Gray’s Papaya (New York, NY)

Our next lunch stop on the Manhattan Death March was for hot dogs. Like many regions of the country (as an aside, Wikipedia has a rather nice summary of regional hot dog variations, New York City has it’s own take on hot dogs. In fact, it has two: the “dirty water dog” (a typical street cart dog, so named since they simmer them in warm water in the cart) and the “papaya dog”. The latter is the interesting one, since, despite the name, the papaya dog doesn’t actually have papaya in or on it; it’s the same Sabrett’s hot dog you’re buying from the dirty water carts on the street, although they’ve grilled it instead boiling it, and it’s generally offered up with both kraut and hot onion sauce as condiments.

The name comes from the origin of the papaya dog, Papaya King on 86th St. and Third Ave. on the Upper East Side. Originally opening in 1931, Papaya King started out as a tropical fruit punch stand, but had enough requests for hot dogs that they started serving them, and one of the classics of New York street food was born: the combination of a grilled Sabrett’s hot dog and a tropical fruit drink (typically a Papaya). The concept was so successful that by the 1970s, Papaya King had spawned several offspring, including Gray’s Papaya (founded by a former Papaya King partner in 1973) and several other similar hot dog and fruit juice stands (Mike’s Papaya, Papaya Dog, and several others throughout the city). However, there remain two giants in the business: Papaya King and Gray’s Papaya, forming one of those legendary rivalries, one primarily enforce by geography: Gray’s is a West Side set of eateries, while Papaya King is on the East Side.

Our hike took us through the West Side, so we didn’t have a chance to partake in Papaya King (we passed not too far from their 125th St location, but it would’ve been too much of a detour), but the route took us by several Gray’s Papaya locations, and we stopped as a group at the West 72nd Street and Broadway location.

Gray’s is all about efficiency, with their motto being “When your hungry, broke, or just in a hurry”, running two serving lines and a menu that’s basically just hot dogs and a very wide assortment of tropical fruit drinks. Oh, and a “Recession Special” of two hot dogs and a medium drink that’s been on the menu for several recessions (I recall seeing the same Recession Special signs in the 70s, although the price back then was $2). I opted for the recession special with a papaya drink, and took my two loaded dogs (with the onion sauce and kraut) out to the sidewalk to enjoy.

I’ll be honest in that a Gray’s Papaya dog isn’t my favorite hot dog, but at such a low price ($4.43 for my Recession Special), I can’t exactly complain, and the resulting dog is actually pretty good. The Sabrett’s dog is grilled but still has a nice natural casing “snap” to it. The kraut and sweet mysterious onion sauce (sweeter and less spicy than a lot of other similar sauces out there, like the DC-area “cooked onion” sauce common down there), complement the dog nicely. And the sweetness of the papaya drink both refresh and cleanse the salt of the hot dog, making this a very good snack. I think most everyone in the group enjoyed our brief stop at Gray’s.

Gray’s Papaya
72nd and Broadway (and 3 other Manhattan locations)
New York, NY

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