Papaya King

Review by: Jane & Michael Stern

A streetcorner eat-shop with an insistently happy, eye-aching red and yellow color scheme, Papaya King seems perpetually mobbed by hungry people pushing their way to the order counter, then to a space at the stand-up eating shelf at the window. The line that separates Third Avenue and 86th Street from the inside of Papaya King is only vaguely delineated, so even if you do eat inside, the dining experience is street food.

Oddly enough – for a place famous as a hot dog joint – Papaya King began as a health-oriented juice store! That was long ago when original proprietor Gus Poulos hired waitresses to do the hula on the sidewalk and lure people inside to taste the tropical beverages he served. The papaya juice is creamy and sweet, reminiscent of the beverage served at New York’s old Orange Julius stands. In fact, all kinds of fruit juices are available; and according to one of the several dozen signs plastered all over the walls, papaya juice is particularly helpful for aiding digestion.

Don’t worry, though: your stomach won’t suffer if you indulge in Papaya King’s real specialty, which is the hot dog. Have two or three or four, and unless you insist on getting them heaped with chili and onions and gobbling a pound of Cajun curly fries on the side, this is a meal that will make good friends with your digestive tract. The hot dogs are dense and meaty with a beguiling garlic taste and a casing that pops with juice when you bite into it. The buns that encase them, although nicely toasted, are so bland that we often discard one bun for each two wieners and eat double-meat dogs (with kraut and tropical relish, of course).

Directions & Hours

8am - 12am
  • Monday: 8:00 AM – 12:00 AM
  • Tuesday: 8:00 AM – 12:00 AM
  • Wednesday: 8:00 AM – 12:00 AM
  • Thursday: 8:00 AM – 12:00 AM
  • Friday: 8:00 AM – 12:00 AM
  • Saturday: 8:00 AM – 12:00 AM
  • Sunday: 9:00 AM – 12:00 AM

What To Eat

hot dog

DISH
papaya juice

DISH

Papaya King Recipes

Discuss

What do you think of Papaya King?

2 Responses to “Papaya King”

Michael Baily

July 31st, 2009

In the sixties and seventies, when I lived on East 87th Street, Papaya King was the king of hot dogs of the entire Upper East Side, and Yorkville, as this neighborhood used to be called. I grew up in this neighborhood and, to this day, fifty years later, I still think Papaya King hot dogs are some of the best I have ever eaten. They are beautifully grilled. The fact that it still thrives today speaks for itself.

The dogs are not parboiled and dropped in hot oil as a cheap shortcut. Just grilled to perfection the way good hot dogs are supposed to be cooked.

For the record: Papaya King on 86th Street and 3rd Avenue is the “original” juice and hot dog stand in Manhattan. Gray’s Papaya on East 72nd Street has/had nothing to do with Papaya King. There are no connections, no shared roots or affiliations whatsoever. Gray’s Papaya does not have the legacy Papaya King does but, for some strange reason, Gray’s gets a lot of press. I guess that is because of its location on West 72nd Street and Broadway, directly on the #1 and #9 subway lines. There is lots of commercial activity on Broadway and it borders some media headquarters and lots of arts and cultural centers. I am sure lots of media and art types have munched on their dogs and word traveled from there.

Papaya King, conversely, is one long avenue block east of the IRT Lexington subway and, aside from the usual retail stores scattered about, is in a generally residential neighborhood.

Gray’s hot dogs are good and have a similar quality but, in my opinion, they are not as good. Nor is their juice. Now this will sound kind of absurd but, small and tiny as it is, the ambiance of Papaya King on East 86th Street is more cozy, clean, and comforting than that of Gray’s Papaya. Gray’s location is a little grimy and tends to attract beggars and homeless who apparently clean the windows for a hot dog or two. Standing in Gray’s, you just get the feeling they co-opted the concept from Papaya King, and are more than happy to just feed the masses. Papaya King feels like the original and tastes like the original. Because it is the original.

Forget Gray’s and the crowded street of West 72nd. Make the trip to the Upper East Side instead. Take a walk over to Central Park, stop in the Guggenheim or the Met, then chow down on excellent NY legacy hot dogs and really fresh juices. It’s worth it.

Reply

Everett Logan

November 3rd, 2007

First of all, the editorial review is incorrect. Gray’s Papaya (not Gray’s Papaya King; there’s no King in the title) has nothing to do with Papaya King except for being an imitator. It did not “secede” from Papaya King. Papaya King is the original and Gray’s is just an imitator, that’s all.

Anyway, Papaya King is, in my opinion as a life-long hot dog connoisseur, the best frank in the world. Nowhere else will you find a frank with flavors and snap like this, and always, ALWAYS, expertly prepared to perfection. The mustard is spicy, the kraut is fresh and sour, and the papaya drink is the perfect complement. The atmosphere is nothing special, but this is not a restaurant, it’s a place to grab two (or three…) great dogs and a drink and wolf ’em down at the stand-up counter.

You know the ubiquitous pizza box slogan, “you’ve tried all the rest, now try the best!”? Well, that’s truly the case with Papaya King. Their hot dogs truly are tastier than filet mignon, and once you’ve tried them, all others will pale in comparison forever after.

Reply

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