Cafe Reviews

Tempe's Dog Town Chili Dogs Rolls Over and Plays Dead

There's trouble in Dog Town. Big trouble.

The chili dog joint that opened a few weeks ago in Tempe seems to be doing everything it can to secure a place in the land of fast-food fails. For starters, there's the location: positioned off Mill Avenue, in a back-of-a-building storefront, with no signage or directional assistance.

Then there are the hours.

"You guys aren't open after six or on Sundays? Why?"

"Because there's no people."

Huh? Have you been to downtown Phoenix after 7 p.m.? Now that's no people. But Tempe? A college town? Maybe if folks knew where you were and . . . hold on, what's that smell?

Grease. Inescapable, cling-to-you grease. This was too much, even for Fry Girl. Good thing nearly all the seating is outside — nothin' to see (or seat) here, folks.

"So what's good?" I ask.

"Everything," counter guys says.

"Well, I probably won't order that. What are your specialties?"

"It depends on what you like."


Here's a head-scratcher: Why would a joint called Dog Town Chili Dogs list its chili dog as menu item number five? Even the freakin' veggie dog gets better billing. After some coaxing, I finally got the counter guy to suggest the Mexi Dog and (thankfully) the Original California Chili Dog with some chili cheese fries.

"Is your chili homemade?"


"What's in it?"


"Um, what else?"

(long pause) "I don't know. They [the owners] make it."

Sadly, Dog Town's unremarkable chili could've been from Any-Dog Town. The franks were Hebrew National, a respectable brand, but they got lost in oversize buns, which succeeded in taking over most of the flavor.

One might think the owners, Ralph and Rina Camarillo, originally from Southern California, are new to the restaurant racket. Nope. Turns out they're co-owners and cooks of a successful New York City restaurant serving up Southern California-style Mexican cuisine to the likes of Fran Drescher and James Gandolfini.

So what gives? Ralph told me he's trying out Dog Town in Tempe to see if he can make a go of it in New York City (try and make sense out of that one) and that he's giving the joint six months.

With its location problems, early closing times, grease-ified air, and fairish franks, I'd give it half that time.

Poor little doggy.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld