French-American chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is one of the world's most famous culinary artists and restaurateurs.
But in addition to his empire of high-end eateries around the globe — including his namesake Jean-Georges in New York, which has a coveted two-Michelin-star rating — Vongerichten has a hot dog cart on Manhattan's Upper East Side that sells $6 franks.
I spoke with Vongerichten at his street cart, while reporting on The Mark Hotel's $75,000 per night penthouse suite — the most expensive in America. Vongerichten runs The Mark Restaurant there, and his hot dog cart is parked right outside.
You're probably thinking: Why would a world-famous chef have a hot dog cart? Hot dogs are Vongerichten's favorite NYC street food, so he and the hotel's owner came up with the idea.
"New York hot dogs are great," Vongerichten tells me. "But ours are better."
Believe it or not, in my 12 years living in New York, I've never had a hot dog from a street vendor. So instead of taking his word for it, I decided to do a 100 percent unscientific taste test to find out.
The day of the taste test, I meet kiosk attendant Manny Jacquez on the sidewalk in front of The Mark Hotel. (Jacquez is making my hot dog today, as Vongerichten has an empire to run.)
This wiener cart is fancier than most: It's painted with black-and-white vertical stripes and has a sign that reads, "The Mark Hotdog by Jean-Georges!"
On the cart, the potato buns are presented in a glass jar. (You'd think the chef would bake his own bread, but he uses Martin's Potato Rolls, the same brand you can buy at your local grocery store.) There's a cooker with hot dogs floating inside; plastic squeeze bottles filled with ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise; and three more glass jars filled with chopped accoutrements I don't recognize (but more on that later).
Before I place my order, I ask Jacquez how many hot dogs the cart sells a day. He estimates "around 30 to 45 franks."
The price for a Jean-Georges Vongerichten hot dog is $6. When you compare that with what you'd pay just steps away inside the Mark Hotel Restaurant for his lobster burger ($36) or a cheeseburger with pepper jack cheese ($40) — it seems like a steal.
"We get several customers that hear $26 when I quote the price of $6," says Jacquez. "And I always find it fascinating they actually are willing to pull out $26 to pay for the hot dog.
"So in fact, you guys are getting a huge bargain, in my opinion."
Jacquez recommends I try the hot dog with everything on it. "We call that 'the bomb.' It's a mixture of all six condiments here — all three sauces and all three vegetables," Jacquez explains.
I oblige, and he pulls a potato bun from the jar, places it in a paper tray and begins to line the bottom of the bun with the first vegetable.
"What is that?" I ask.
"German sour cabbage, well known as sauerkraut," he says.
Next he adds a red topping. "This is kimchi, Korean spicy cabbage with a little bit of honey to sweeten up the spiciness and shrimp paste to enhance the flavor," he says.
Then, comes the third: "This is yuzu pickle. Sweet, organic, tangy cucumbers marinated in yuzu juice. Has a nice, little citrusy kick to it."
Next, Jacquez asks me if I want an organic chicken or beef frank.
"I'll take the chicken," I reply.
The chicken hot dog goes on top of the veggie pile and Jacquez finishes with an artistic swirl of ketchup, a line of Dijon mustard and squiggles of Sriracha mayo. It's the most handsome hot dog I've ever seen.
And it tastes as good as it looks. When I take a bite, the bun is soft and the meat is perfectly cooked. The toppings create an explosion of sweet and spicy flavors — first the heat of the Sriracha, and then the citrus kicks in.
It's unexpected and delicious. I can see why they call this "the bomb."
Next, I head over to a hot dog vendor, one block away, on Fifth Avenue. It's around lunchtime, and the cart I stop at is busy. There's a line for its $4 franks.
I ask for a dog with "the works." (An organic chicken dog is not an option here, so I settle for beef.)
I jokingly ask the vendor if he has any Michelin stars. He doesn't laugh.
About 20 seconds later, the dog comes out. It has (less artful) splashes of ketchup and yellow mustard and it's topped with relish and sauerkraut. No fancy condiments or paper tray, but it does smell good.
Then, the moment of truth: I dig in.
The first thing I notice is the texture of the bun. It is not as fluffy and fresh as the one at The Mark. It tastes a little stale.
The beef dog itself isn't bad — the toppings work well together. It's a classic combination that I remember from my childhood.
So who wins the ultimate New York City hot dog taste test?
As you probably guessed, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's is top dog.
But what makes it the winner isn't actually the meat (I'm not even a huge fan of hot dogs); it's the five-star combination of condiments. It creates a symphony of flavors that will blow you away.
And for just two bucks more than a standard street dog — it's well worth it.
The Mark Hot Dog by Jean-Georges is available 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily, weather permitting.
Christopher DiLella is a segment producer for CNBC's specials unit, covering luxury lifestyle and real estate. He works on the prime-time TV show "Secret Lives of the Super Rich."