We can argue all day whether the American carnival classic corn dog was worth riffing on, but a Korean reinterpretation of hot dog on a stick has already arrived in Kearny Mesa with a world of success behind it. Chung Chun Rice Dog is said to be the first American location of the chain better known in 300 global locations as Chungchun Ssal. Rather than cornbread batter, its hot dogs are deep fried in rice flour batter and a panko bread crumb crust, resulting in something not so corny yet decidedly crispier.
4619 Convoy St Ste A-3, Kearny Mesa
Were that the end of it, these would come off like corn dogs sprung from the alternate timeline of a sci-fi story where hot dogs on a stick had been first invented across the Pacific. But whereas American corn dog ingenuity ended with the replacement of a frankfurter with goopy melted cheese, the rice dog has proven a more creative modality. And the first surprise involves showering the crispy street food with granulated sugar.
By default, the standard, $1.99 Chungchun original dog is sugared like a donut. Same with the $3.49 cheddar cheese dog, which is exactly the same except a slice of cheese is wrapped around the dog prior to frying it, so you get a little melted cheese action with the dog. The sugar and cheese combination didn’t thrill me, but I have to admit the sweetness in contrast with the basic breaded hot dog works a lot better than I’d imagined. Even adding a drizzle of mustard, the sugar made the thing better, not worse. I would resist calling it amazing, and yet I did find myself amazed.
Alongside mustard squeeze bottles to dress your rice dog are ketchup, honey mustard, wasabi mayo, and a mango habanero sauce. And if you don’t dig that sugar, alternate dusting options include ranch seasoning “powder” and parmesan.
But regardless how you dress them, the rice dogs themselves get crazier still, beginning with the $3.99 squid ink dog. The squid ink itself is used to dye the rice batter, giving the dog a blackish-purple hue beneath the crispy panko. The actual frank here is pushed down the stick, where its end is split into four curling “tentacles” poking out from the bottom of the rice dog. The top end of the dog is capped with mozzarella, ensuring a first couple bites of goopy melted cheese.
Less sea monster-like yet visually engaging is the $4.49 potato-wrapped dog. This one packs small chunks of deep fried potato into the crust, so when you bite into it, it’s like eating a hot dog and French fries at the same time.
Judging by the line of no fewer than a dozen teenagers that formed while I ate my dogs, the street food’s entre to U.S. food trends seems to be going well. In fact, within a couple weeks of Chung Chun’s opening, a second, competing chain called Myungrang Hot Dog opened a Kearny Mesa location offering pretty much the same thing within the new H Mart supermarket food court. By my estimation, the first to offer a flaming hot Cheeto option wins.