Go for the Food: Anchorage, Alaska
There's no shortage of hot dog stands hawking that spicy, oh-so-Alaska treat, the reindeer dog, in downtown Anchorage. But only one of them has consistently long lines.
M.A.'s Gourmet Dogs is owned by a guy with an attitude and seven types of tasty grilled dogs - including one with a little bit of Rudolph in it. The reindeer meat, too lean to hold together alone, is mixed with pork and beef. It's the hands-down crowd favorite, every bite delivering a pleasing crunchy pop.
This is Michael Anderson's hot dog stand, a mobile feast beneath a big green umbrella near the corner of Fourth Avenue and F Street, parked outside the Federal Building. He's been selling dogs downtown for 22 years during Alaska's summer tourist season, even on the rainiest days, and he's such a draw that an adjacent competitor started using a green umbrella too.
Just remember: Anderson has been called the "hot dog Nazi" more than once, a reference to the "soup Nazi" on the old "Seinfeld" TV series. The soup Nazi was a cranky soup vendor with lots of arbitrary rules, and Anderson has his own rules of engagement posted on a sign: End all cellphone talk at the counter, end all conversations with other diners when it's your turn, wait to order until "the wienie behind the stand asks for it," and finally, step to the right "and pay for this abuse." Signed: "XX00. M.A."
In other words, there's no time for indecision when you deal with this no-nonsense proprietor. Local customers probably make up 80 percent of Anderson's clientele as they grab a dog for lunch while taking a break from downtown office jobs, and they'll warn tourists what to expect. But many locals also think his is the best of several carts on the avenue, precisely because of his antics.
"If you think I'm mean, that's fine because it'll get you through the line quicker," Anderson said. "Then they can get their food and go back to work."
He's also known for playing games. On Maybe Mondays, maybe he'll be there or maybe he won't, giving Facebook followers an early heads-up about absences. If he's not working, people who show up will see a sign saying he's gone fishing. Toppings Tuesday will offer regular customers a surprise garnish. Sauteed garlic and bell peppers were a recent offering. And on Fridays, you can expect to see him in a kilt.
Besides the reindeer dogs, he offers beef, Polish, Italian sausage, Louisiana hotlinks, bratwurst and chicken linguica, a type of smoke-cured sausage. One of his specialty toppings is onions caramelized in Coke. Meal combos with chips and a drink are $7.75; the dogs alone are $6. There are no tables, but there's plenty of room to stand around, plus steps and planters to sit on.
There's even a real dog at the hot dog stand: Vivo, a 16-month-old lab-shepherd mix. He gets one beef dog a day, reminding Anderson with a little bark if he forgets.
Anderson has a suggestion box, too - or at least that's what it says on the nearby trashcan.