Hot dogs, often hallmarks of American tradition — grilled on the Fourth of July, fried and sold at shopping malls and state fairs — are getting a (maybe not asked for, but needed nonetheless) massive face-lift through the magic that is Korean street food.

ChungChun Rice Hot Dog made a big splash in 2019 when it opened several locations in Southern California. Around that time, Seattle resident Hye Kim was closing her small Seattle grocery store, when a friend introduced her to ChungChun. Kim said that she was waiting and hoping for someone to open a location in Seattle, but when no one did, she figured she would look into opening a ChungChun franchise here.

“I had just closed my grocery store, so it was the perfect time to pick up another business,” said Kim.

Her shop opened in the Chinatown International District in November 2019 to pretty instant fanfare. Kim said that on opening day the line spanned the whole block.

On weekday afternoons, crowds are minimal, which is the perfect time to quickly stop in at ChungChun.

The storefront is fairly small, with less than a dozen counter seats if you’re looking to eat in, but cozy nonetheless, with brick walls and speakers blaring an odd variety of music (when I visited, they played everything from Frank Sinatra to Jay Park). A smattering of BTS paraphernalia is sprinkled throughout the shop — I briefly bonded with Kim over our mutual love of the K-pop megastars — including framed photos of members Jungkook and V eating similar style hot dogs, and a BT21 (BTS’s animated animal collection) plushie that one of her ARMY (that’s the official name of the BTS fandom) customers gifted her. There’s an open window to the kitchen — Kim said she left that intentionally so customers could watch the behind-the-scenes process.

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Because the rice-based batter takes a few hours to properly rise, Kim says they make all of it in the morning, and then fry hot dogs as ordered. This can sometimes cause backups when customers make big orders, so she recommends coming on weekdays to skip long wait times.

At ChungChun, you can order from a dozen different fried hot dogs and mozzarella sticks that have variations of different toppings and fillings, ranging from $3-$6. Both are coated in a rice-based batter that makes them crispier and chewier than your traditional American corn dog.

They also offer a variety of sauces beyond the basic ketchup and mustard: cheese, chili sauce, barbecue and chipotle. And for those particularly adventurous, you can opt to have your hot dog dusted in sugar.

You can ask for a light dusting of sugar on your hot dog at ChungChun Rice Hot Dog. (Amy Wong/ The Seattle Times)
You can ask for a light dusting of sugar on your hot dog at ChungChun Rice Hot Dog. (Amy Wong/ The Seattle Times)

I taste-tested seven of them, so for the sake of brevity here are my rapid-fire thoughts:

  • ChungChun original hot dog ($2.99): The basic, the standard, the o.g. A hot dog fried in the delectable ChungChun batter. Closest in experience to a standard corn dog, perfectly complemented with ketchup and mustard.
  • Ramyon noodle chips hot dog ($3.99): The original hot dog coated in fried ramen bits, adding an extra layer of crunch and saltiness.
  • All-mozzarella hot dog ($3.99): Same coating as the standard ChungChun hot dog, but with a stick of mozzarella. It’s like a massive, wonderful cheesestick. See below for a more elaborate description.
  • Gamsung (potato) hot dog ($4.99): I personally thought the potatoes were a little heavy in combination with the hot dog. I might skip this one.
  • Volcano hot dog ($4.49): A ChungChun hot dog made with a spicy sausage. I was not particularly impressed with the spice level, but I also have a fairly high spice tolerance. I’d recommend dousing a regular hot dog in chili sauce instead.
  • Squid ink hot dog and mozzarella cheese ($4.49): A hybrid hot dog/mozzarella dog, but its batter is dyed with squid ink to give it a jet-black color. To be honest, this one tasted the same as the others. If you’re looking for something to post on Instagram, maybe try this one; if you’re just looking for flavor, try the others.

And saving the best for last, the pièce de résistance of ChungChun’s menu: the sweet potato mozzarella hot dog ($5.49): The very subtly adventurous person I am, I opted for a light sprinkle of sugar on the dog, which was maybe just the tipping point that transcended my taste buds through space and time. Biting through the crackle of sugarcoated fried potato and into the molten, gooey cheese center is euphoric, and not for the weak-hearted, mind you. The melted cheese is a stretchy mess, perfect in every way.

Yes, I know this is perhaps not the healthiest thing you can eat. I did chug like a gallon of water afterward, and eyed ChungChun’s fridge full of juices, sodas and other bottled beverages available for purchase. But if you’re in the International District and are looking for the perfect comfort snack, make sure you swing by ChungChun.

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ChungChun Rice Hot Dog, Sunday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; 502 S. King St., (Chinatown International District) Seattle; chungchunhotdog.us