The Italian Hot Dog is a regionally known Italian American invention created in Newark, New Jersey, the state's largest city and a historically Italian immigrant community. The sandwich is made with a special type of Italian bread, hot dogs, peppers, and potatoes. Most shops serving the hot dog also serve traditional Italian sausage and pepper sandwiches too.
Partly what makes the Italian Hot Dog a unique experience is the roll. The sandwich is served on "pizza bread," a soft puffy round bread similar to pita. Sliced in half, a sandwich is made from one-half piece emptied out and filled with meat and toppings.
The meat is usually an all-beef dog made by either Best Provision Company, a Newark-based manufacturer, or Sabrett, the New York City street hot dog. The traditional condiment for the Italian Hot Dog is ketchup.
This regional Italian American tradition has been harder to find in recent years. The original Jimmy Buff's where the Italian Hot Dog first debuted eventually closed, becoming the World's First Italian Style Hot Dogs, but even that stroke of marketing genius couldn't save the location. Joe Joe's Italian Hot Dogs based in Toms River closed permanently in 2021 primarily because the owner was ready to retire. And Charlie's Famous Italian Dogs, originally established in 1962 in Union, New Jersey, merged with Cioffi's Boardwalk in 2017 before closing for good.
The Italian Hot Dog, once ubiquitous in the greater Newark area, can now be found at these four shops:
Founded in 1932, Jimmy Buff's was the original Italian hot dog. The sandwich started off as a snack served during card games by Jimmy's wife, Mary. Using soft, round Italian rolls sliced in half to create a clamshell for two dogs, peppers, onions, and potato wedges. Jimmy opened the shop to start selling the invention and changed New Jersey culinary history, and hot dogs forever. The first location was at 14th Avenue and 9th Street in Newark. The restaurant soon grew into a small chain of restaurants around the city of Newark, but has since contracted to two locations in West Orange and Kenilworth, New Jersey.
Established in Newark's "North Ward" in 1958 by Dominick D’Innocenzio and Enrico Brun, Dickie Dee's started off selling Italian Hot Dogs similar to Jimmy Buffs. Dickie Dee's expanded into Italian cheeseburgers, but the dish proved less popular than Italian Hot Dogs. The shop still sells both hamburgers and dogs, as well as pizza and Italian subs. It is likely the oldest continuously operating Italian Hot Dog shop in the state since the original Jimmy Buff's closed.
Tommy's Italian Sausage & Hot Dogs
This shop first opened in 1969, two weeks after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, according to Larry Olmstead at USA Today. This Elizabeth, New Jersey shop buys its "pizza bread" rolls from a bakery in nearby Newark.
Hot Dog House
A relative newcomer to the Italian Hot Dog game, this Carlstadt, New Jersey shop was founded in 1983. In addition to a classic Italian dog, Hot Dog house also has a Pizza Dog with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, plus two dozen more specialty dogs.
Ian MacAllen is America Domani's Senior Correspondent and the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American. He is a writer, editor, and graphic designer living in Brooklyn. Connect with him at IanMacAllen.com or on Twitter @IanMacAllen.