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Detroit's Best Coney: American vs. Layfayette

The rivalry between American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island has been going on in Detroit for decades. This “best Coney Island in Detroit” story was recently highlighted on the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food. However the shows host, Adam Richman, didn’t man-up and actually answer the question, “Who has the better Coney Island?"

American Coney Island & Lafayette Coney Island stand side by side.

I will answer that question. But first, the backstory.

For those of you not from the area, a Coney Island is a hot dog topped with chili, raw onions, and mustard. It’s what other people would call a chilidog. (Interesting fact: in Canada and upstate New York they call our Coney dogs “Michigans.”

Gust Keros immigrated to Detroit (via Coney Island, NY) from Greece in 1903 and founded American Coney Island in 1917. His nickel Coney Island hot dogs were a success and he brought his brother William over from Greece to help. William opened Lafayette Coney Island right next door.

Now it must be said that my husband, with all his British-ness, hasn’t been able to muster up the gusto to try a Coney dog. He likes hot dogs and he likes chili but he didn't want any part of the happy marriage of the two. We’d go to a Coney Island or I’d stop and bring some home and he would order a hot dog. I mean, who does that? It was embarrassing.

But he saw the Man v. Food episode and when we were walking past the neighboring Coney Islands on our way to Roast a few weeks ago he sprung it on me. He wanted to do a taste test.

Yay! He was finally going to try a Coney! 

We went to American Coney Island first. It was spacious and cheery with its red vinyl chairs and black and white tiled floor. 

The interior of American Coney Island

The order was the same at both establishments: two Coney dogs with everything and a side of fries. The Coney dogs were good at American but my husband kept saying something tasted bitter. I’m not sure what that was about. The fries seemed fine and the service was great.

Then we stepped next door to Lafayette Coney Island, which was quite dingy and cramped in comparison, and I immediately noticed a funky smell. I told my husband that I liked American better.

But then the food came! The chili had more substance and a slight kick. The hot dogs were perfect and slightly grilled on the ends. And the fries, oh the fries! They were cut thinner than American and perfectly golden brown.

At Lafayette Coney Island, with the Formica counters and tables, you felt like you had just travelled back to the 1950’s. The Coney dogs and fries were far superior to American Coney Island.  The service was just as great at American but at Lafayette they actually talked to us and made us laugh.

Inside Lafayette Coney Island.

I was quite amazed at the difference; I always thought a Coney was a Coney was a Coney. That is not the case. Lafayette Coney Island is the hands down winner in our little “Best Coney Island in Detroit” taste test.

The most fabulous part of our little Coney experiment? My husband is now a Coney-convert, he’s been craving them ever since!

Who serves your favorite Coney dog? 

If you enjoyed this check out Detroit Coney Islands: Wars & Feuds.

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Reader Comments (10)

We were coming back from Canada through New York a few years back and saw a "Michigan hot dog" on the menu (this was on the NY/Quebec border). We asked what a "Michigan hot dog" was as we were from Michigan and never heard of such an animal. When the server described the dish, we both said..."oh...Coney dogs!"

Oddly enough, we've yet to go down and do the Coney test in Detroit. Thanks for the preview :)

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDominique

I've been to family reunions at Lafayette. Lafayette hands down - but be careful down the stairs as it's quite easy to go butt-over-teakettle to the extremely small bathroom fit for a submarine ;)

November 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeremiah Staes

Directed here by you and Charlie, I am admitting I've never had a coney as described here. (Ok, never with mustard and chili...a chili dog with onions, yes, but not in years!) Sounds interesting though :)

January 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWatty

We must get you to a Coney Island, stat! That is, if you don't hate mustard. It's something you try at least once. :)

January 25, 2010 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

Sorry, I lived in Syracuse for many years and traveled all over upstate New York and never once saw a "Michigan" on the menu. Everyone calls them Coneys or the common prounounciation "Cooneys."

August 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAMS

Went through Detroit last weekend to visit UofM and decided to go to Detroit and do the coney island challenge. We got one dog from each and decided since we were going to be in a car together for awhile we would skip the onions. I personally felt the Lafayette dog was superior in every way. The dog was better, the chili was better and the bun was better. I loved that Lafayette had more of a kick. My girlfriend on the other hand preferred American. She said she liked the dog better from American but preferred the kick of Lafayette chili better. So I am not sure who really won but I know that I will be going back to Lafayette every time I go near D-Town. Thanks Detroit for giving me a reason to come back.

February 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraig M.

So glad you did the Coney challenge! When I encounter people who haven't tried Lafayette or American I encourage them to do the same and find out which one is their favorite. And, I'm pretty pleased that you landed in the Lafayette camp.

February 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

To AMS - I grew up on the NY side of the NY/Quebec border. Coneys are most definitely called Michigans in that region. Research has shown found a newspaper ad from 1927 for a new restaurant serving Michigans, and a couple of different stories as to how the name originated, but both trace back to Detroit.

December 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTmp

I'm a Detroit native and I've gotta message for tourists and visitors..... please also try Duly's on Vernor and Junction in southwest Detroit. Best coneys in town!!!!

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTony

My cousins from Pennsylvania are coming in February 4th weekend for 3 days. Of course I have to take them on a tour of Detroit we're going to see hit town USA where Michael Jackson beat alls Stevie Wonder everyone had their start. I have to also take them down to the river front to see where they have the free concert right behind the GM building / RenCen. I was wondering where we go for lunch then I thought we have to do the comparison we're going to go to American Coney Island and then Lafayette Coney Island and see which we think is best I'll let you know Pete in Southfield !!!

February 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPete

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