The thing about hot dogs is that they can lend themselves to so many variations. Pauly's Famous Franks N Fries in San Jose, open just more than three months, takes that notion to give the humble hot dog some revved-up spin.
All dogs at Pauly's begin with the same foundation: a slim Angus beef hot dog. Most are served in a poufy-soft bun, and many of the options feature bacon-wrapped dogs.
Be prepared to spend some time with the menu. It lists some 60-plus ways that you can order your dog. You can choose from familiar favorites like the Chicago ($4.99), with the customary toppings (pickles, tomatoes, celery salt, etc.), and chili cheese ($4.99).
You could also go a little more over the top with choices like the Pinoy puppie ($5.49), with fried rice and a fried egg. Or how about the banh mi ($5.29), with pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro and mayo; or the enchilada ($5.29), a tortilla-wrapped hot dog dipped in enchilada sauce and topped with cheese and sour cream?
Someone was thoughtful enough to break out the 11 favorites on the front of the menu. I ordered from that list: the rich and yummy Mexico City ($5.29), a bacon-wrapped frank topped with ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, diced tomatoes and onions both grilled and raw.
But I was disappointed with the bun, which fell apart about two-thirds through the meal. I'm no fan of soggy bread; I would ask for a quick toast on the grill next time to better hold up under all of those toppings.
The Buffalo ($4.99) was a fun treat, with matchsticks of carrot and celery, Buffalo wing sauce and blue cheese dressing. It could have used more wing sauce for some extra kick. Our favorite was the bacon-wrapped Argentine ($5.29), drizzled with tasty and garlicky chimichurri.
The pint-size omnivore in our group gobbled up a breakfast dog ($5.29), which was piled with scrambled eggs and chorizo, then sprinkled with hot sauce. It was a lot of protein on a bun, but he didn't complain.
If you're not in the mood for so many toppings, you can always go simple with the Pauly ($3.79), a dependable hot dog or its bacon-wrapped cousin with ketchup or mustard.
You can also have fun choosing from the French fry options at Pauly's. Choose from plain fries (from $2.59) to three kinds of chili fries (from $3.99) to nacho fries (from $4.99) piled with beans, cheese sauce, guacamole and sour cream.
We also got a double basket of plain fries ($4.59) to share. The cashier mentioned that the rustic-cut fries were served unseasoned so you can use the seasoning bar, featuring flavors from the expected salt-and-pepper mix to more adventurous ones like beer. The custom-blended dry seasonings are in labeled containers along one wall of the eatery. One of my companions did note that it would be more appealing, and cleaner, if the seasonings weren't kept in containers with flip tops.
The young ones in our party especially liked experimenting with the flavors. The winners? The coconut curry and chocolate.
The chili cheese fries ($4.29), made with the house-made chili, was a hearty meal in itself but got lost with so many hot dogs and other fries on our palates. I'd rather enjoy a serving by itself next time.
If you have a big appetite, you can go with the Joey Chestnut ($18.99-$25.99), a 2-foot hot dog, prepared in any style on the menu. The menu promises enough food for "up to five people (or one super hungry person)." A fitting tribute to San Jose's champion eater.
Franks N Fries
81 Curtner Ave., No. 20,
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Wednesdays;
10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays; 10 a.m. to
9 p.m. Sundays
Types of food: Hot dogs and fries
Average meal price: $5-$7
Good choices: The Argentine and the Mexico City
Attitude: Very friendly, casual
Amenities: Lots of seating inside and some seats outside
Vegetarian options: Fries, without the chili.
Drinks: Fountain drinks and milk shakes
Eat in car: Yes, but get plenty of napkins
Who goes there: Families, local workers
Credit cards: All major ones.
Parking: In shopping center parking lot
Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. The Mercury News pays for all meals.