Gray’s Papaya (New York, August 2019)


On Friday I had a quick report on casual lunch at the Upper Westside location of Luke’s Lobster, an establishment whose proximity to Central Park and the Museum of Natural History I appreciated. Today’s report is of an even more casual lunch at a far more iconic and certainly far cheaper restaurant: Gray’s Papaya. The flagship location at Broadway and 72nd is also easily walkable from the Museum of Natural History, though a bit further than Luke’s Lobster. But a large part of the charm of being in New York is walking the streets and despite the heat and humidity we did not object (we averaged about 6 miles a day over our 10 days). And without making over large claims about the quality of either the hotdogs or the juice I can say that we enjoyed our meal at Gray’s Papaya as well. Herewith a few details.

The restaurant is open 24/7 year-round. They have a breakfast menu as well but at lunch no one is there for anything but hotdogs. And there are a lot of people there. When we arrived a little after noon it was crammed—a mix of fellow tourists and locals, seemingly. The crowd ebbed and flowed over the 30 odd minutes we were there and when we were leaving it was quite empty. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’d gotten full again 10 minutes later. I believe this is the original location—having opened in 1973—and now one of two surviving: the other is in Midtown. Self-referential signage is everywhere, outside and in. You are being invited to consume their iconicity as much as you are their food.

For all the signage, the menu is simple: a few fruit drinks and hotdogs with a small choice of toppings. Slightly more complicated if you’re in a group with small children is figuring out how exactly to strategize your ordering. This because there are a few combos and figuring out what combination of combos and individual orders gets you to the optimal group order without ending up with too much or too little juice or mystery meat is something you should do before you get into the line. I don’t mean to make this sound more complex than it was. It is at any rate the only complicated part of the proceedings. We got a bunch of hotdogs, plain and with various toppings (kraut, chili, onions). All were tasty, none sent us into raptures, all were cheap. We also got a couple orders of their fruit drinks: the pina colada (no alcohol) was fine; the papaya that gives them their name was decent—I’m not sure how it’s made or what else may be in it and I am fine not looking into it any further.

Here is a slideshow of images of the space and the dogs.

You order at the counter—everything moves quick—and you either find a counter to stand at and eat or take your food and juice on the road. Belying New York stereotypes, everyone is friendly even when it’s busy and you aren’t sure what you’re going order when your turn comes up. Ah yes, if your order is below $10 you will need to pay cash (there’s an atm); otherwise a card will be accepted.

Okay, this is not my only hotdog-related report from New York nor was it my only remaining report on a meal involving things between bread. Coney Island-related hotdoggery is yet to come as is a report on an altogether more gourmet sandwich establishment much further south in Manhattan. Those’ll be in a couple of weeks, probably. My next New York report will be from the high end of things. Before that though: cheap Mexican eats in southern Minnesota.

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