Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Oki Dog: The Weirdest Dogs In Town!

Saturday, July 24, 2004
Oki Dog: The Weirdest Dogs In Town!

860 N Fairfax Av, Hollywood

Standard Dog, Polish Sausage,
The specialty of the house... Oki Dog
Burrito, Chili, Pastrami, Fries, Grunge
Health Department Rating: A

Open late, Bizarre clientele, Hands down, the weirdest hot dog in LA

Occasionally, you run across a concept that is so alien... so removed from anything you've ever experienced before... that you just don't know what to think about it. Oki Dog is that sort of place. Using the standards we normally apply to rate hot dog stands, Oki wouldn't even register a single dewclaw of a dog on our Dog Rating scale. The dogmeat is chewy and bland, the chili is very cheap, and the atmosphere is akin to eating in a grimy gas station restroom in the middle of the Mohave Desert. This place is a "dive among dives"... But we have to admit, we kinda like the place. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We'll do our best to describe our experience...

It was a hot Sunday late afternoon. Jon the Food Slob stopped by Steve Doggie-Dogg's office and invited him out for a dog excursion. After consulting the internet, the yellow pages and the telephone, we determined that the only place open that we hadn't tried yet was Oki Dog in Hollywood. We had driven by the ramshackle orange hut on the way to Pinks a few weeks ago. It looked pretty dismal, surrounded by a bunch of overgrown potted plants and some battered lawn furniture. Loitering about were the requisite local "characters" who looked like they were right out of a David Lynch movie. We decided we'd better give it a try in the name of science... some other time. Well, this was the time.

Oki Dog used to be on Santa Monica Bl at Vista... right in the middle of "Boystown", where shirtless young gentlemen can be found on every corner "looking for rides". Since it was close to the Hollywood nightclubs and always open late, it developed quite a following among the punk rock movement. Skinheads, longhairs and mohawks could be seen sitting side by side on the stools chowing down on greasy burritos at all hours of the day and night. It was a real happening place back in the late 70s. We don't really know why, but it never occurred to us to stop in and try the place back then.

Well, the neighbors complained about the unruly mob that hung out there, so the City Council banished Oki Dog to a small hut off the strip on Fairfax. A more respectable chain restaurant with pre-fab food and lots of security guards took Oki's spot on Santa Monica and Vista. If Oki Dog could be said to be on the skids before, this development put it face down in the gutter. Today, many ex-Punks who went on to become accountants and lawyers have fond memories of late nights at Oki Dog. As they drive by their old hangout in their shiny new Beemers or Audi station wagons, they roll their windows up tight, lock the doors and shed a quiet tear for what used to be... But the amazing thing is, Oki Dog isn't just a memory. It still exists. The hut is just the same, albeit a bit more battered around the edges.The food hasn't changed... It was always battered around the edges. The battered people who eat there haven't changed much either. Oki Dog LIVES!

Well, we pulled up to the hut in Jon's Beemer, rolled the windows up, locked the doors and steeled ourselves for a visceral experience like we've never encountered before. "I don't know about this place..." Steve said, looking up at the sign which read "O I DOG". Maybe they aren't even in business any more." "The door's open and the lights are on." Jon said cheerfully, "Let's go do Oki!" We trudged into the hut and were greeted by a sight right out of a documentary on life in third world countries. Homemade plywood benches and tables painted in gaudy colors were littered around the joint. A battered old TV with the jittery picture of a soccer game babbled "Goal! Goal! Goal!" up in the corner. Weird decorations from holidays long past lingered in the eaves over our heads. A drunk hunched over the remains of an Oki Dog in the corner. Video games displayed scenes of urban horror, complete with wild car chases and shootouts between simulated policemen and virtual gang members. And in a tiny pickup window behind an iron fence stood Felix the Chef, waiting for us to place our order.

We looked at each other and shrugged. "What do we want?" Steve asked. "An Oki Dog, I guess..." Jon pushed his face up to the steel bars and asked Felix, "What the heck is an Oki Dog, anyway?" Chef Felix explained that it was two hot dogs in a burrito filled with chili and pastrami. "Pastrami?" "Yes, grilled pastrami." A look of fear flashed across Jon the Food Slob's face. He was having a Huell Howser flashback! "You can do it, big fella." Steve said supportingly. "I'll have one too." Just in case, Steve ordered a Polish Dog and a Standard Dog with Mustard, Onions and Cheese. Jon ordered a backup Standard Dog as well. We sat down with a couple of Diet Cokes to admire the atmosphere until our meal arrived. Before we knew it, Felix handed us two oversized Frisbees filled with food...

The Oki Dogs were so hot, they glowed, so we set them aside and focused on the Standard Dogs first. As Jon took his first bite, Chef Felix came out from his barbed wire enclave, stood on a table, and started banging on the side of the old TV to get the picture to come in clearer. No amount of fiddling with the coat hanger antenna would get a clearer view of the soccer game, so he sat down and watched it in all of its jittery glory. "What do you think of the dog, Jon?" Steve asked, afraid to commit to biting into his own until it was determined to be safe. "Mmmfff... Mmmmfff... CHEWY!" was the only response. So, Steve took the plunge. The dogmeat had no snap and was strangely leathery inside. It was much more tough than any other dog we've ever tasted. It wasn't particularly good, and even though the onions were freshly chopped and the bun nicely steamed, the dog was a bust. The Polish Dog was even worse, with unidentifiable bits of various animals strewn into a terrazzo-like matrix.

The Standard dogs were just about as bad as the slop we were served at Pinks, so we looked at the heaping mounds they call Oki Dogs with some degree of trepidation. "Who's gonna go first?" Jon said. Steve bravely picked up his overfilled tortilla sack and closed his eyes and bit in... There was a silent pause. Steve chewed a bit. He swallowed and took another bite... and another... "Hey, this isn't half bad! Wait a minute... It's great!" The tortilla had been rolled like a figure eight, with chili on one side and grilled Pastrami and two Hot Dogs on the other. By biting into one side or the other, you could control whether you got a mouthful of chili or a gobfull of meat. The Chili was cheap, with plenty of flour added as a thickener, but it tasted meaty and was nicely spiced. We aren't particularly fond of the typical California Dog Stand Chili we've encountered at most places, but Oki's Chili was definitely the best we've had in that style. The Pastrami was stringy and lean, grilled until it had a little crunch... almost like bacon. In the context of the burrito, the chewy Hot Dogs actually worked. The unlikely combination of flavors and textures was heavenly. Steve wolfed his Oki Dog down greedily and went back for a second. He asked Felix to add some raw chopped Onions and Tomatoes to the Chili side. Felix handled the request perfectly, and the second Oki Dog was even better than the first. At $2.50, the Oki Dog is the champion stomach filling bargain of all time, beating out Tommy's chili drenched cheeseburgers for sheer bulk on a budget.

We sat back and enjoyed the Oki Dog afterglow. Steve got a kick out of reading the way customers had altered the plastic letters making up the menu. Beverages listed included FRUIT PUNCHOODLEMAINE and OT OCOA. The "Students & Seniors Special" was unprintably obscene. (But if you squint at the picture of Steve, you can just barely read it...) Jon had an amazed expression on his face as he gazed lovingly at the meager surroundings. "You might think I'm plain daffy, but I think I might just like to come back to this place. It's growing on me." "I know what you mean." Steve agreed. There was something about this place that reeked of Los Angeles. The food was a halfbreed blend of Mexican and All-American, just like the city itself. It filled you up for just a few pesos. The place was ugly and brown, but it was home. There was a definite aesthetic here, and it worked.

The tough part was trying to assign a Dog Rating to this unique experience. As we've done in the past, we worked our way up the list... "Is it better than Pinks at One and a Half Dogs?" "Heck yeah!" How about Costco at Two?" "You betcha." "The Schnitz and Taste Chicago are next up the list at Two and a Half." "That's close, but I think I'd rather eat at Oki Dog than either of those places." "What about Rubin's Red Hot at Three Dogs?" "Nope... That's too far. Rubins beats Oki." So, we decided to award Oki Dog a respectable Two and a Half Dog rating! Who'd-a thunk it?!

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