America enjoys a number of great summer past times. For those fortunate enough to live near a large body of water, grilling and the beach go together like peas and carrots. Around Buffalo, there’s plenty of opportunity to partake in waterfront fun from RiverWorks to Canalside. But for those interested in venturing off the beaten path, you can’t do much better than Red Top Hot Dogs.
Nestled in the town of Hamburg – roughly 10 miles outside Buffalo – Red Top is an institution celebrating more than 70 seasons. Just look closely as you drive by, or you might miss it. The signage and shack-sized exterior could fit alongside any trendy, retrofitted establishment. For this Massachusetts native, it’s a slice of Hyannis in Hamburg. But in this case, it’s all fiercely authentic.
Walking through the screened door entryway, you’re greeted by well-worn counter tops, wood-paneled walls and a vintage cash register familiar to any roadside eatery. Faded paint and newspaper clippings have a charm that speaks volumes about the locals and tourists it’s hosted for decades. Behind the counter on this Friday evening, a staff of six happily hums between register, grill, fryer and other tasks in a tight space.
Which brings us to the food. Red Top offers a solid range of comfort eats at very reasonable (read: cash only) prices. Cheeseburgers come with the option for onions and peppers – served with cheese on the bottom that makes condiment additions clean and easy. Brilliant! Milkshakes are thick and densely packed with flavor. Don’t be surprised that your side order of basket fries looks like potato chips. But the true highlights – surprise – are the hot dogs. Fans of chargrilled dogs may already know Ted’s, but there’s serious competition here. The flavor is outstanding whether you go with the plain dog or ramp up with chili and cheese. I might have tried a few varieties…
Walking to the outside seating, customers have the choice of shaded picnic tables with an unobstructed view to Lake Erie, whose breeze is just enough to cut the summer heat. It’s also a hugely underrated opportunity to catch the sunset on an expansive horizon. The building’s front façade looks to the lake horizon and is likely to have seen decades of colorful sunscapes along with – I’m guessing – an occasional Southtown snowfall.
Red Top isn’t fancy, but doesn’t pretend to be. They just know what everyone should – when it comes to a summer night out, few things beat a waterfront sunset and a chili cheese dog.