At the time, my experience with James Coney Island – though it had included a great number of visits, well, drive-throughs over the years – was limited to their basic hot dogs, called Coneys, always ordered all the way. These were somewhat a staple of youth and, in recent years, an order after a pint or two at happy hour. My usual order since my youth was a few Cheese Coneys all the way. These feature very basic hot dogs and similarly basic steamed buns along with the noticeable yellow mustard, a chili sauce or Coney Sauce, as it is monikered on the menu, then Kraft Cheese Whiz – dispensed by cheese gun – and chopped raw onions atop. Though satiating hunger pains, for years, a meal of these were almost always quickly regrettable, often quite a bit so; even so when my taste buds might have been a little dulled. The hot dogs, for years, have not seemed to be of particularly good quality, the buns fresh but cheap-tasting, and the thin Coney Sauce was not at all worth a visit, if helping the below average creations.
That Coney Sauce is not the chili I had long assumed. That chili that Robb touted – and that makes its way on top of James Coney Island’s better hot dogs – is actually really good. Thick, properly Texas-style chili that’s all-beef (unless ordered otherwise), long-simmered, it is nicely flavorful. Not surprisingly it’s a bit beefy, and rich, and works extremely well with the Texas Classic All Beef Dog and the Chili Cheese Gourmet Hot Dog. These are both worth ordering, as are nearly all of the Classic and Gourmet hot dogs. I had given up on James Coney Island until I realized the quality of the Classic and Gourmet dogs.
The crux of the menu of James Coney Island is still the hot dogs. The hot dogs come in three levels: Coneys, Classic, and Gourmet. The Coneys are mediocre and worse basic hot dogs that range from $2.09 mostly unadorned to $2.09 plain to $2.59 with the lame Coney Sauce and Cheez Whiz mentioned above; Classics are made with fine-quality Nolan Ryan all-beef hot dogs at $3.99 with better potato buns; and Gourmet, with Hebrew National hot dogs, about the best the commercially available hot dogs, and buns from Slow Dough and the like. I have really enjoyed the Classic and Gourmet versions. The Gourmet ones are not worth the extra couple of dollars, though. The hot dogs might be better, but only slightly so. The pretzel buns sometimes used are certainly higher quality, but with the thicker texture, sometimes don’t work as well.
If craving a tasty hot dog, or chili, do go to one of the James Coney Island outputs, the Classic and Gourmet hot dogs can be quite delicious. The Classic ones are a fine value, too. And, very nicely these days of needing to be safe, if not from excessive calories and cholesterol, you can get food at James Coney Island via a drive-thru.
James Coney Island
17 Houston area locations