On the list of experiences that evoke those summer vibes, chowing down on a hot dog at your local drive-in likely sits at the top. We’ve scoured the Carolinas for a few of our favorites.
Ruth’s Drive In | Hartsville, South Carolina
This landmark drive-in has been a must-visit for many since it opened in 1945. Their thriving customer base is made up largely of locals. However, a steady stream of out-of-towners make their way to Ruth’s thanks to consistently rave reviews over the past 76 years. Ruth’s specializes in hot dogs, hamburgers and delicious Southern–style lunch items (think scratch-made spaghetti, country fried steak and meatloaf). The “RDI” Famous Hot Dog comes with mustard, chili and onions, but you can dress it up with slaw or cheese (or both). If you’re not in the mood for a dog, consider a Hot, a piece of white bread topped with a burger patty and covered in American cheese and brown gravy or a Mel’s Special, a burger patty with chili, pimiento cheese, brown gravy and grilled onions. “Only here” menu items like Mama Ruth’s homemade chicken salad or Mr. Bill’s homemade grilled pimento cheese sandwich are a sure bet, too.
Andrew’s Atomic Dogs | Spartanburg, South Carolina
Intent on following his dream of opening his own restaurant, Andrew Morrow, Jr., retired from his career in the automotive industry to pursue it. Morrow’s restaurant experience dates back to his employment at the Beacon Drive-In as a teenager. It was there the seeds of his aspiration took root. The star of the menu is the restaurant’s namesake, the Atomic Dog. Locals and visitors alike savor this all-beef frank topped with Andrew’s homemade spicy beef chili. Other hot dogs include a house dog, a turkey dog and the sausage dog. Round out your meal with french fries or onion rings. Morrow says: “I’m not sure if we have the best hot dogs or not, but they’re made with a lot of love.” One bite, and you’ll likely be smitten. The menu also includes a good selection of sandwiches and platters — cheeseburgers, BLTs, shrimp platter, fried chicken platter and others.
Chester’s Pit Stop | Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Situated on Highway 17 between Litchfield and Pawleys Island, this little roadside shack serves up big flavors. They even snagged Best Hot Dog in The Post and Courier’s 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards. Their hot dogs are tucked in a steamed potato bun. Opt for a 100 percent beef dog or go for their sweet Italian sausage — both simmered in beef bouillon and beer. Pile on your choice of toppings from their extensive list that includes sautéed onions, cheese, Chester’s homemade chili, roasted red peppers, sauerkraut, warm garlic relish and jalapenos. If you prefer, you can fill your bun with fried flounder or shrimp. Add a side of french fries or chips.
Kings Hot Dogs | Rural Hall, North Carolina
This popular spot has been a community hub for more than four decades. Current owners Joel and Jeff Harris have been at the helm since 2002, and continue to serve up the hot dogs and burgers that draw locals and road trippers alike. If a “normal” sized hot dog won’t curb your appetite, go for a prince dog (a quarter-pound premium beef hot dog) or a king dog (half-pound). You can also choose a Polish sausage dog or corn dog. While the hot dogs are big sellers here, don’t sleep on their burgers. The menu description reads “6 oz fresh and greasy,” so they have to be good. Their menu also includes a variety of sandwiches — pimento cheese, bologna, chicken salad, a BLT and other items — and sides like hush puppies, chili cheese fries and onion rings. If you visit during the winter, warm up with a bowl of their homemade chili.
Bill’s Hot Dogs | Washington, North Carolina
If you do one thing for 93 years, it stands to reason you’re doing something right. That’s certainly the case with Bill’s Hot Dogs. Bill Jackson opened the spot in 1928, serving only hot dogs, chips and drinks — a menu that remains the same today. Another thing that hasn’t changed is their chili recipe. And why should it? Their signature meatless white chili sauce has long been talked about and savored, and many have attempted to replicate it (to no avail). Their nuclear-red dogs are fried in lard, then tucked into a steamed bun. Toppings — chili, mustard and chopped onions — are more like “below-ings” here, as they place them on the bun first (under the dog). This allows all that goodness to soak into the bun. When you stop by, don’t plan to stay. Bill’s is a take-out only establishment and is located in the Ellison Building on Gladden Street.
Kermit’s Hot Dog House | Winston-Salem, North Carolina
If you crave the bygone days of carhop service of the ‘50s and ‘60s, make your way to Kermit’s. Customers have been enjoying meals American Grafitti style here since 1966. You pull into a covered carhop spot, the server takes your order, brings your meal to your car window and you enjoy it from your car. The restaurant is ideally located off I-40, making it easily accessible for those road tripping between Raleigh and Charlotte. Hot dogs come in three sizes — regular, foot-long and the quarter-pound “super frank.” All cheese dogs come with their signature pimento cheese topping, but you can add slaw, mustard and other traditional toppings. It’s your hot dog, go wild. Early risers can grab breakfast here Monday through Saturday starting at 6 a.m. Choose from biscuits, gravy, eggs, pancakes, breakfast sandwiches and more. Whatever you order, save room for a B&G pie. These deep-fried “hand pies” have been made locally since 1949. Order one and you’ll be supporting two local businesses!
Go Magazine’s articles are only intended to inform its readers of the available options in their states. We encourage readers to be mindful of all state and local orders related to COVID-19 safety guidelines and protocols.