Of all the restaurants I’ve written reviews for, I’ve been going to Arbetter’s Hot Dogs (https://www.arbetterhotdogs.com/index.html) the longest, ever since I was a little kid in the ’80s. It’s an institution in Miami’s Westchester neighborhood, not far from where I grew up in Kendall, where my parents and brother still live. The bright yellow building on Bird Road (SW 40th Street), just west of Galloway Road (SW 87th Avenue), has been serving up Miami’s most iconic hot dogs since 1972, after first opening in 1960 in a different location. It has survived everything, from recessions to fickle foodie trends, keeping its prices low and its aesthetics simple and old-school. It reminds me of Orlando’s beloved Beefy King that way, another culinary time capsule from a bygone era that continues to survive and thrive because it never changed what people love about it.
Even though my dad wouldn’t ever consider himself a foodie, he introduced me to all of his favorite Chinese restaurants and Jewish delis in Miami in the ’80s and ’90s, starting me on my lifelong quest to discover all the best food and tell people about it, whether they asked or not. He would also take me to Arbetter’s, usually after trips to A&M Comics and Books, another Bird Road landmark that still survives today, the second-oldest comic book store in the country. These jaunts fueled my lifelong loves of comic books and reading in general (and also hot dogs).
It had been far too long since I returned to this legendary hot dog spot for a taste of my youth, so it was fitting I made it back to finally write a review in 2022, its 50th anniversary in the Bird Road location. That’s an incredible feat for any restaurant, especially in expensive, clout-chasing Miami.
Prices have gone up since the mid-’90s, the last time I was a permanent resident of Miami, but not as much as you would think:
I ordered two hot dogs, even though I could have easily eaten several more. As Lake Street Dive sang (but surely not referring to hot dogs), they go down smooth. On the left, behold Arbetter’s West Virginia dog ($3.99, a bargain at twice the price), topped with yellow mustard, onions, creamy cole slaw, and their delicious house-made chili (with no beans ever). What a combination, between the crunch of the cabbage and onions versus the softness of the dog and the bun, the acidity of the chili and the pungence of the mustard versus the creamy coolness of the slaw. On the right you see a traditional dog with mustard and sauerkraut ($2.99), the “control” in this little experiment. The dogs are simple, and so are the plain buns.
Since my last visit, back in 2015, Arbetter’s started selling grilled, all-beef, natural casing Sabrett hot dogs for slightly more money, which are high-quality dogs that I love and recommend. But visiting the place I grew up and this particularly nostalgic restaurant, I had to go with the old-school boiled dogs, which are softer and smokier than the Sabretts, but not as salty or garlicky. They tasted just as good as I remembered, and they went down soooo smooth.
Arbetter’s has always had awesome fries (currently $3.69), made even better by getting them topped with chili and molten melted cheese ($4.99). Instead of getting fries on my July 2022 visit, I opted for the onion rings instead ($3.69), because as my constant readers know, I will ALWAYS opt for onion rings and review them on this blog in a little feature I like to call RING THE ALARM! These were great onion rings — breaded rather than battered, not too thick or too thin, not too greasy, not ripping out of the breading. I definitely rank them as “the good kind” of onion rings. I dipped them in a ridiculous mound of ketchup, but in retrospect, I failed my readers and also myself by not getting them topped with chili and cheese (which would have also been $4.99, just like the fries).
Finally writing this review a few months after my meal at Arbetter’s, I’m feeling that nostalgia again and wishing I could get some right now. I’ll almost certainly pick up a pack of hot dogs when I finally leave the house today, and I already have buns, a jar of Silver Floss kraut, and a multifarious multitude of mustards, plus some ground chuck defrosting in the fridge and a block of habanero cheddar begging to be shredded — everything I need for some chili cheese dogs and classic hot dogs of my own. But it won’t be the same, not without that old yellow building with the same old faded posters and signs, the sense of community, and the memories of my youth.
I always felt like a stranger at home, growing up in Miami. I have a good family and wonderful friends I’m still in touch with, but now I enjoy my rare visits to the city a lot more than I ever liked living there. The food is a major aspect of why I appreciate Miami so much more now, and why I feel pride for my hometown that I never felt back in the day. Even though Arbetter’s Hot Dogs isn’t fancy or glamorous, it’s an icon, an institution, and a survivor. It still brings people together, over 50 years later, and makes them feel good, feel special, feel home. And if that isn’t a microcosm for Miami, I don’t know what is.