Ranking Nathan's Famous Most Popular Menu Items From Worst To First

If you've eaten a hot dog in America, you're probably familiar with Nathan's. Nathan's Famous Frankfurter & Soft Drink stand was founded on Brooklyn's iconic Coney Island boardwalk in 1916. The now-ubiquitous hot dog chain was actually started by employees who worked at an even older hot dog stand on the same boardwalk: Feltman's of Coney Island, which was opened in 1867. Today, you can still travel to Brooklyn and wait in long (but totally worth-it) lines to get a Nathan's hot dog from the original location, but they also have restaurants all over the United States. Nathan's hot dogs are sold in grocery stores across the country as well.

When you visit a Nathan's Famous location for the first time, you'll probably want to go straight for one of the chain's classic hot dogs. While that wouldn't be a mistake — we actually think their classic menu items are among the best — there is a whole lot more to the Nathan's menu that is absolutely worth trying. We've ranked some of the most popular menu items at Nathan's Famous, from worst to first. 

15. Fried Clam Boat

Yes, Nathan's Famous is primarily a hot dog joint, but since the brand got its start on the beach at Coney Island, you'll find a few seafood options on the menu. Often, you can even get some of these items if you're at one of their more pared-down locations at a highway rest stop of shopping mall food court, though at the original location on Surf Avenue in Brooklyn, their seafood options are more expansive. You can even order a Nathan's Lobster Roll

The Fried Clam Boat is one of the most readily available seafood items on the Nathan's menu, but it's also, unfortunately, our least favorite, primarily because you can hardly find the seafood. Yes, fried clam strips are mostly breading even in the best cases, but these are truly bread-forward. The only real evidence of "clam" is the chewy, often rubbery strip nestled inside the blanket of breading. It doesn't taste like much of anything, so if you're seafood averse, you might like these! If you are going to order the Fried Clam Boat from Nathan's, we recommend a more than healthy squeeze of lemon, and going hard on the tartar sauce. 

14. Chili Cheese Dog

You'd think that because Nathan's Chili Cheese Dog starts with one of their famous original all-beef hot dogs — which, for the record, are very good — that the Chili Cheese Dog would earn a higher place on our list. Unfortunately, this menu item falls victim to a classic case of too much going on. Yes, underneath all the toppings, there's a solid hot dog on a decent enough bun, but you can't really taste the hot dog itself. 

There's a ton of sloppy ground-beef chili that isn't quite spicy enough to be worth it, and that is covered in a plastic-like melted cheese product. None of these components are bad on their own, but when you put them all on a hot dog bun, you end up with something that's close to impossible to eat. The Nathan's Chili Cheese Dog is a mess, and not necessarily in a good way. 

13. Chili Dog

Only marginally better than the aforementioned Chili Cheese Dog is the Chili Dog from Nathan's Famous. Depending on how you tend to feel about extremely messy and hard to eat hot dogs, these are two menu items that could easily swap places. If you absolutely love fake cheese, you'll probably like the Chili Cheese Dog a little better than this. 

We prefer this sloppy hot dog sans cheese, both because it is slightly easier to eat and because you can actually taste the hot dog underneath the chili. The chili from Nathan's still isn't our favorite: it has a bland, tomato-forward flavor that could really use a hint of spice, or at least some cumin to give things a little more zing. This is fine, and it's better than fine if you're a chili dog aficionado, but we think there are better things on the menu at Nathan's Famous. 

12. Corn Dog

Who doesn't love a good corn dog now and then? We certainly do, though unfortunately, the corn dog at Nathan's doesn't stand up to your run of the mill state fair hot dog on a stick. Again, since there's a Nathan's hot dog at the center, this isn't a bad menu item, it just isn't great. The cornmeal batter isn't quite sweet enough to give you that satisfying sweet and savory contrast that makes for a truly great corn dog, and more often than not, it's soggy rather than crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. 

That said, if you're really craving a corn dog, you probably won't be disappointed if you get one from Nathan's, it's just that your mind won't be blown, either. It does have a nice, soft bite rather than the chewy, rubbery mouthfeel that some truly bad corn dogs have, so the Nathan's version does get bonus points on that front. 

11. Onion Rings

Nathan's released their new onion rings in spring 2020 as part of a menu revamp in collaboration with Dubai-based cloud kitchen platform Kitopi. The new menu items are currently available at select locations in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Florida, according to a Nathan's Famous PR representative, with more locations being rolled on the regular — so if you haven't seen these items at your local Nathan's yet, keep an eye out! 

A lot of the new menu items are quite good, and their onion rings are no exception: they're just not as great as many of the other items on the menu. These are more of a tempura-style onion ring, with a thinner slice of onion in a light, airy batter. On a good day, they are crisp, golden, and well-spiced. On a bad day, though, they can literally fall flat. A thick, soggy onion ring is one thing, but nobody wants a thin soggy onion ring. It's worth taking your chances and giving these a try, but know that, as is often the case with deep-fried fast food, so much depends upon the skill of the person working the fryer. 

10. 3-Cheese Meatball Parmesan Hero

Three hero-style sandwiches were also added to the menu in spring 2020: The 3-Cheese Meatball Parmesan, the Pastrami Swiss and Sauerkraut Hero, and the New York Cheesesteak by Pat LaFreida. The 3-Cheese Meatball Parmesan Hero is our least favorite of the bunch, mostly because it makes it clear that Nathan's is getting a little bit too far out of their lane on this one. 

All of their heroes start with a Balthazar baguette, which means that right off the bat, you're getting pretty high-quality bread. A good thing, but not enough to offset the slathering of tomato sauce, which tastes like a weird combination of pizza sauce and ketchup, that gets poured all over the meatballs on this sandwich. There are supposedly three kinds of cheese, but it tastes like generic imitation parmesan. This is one of the few true misses on the new Nathan's menu. While it isn't bad, we don't recommend it: If you want a meatball parmesan, go to your local pizza shop. 

9. Corn Dog Nuggets

A perennial kid's menu favorite, Nathan's Corn Dog Nuggets are way better than the brand's regular corn dogs — and fortunately, they're on the regular menu, too. These are made from adorable miniature hot dogs that are dipped in the same cornmeal batter as the standard corn dog, but something about their smaller size just makes these more delicious. 

We chalk it up to the fact that these have a much shorter cook time in the fryer, given their size, so they tend to be darker and more crisp on the outside while maintaining that pillowy soft batter texture just under the surface, with the snap of the Nathan's mini hot dog in the middle. These are particularly good when dipped in copious amounts of ketchup or honey mustard, if that's your thing. Don't feel self-conscious about indulging in dipping sauces; half the fun of these is the license to feel like a self-indulgent kid again. 

8. NY Attitude Burger

Nathan's Famous NY Attitude Burger is another one of their newer menu items, and this one is meant to be an homage to the New York swagger that is just as famous as the brand's hot dogs. It starts with two eight-ounce Angus beef patties, and we'll stop right here and say that this burger, much like living in New York, is not for the faint of heart. The patties are layered with bacon, pickles, caramelized onions, American cheese, and "bistro sauce," all between a bagel-inspired everything bun. 

The flavors of this burger are actually really good: there's a nice combination of umami from the beef, smoke from the bacon, sweetness from the onions, and tang from the pickles and sauce. However, this is also huge, hard to eat, and honestly way too much food for a single person. The scariest part? This is actually one of the more low-key burgers on their new menu. 

7. New York Cheesesteak by Pat LaFreida

Whenever a meat-filled sandwich boasts the Pat LaFreida name, you know it's going to be baseline pretty good. The New York Cheesesteak at Nathan's Famous is no exception to this general rule. The half-pound hero piles thinly sliced Black Angus ribeye on a Balthazar baguette, dressed up with caramelized onions, melted American cheese, and a sweet and tangy steak sauce. 

Philadelphians, take note — this is a pretty good cheesesteak. The quality of the beef is very high, especially for something being sold by a fast food chain restaurant. In fact, this is probably of a higher quality than what you get at many smaller mom and pop shops. The flavor profile is on point, and the addition of the signature steak sauce gives this the New York attitude that sets it apart from a classic Philly-style cheesesteak. Purists probably won't like it, but if you don't have any hard and fast loyalties when it comes to this sandwich, we recommend giving it a try. 

6. Chicken Tenders

Nathan's has always had pretty decent chicken tenders, but they recently got a higher-end makeover. Again, these start with high-quality white meat chicken, and you can taste that this is the good stuff. The Nathan's Famous website says that they use "a proprietary savory batter" for all of their fried chicken offerings, and whatever is in that batter, we hope they don't make any changes. 

Unlike many other fast food chicken tenders, where the batter tends to range from soft and cake-like to brittle and flavorless, the chicken tenders at Nathan's Famous are encased in a crisp, light tempura-style batter that has a nice blend of spices. This is the same batter that they use for their onion rings, but chicken tenders are by far the better application. These come with a choice of honey mustard, ranch, or Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce. Get the Sweet Baby Ray's. 

5. Hot Honey Half Chicken

Yes, this is another new menu item where Nathan's really takes a hard turn away from what they're typically good at, but this time, it's a good diversion. We chalk up some of the success of the Hot Honey Half Chicken to the fact that it's served with a pile of the chain's Original Crinkle Cut Fries, which we'll talk more about in a little bit: suffice to say, for now, that they are very good. 

This meal is rounded out by an actual half chicken smothered in Sweet Baby Ray's spicy sweet Hot Honey BBQ Sauce. Oh, did we mention the fact that this half chicken is fried? It's fried. While this is by no means indicates a healthy menu item in any way, it is a shockingly good entry into the fast food fried chicken wars by the OG hot dog restaurant. We're here for it. 

4. Creamy Orange Shake

We love the Creamy Orange Shake from Nathan's because it is really a riff on one of their very old-school original menu items: orangeade. Orangeade, which is essentially an orange-flavored version of lemonade that combines orange juice, water, and a sweetener, was particularly popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and you can still find it on the menus of old-school American food spots like Nathan's Famous. 

The Creamy Orange Shake blitzes together Nathan's Famous original Orangeade alone with vanilla, cane sugar, and Wisconsin Creamery Milk topped off with whipped cream and a cherry to create a shockingly good old-fashioned creamsicle milkshake. While creamsicles in general and orangeade in particular can sometimes be a bit of an acquired taste, it is a very good version of a soda-fountain classic. We give the Creamy Orange Shake bonus points for the fact that it makes a nod to Nathan's original Brooklyn boardwalk roots. 

3. Old Fashioned Lemonade

If you've ever been to the original Nathan's Famous location in Coney Island on a hot summer day, then you know that one of the things that can really get you through waiting in what are sometimes very long lines is the fact that at the end of it, you'll be able to order a cup of ice-cold Nathan's lemonade to go along with whatever else you've ordered. 

Nathan's makes a really good classic lemonade, one that is more sweet than tart, and tastes like it's made from real lemons and not from some form of lemon-derived concentrate. According to the Nathan's website, that's because their lemonade is made on a daily basis in stores using only freshly-squeezed South African lemons that are free from preservatives. Their lemonade lacks the powdery, too-sweet taste that is often the hallmark of fast-food lemonade. It's the perfect accompaniment to our two favorite menu items. 

2. Crinkle-Cut Fries

We know that people tend to have opinions about french fries. Whether you like shoestring, steak fries, or something more exotic like curly or waffle fries is a personal preference. If you're a fan of thick, crinkle-cut fries, it's hard to find a fast food option that's better than the ones they make at Nathan's. Nathan's french fries are cooked in corn oil and made from low starch Katahdin potatoes, both of which help to give them their signature flavor and texture. 

On the inside, these fries are soft, creamy, and light — almost like savory, potato-flavored angel food cake. The exteriors are crisp, thin, and golden, providing the perfect textural contrast to the interior. These are so good that the NY Daily News named them the Best Fast Food Fries in NY back in 2014, and we think they're still deserving of a top spot. Unlike the Chili Cheese Dog, these fries can stand up to the heft of both toppings if you like your fries loaded, but we think they're perfect on their own. 

1. Nathan's Famous Original Hot Dog

There's a reason that Nathan's became famous in the first place, and that reason is their original all-beef hot dog. Made from 100% halal Australian beef, this classic menu item is also our favorite. It has a deeply savory beef flavor, just the right amount of salt and fat, and a satisfyingly crisp exterior when cooked well, which is our recommendation. 

It's such a good basic hot dog that you don't really need to dress it up, but ketchup, mustard, relish, and chopped onions can all be welcome additions, depending on your preference. We recommend getting at least two because as soon as the first one is finished, you're going to want another. And if you want the full Nathan's Famous experience, order a side of fries and lemonade, all of them without extra bells and whistles — because sometimes the best things are also the simplest.