and "insulting," and those Embarcadero street vendors routinely make less than $10 an hour. If champion competitive eater Joey Chestnut had eaten 76 Prog Dogs instead of 76 Nathan’s hot dogs, he’d ring up a $1,216 tab.
But a Prog Dog paired with, say, a gin martini makes for a proper dinner. And in the tradition of the chili dog, eating one is a tad messy given the atom-thin bonito shavings. There’s a reason "hot dog" is a synonym for "show-off."