Red Hots Coney Island
12 Victor, Highland Park;
Hours: 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
While the debate rages on between which of the long-standing coney islands is better — American or Lafayette — the no-frills Red Hots Coney Island in Highland Park quietly continues to make history of its own.
“We’ve had the same chili recipe for 92 years,” says Carol Harlan. Her husband Richard Harlan’s great aunt and uncle opened Red Hots in 1921 after immigrating from Greece. In the beginning, it was the go-to lunch place for workers at the nearby Highland Park Ford Plant, which opened in 1910. Many of Red Hots’ customers have been loyal for years.
“I’ve been coming here since 1965, and my dad started coming here in 1935,” says Larry Rowe of Troy. “My boy, he started coming here in 2002, and I bring my daughter here all the time. There’s no place better. It’s better than all of them.”
As any coney fan knows, it’s all about the chili. Cook and owner Richard Harlan agrees, which is why he serves smaller hot dogs to make room for more chili.
“We put the mustard underneath (the chili) because we want the palate of your mouth to taste the chili first,” he says.
Much like the chili recipe, not much has changed with Red Hots throughout the years. Part of the unintentionally vintage decor is a green and yellow-striped wall that holds framed old-time-y food advertisements and black-and-white photos of the diner’s past, including a picture of Harlan as young man mopping the floor.
The Harlans still serve coneys for less than $2, too.
“Coneys are $1.80 each,” says Carol Harlan. “It’s been that price for 10 years. (Richard) doesn’t want to raise the price and hurt the neighborhood. We have a lot of seniors and people on a fixed income around here.”
One change that Red Hots has made, though, is the addition of live music. Bluegrass group the Webbs perform in the corner on the first Saturday of each month. The trio is taking the summer off, but will return in September.
And what’s a little live music without a beer or two (even if its lunch time)? Red Hots offers seven bottled beers for $2, including standards like Miller and new labels like Redd’s Apple Ale.