Cape Fear Foodie: Hot Dog Road Trip Part 1

Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 10:48 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - With Memorial Day kicking off the unofficial start to summer, it’s a great time to explore a favorite food of the summer cookout - the hot dog. So why not skip around the Cape Fear and see what everyone has to offer when it comes to this summer delicacy? Now to be clear, this will be a two-part post (with some updates to come) and isn’t completely exhaustive. Part one is focused on some various hot dog joints around Wilmington, and part two will branch out to other stops throughout the Cape Fear (locales like Paul’s Place Famous Hotdogs, Bob’s Dogs, Nauti Dog, Brodee Dogs, etc.)

Before we get into this Tour de Dog, a few odds and ends to cover. For one, I love hot dogs. As much as I fancy a dinner of fine dining, I equally enjoy a quality hot dog with great fixins. Being from West Virginia, hot dogs are nearly the state food (besides pepperoni rolls of course) but living here for years now, it has become apparent that hot dogs have a place in coastal hearts as well.

Secondly, I only order my hot dogs one way: chili, slaw, mustard, and onions. Interestingly enough, this is known as a West Virginia style dog in the Mountain State...and a Carolina style dog here (or the more general Slaw Dog). Great minds think alike I suppose, but whatever you call it, it’s a hot dog that in my estimation has the perfect choice of toppings.

Lastly, this will act like more of a review than a feature. I’m not here to dog anyone but some dogs are in the back of the pack and others dog (alright, I’ll stop). Now that we have that taken care of, let’s hop on our imaginary Weinermobile and hit the road.

Trolly Stop Hot Dogs

A Wilmington institution of sorts, the Trolly Stop is a must-stop for many locals and tourists alike. With locations along the coast (and even in Chapel Hill), Trolly Stop has been around for decades and has a wide variety of hot dog toppings to choose from. But sometimes, a dog’s bark is bigger than its bite. The slaw was more finely chopped than some, but lacked any real kick, the onions were a bit too chunky and overpowered the slaw, while the chili had a ketchup-like base flavor. The staff was friendly and other diners seemed content with their orders, but this isn’t my pick of the litter. 2/5

Trolly Stop's take on a slaw dog.
Trolly Stop's take on a slaw dog.(WECT)

P.T.’s Olde Fashioned Grille

With multiple locations around the area, P.T.’s has a cult following from its legions of faithful fans (they even sell various souvenir clothing items). The “P.T. Dog” isn’t your usual hot dog. The sausage is split in half and grilled open faced, then placed on a sesame seed hoagie bun. The chili was brawny and beefy, but the slaw left something to be desired, along with the long cut red onions (I’m a fine-chopped white onion person myself but to each their own). I will say you can clearly taste the grilled dog, there is a noticeable difference between a grilled and boiled dog. It’s a unique experience, almost more sandwich than what you think of a typical hot dog, but sometimes the simplest creations are the best. Middle of the pack here, 2.5/5.

"The P.T. Dog" is a unique take on a hot dog.
"The P.T. Dog" is a unique take on a hot dog.(WECT)

Louie’s Hot Dogs

Another classic Wilmington hot dog joint, Louie’s has been around since the 1980s (and I was told there would be rioting if I didn’t stop here). A tiny location on Princess Street with no place to dine-in, Louie’s is a good value (combo meal for less than $6) and offers nearly 20 unique dogs with names based on local history. The slaw here is a longer cut, with red onions (instead of the white, remember?) with a decent chili and soft split top bun. You can taste the all-beef hot dog through the toppings which is always a sign of quality. For my tastes, the cut of the slaw and onions was just a bit too much. Not first but not last, 3/5.

A "Carolina style dog" from downtown Wilmington's favorite hot dog shop.
A "Carolina style dog" from downtown Wilmington's favorite hot dog shop.(WECT)

Frontier Food to Go

Located in a red trailer along Carolina Beach Road, this humble food shack has been a popular stop for a cheap lunch for decades. You can expect a short wait as neighbors line up at the window to place their orders. The dog itself was larger than others, the slaw was finely cut (a favorite of mine) but it needed more dressing to give it that necessary creaminess. The bun could have been a bit softer as well. Overall this dog doesn’t go to the next frontier, but it’s worth checking out. Note, cash only here. Let’s give it 3/5.

A favorite among many locals, Frontier has been serving up food since the 1960s.
A favorite among many locals, Frontier has been serving up food since the 1960s.(WECT)

Merritt’s Burger House

Just down the road from Frontier, Merritt’s has been serving up dogs, burgers and BBQ in a drive-in setting since 1960. This place is typically packed during lunch hours, and in drive-in fashion, they will bring you a window tray to hold your order (how cool is that nowadays?). As for the hot dog, it’s a classic red hot style dog, the slaw was a little more finely cut than most, creamy too, though I didn’t really detect the crunch from the onion. The chili was the star here...beefy and spicy, it enveloped the soft, buttery split-top bun perfectly. This was an exceptional hot dog and I could have eaten several of them with no problem. It’s called the “Burger House” but could have been easily been called “Dog House” (though that doesn’t have a great connotation). Note, cash only here as well. A “Best in Show,” 4.5/5

Near perfection, the bun, slaw, chili and sausage combine to create a timeless hot dog that...
Near perfection, the bun, slaw, chili and sausage combine to create a timeless hot dog that gives reason for this drive-in staying around since the '60's.(WECT)

Again, these “reviews” are based on the specific order of the dog, my taste and what I was served on the given day. If you have a favorite hot dog around the area, shoot me an email and I would love to check it out (I’m even willing to switch up my order if you have a suggestion). Keep an eye out for part two on hot dogs, it will be out later this summer as I trek along the coast.


Trolly Stop Hot Dogs has various locations, but I stopped by 4502 Fountain Dr, Wilmington, NC 28403

P.T.’s Olde Fashioned Grille has various locations but I stopped by 2420 S 17th St A, Wilmington, NC 28401

Louie’s Hot Dogs is located at 204 1/2 Princess St, Wilmington, NC 28401

Frontier Food to Go is located at 2633 Carolina Beach Rd, Wilmington, NC 28412

Merritt’s Burger House is located at 2338 Carolina Beach Rd, Wilmington, NC 28401

Do you recommend a restaurant? Or know of a best kept secret that you want the rest of the Cape Fear to know about? Shoot me an email at and I would love to feature your selection. Cheers!

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