14th Street Papaya
Lower East Side, New York, NY
Review by MaceVindaloo, Diana
If you have ever been to New York for any time and had partied hard or were a bit down-and-out, or maybe even if you haven't been there at all but you watch a lot of movies and television programs set in New York, you may have heard of the "Papaya" phenomenon. I believe it started with Grey's Papaya in Chelsea, but seems to have spread like a virus: in addition to Gray's Papaya outlets all over town, there was Papaya King, and any number of hot dog stands with the name "Papaya" in the title.
Not sure they are all owned by the same person, or are even licensed to use the "Papaya" formula, but the formula is the same in each place: hot dogs for $1 or less (usually less) accompanied by a fruity smoothie / milk shake type of drink with papaya as the main fruit flavor. It was magical simply because it was so draned cheap. Very cheap! Used to be able to get a dog and a drink for a dollar!
The first time I visited New York City in the 1980s, I found myself at the original store (or what, in my memory, I thought was the original), and feasted on 50-cent hot dogs. Really! They were grilled on a hotplate and were slapped out faster than you could tell them your order.
Recently, I was wandering around in the Lower East Side, and found myself in front of "14th Street Papaya" which is obviously not the original. For one thing, the prices are a bit higher, and there are many more varieties of tropical-themed drinks now, too.
As it's nearly 20 years since I last had a "papayadog," it's no surprise that the price had gone up. But despite the apparent variety of offerings (included an expanded list of food and beverages pizza, Jamaican meat patties, knishes, Philly cheese steaks, fries, etc.), it still feels the same. The decor is garish and yellow (we especially like the paper fruit hanging from the ceilings), and the hot dogs are still fresh due to the high volume turn-around. They are the smaller sized dogs, as always, and they are still fresh-from-the-grill tasty and served faster than you can think.
The usual accompaniment is not a soda, as it is in other places, but that now-classic tropical fruit drink flavored with papaya. This incandescent-colored drink is joined by mango, piña colada, strawberry-banana etc. These are made in huge vats with a motor spinning a blade in each vat, to stir them up. The drink is still more like smoothies than just plain old drinks, although they are not ice-based concoctions.
I don't know where the paring of hot dogs with tropical drinks started, but it works. We did notice that many young women were in the shop eyeing up the greasy food, and then ordering just a small drink. Who do they think they are fooling?
Tasty-tasty! Celebrity chef Mario Batali admitted that when he was in the throes of opening a restaurant, he spent all his food calories at Grey's Papaya. For a couple of dollars, you get enough food satisfaction to get you through the next crisis!
Décor is funky and fruity, and you can enjoy it 24 hours a day they sometimes have late-night only specials. But mostly, it's so cheap that you should feel guilty if it's offered for even less! And in case you forget what they are, they are boldly stated on the storefront.
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