Like the venerable Bill’s Burgers in Van Nuys, California, Cupid’s Hot Dogs is very much a San Fernando Valley institution. It has been ever since Richard and Bernice Walsh opened their first wiener stand in North Hollywood back in 1946. And while Bill’s offers up plenty of, as they say in the Valley, surly-tude with its burgers (owner and patty-flipper Bill Elwell is 95, after all), Cupid’s embellishes its snappy Vienna beef franks with a healthy dose of nostalgia. Third-gen owners Kelly and Morgan Walsh took to donning roller skates and carhopping orders to dog-lovers during the pandemic. After a TikTok video racked up millions of views, California showed them love. Plenty of it.
Antique car shows and vintage markets soon followed, and, after SoCal transplant and frequent Cupid’s patron Chira Chamlongsupalak brought up the idea of opening a Florida outpost to her husband Sorot, the Cupid’s brand expanded to the Southeast. OK, so Lee Road is an intriguing choice of location but, then again, the strip west of I-4 has always presented an intriguing mix of eateries.
The Californication of Cupid’s Orlando appears to be a work in progress: technical glitches with the drive-thru has rendered it car-less, and there aren’t any roller-skating carhops to be found anywhere in the parking lot. “It’s hard to find servers who can roller skate and roller skate well,” says Chira. I suppose a job fair at Semoran Skateway (editor’s note: or a call to Dorsa Vaziri of Wow Rolling) may be in order but, until then, patrons will have to foot it inside to the order counter.
The space itself has housed Genoa’s Heroes, Island Classic Caribbean Restaurant and Seafood Bistro in recent years, but the Chamlongsupalaks have given the building a colorful update inside and out, right down to the made-for-social-media selfie wall, angel wings and all. Don’t let it distract you — what gives Cupid’s its wings is its iconic chili dog ($4.75) topped with mustard and onions. The chili is wonderfully smooth, wet and a bit peppery too. It’s a damn-near perfect hot dog experience, even if you opt for the non-spicy chili option. I can see why Richard Walsh got a bit miffed when his son, Rick, took over in the 1980s and introduced additional toppings like cheese to the menu. Why mess with perfection?
Because even perfection is better with cheese, that’s why. Plus, adding cheddar or mozz to the chili dog will only run you four bits, and it’s well worth it.
Relish, another topping introduced in the 1980s by Rick, helped popularize an even simpler creation — the “Triangle” dog ($4.50), which also comes with mustard and onions. Lucky for Rick, the Old Timer seemed to, uhh, relish it. So did I. In subsequent years, Cupid’s added a Chicago-style dog ($5.25) to the menu, and everything about it lives up to the exacting standards of a big-shouldered weenie fiend. Everything, that is, but the bun. It’s not poppy seed, which is strange because they serve their vegan Beyond Sausage Brat ($8.75) in one. You can even get your faux-bratwurst Chicago-style, like I did, but unless you’re adhering to a plant-based diet, I’d advise against it. It takes eight minutes to prepare and the flavor of the Beyond brat wasn’t really to my liking. (I’m more partial to Impossible Meat.) You’re better off getting the Chicago dog and asking for the brat’s poppy seed bun.
As far as sides, both fries ($2.50) and onion rings ($3.50) did the trick on my first visit, but both were left a bit too long in the fry basket on my second visit. It’s an issue of consistency that they’ll have to figure out, and figure out soon. In case Cupid’s hasn’t noticed, it’s a competitive dog-eat world out there.
CUPID’S HOT DOGS: 1515 Lee Road, 407-674-8517, cupidshotdogs.net, $