“We’ll see you all at Oki-Dogs”: The story of L.A.’s legendary punk hangout (with hot dogs)

“We’ll see you all at Oki-Dogs”: The story of L.A.’s legendary punk hangout (with hot dogs)

Illustration: Karl Gustafson
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In October 1990, the food critic Jonathan Gold reviewed an inexpensive fast-food joint on Pico Boulevard called Oki-Dog for the LA Times. The piece, “Trans-Global Junk Food,” doubled as an obituary for the late-night hangout of his youth: the 24-hour Oki-Dog on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, which had recently closed. In the early days of punk, Gold spent many a night at the nearby nightclub, the Starwood, which gave many future rock heroes their first big gigs, and played cello in two short-lived bands, Overman and Tank Burial. Years later, he was still an evangelist for Oki-Dog and its eponymous dish: two hot dogs, a slice of cheese, a slice of pastrami, and chili wrapped up in a flour tortilla, which he described as “a cross-cultural burrito that’s pretty hard to stomach unless you’ve got the tum of a 16-year-old.”

A post-show visit to Oki-Dog would become a rite of passage for a generation of L.A. punks. For some of the musicians, producers, zinesters, and scenesters who began to build the city’s punk ecosystem in the late 1970s, Oki-Dog may not have been the first choice for a hangout, or even the last. But its convenient location was a boon for a community largely centered in West Hollywood. The food was cheap, the place never closed, and the punks were never turned away.

And by 1982, punks even gave the hot-dog spot a song: “Oki Dogs” by Youth Gone Mad. The cult hit also helped the newly established band establish its punk bona fides. Geza X, an in-demand producer in the scene, recorded it, and the influential KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer played it on his show, “Rodney On The ROQ.” The newly established zine Maximum Rocknroll, which would become the national punk scene’s bible, praised the song, calling it “surprisingly good for [an] unknown band” and “hilarious.”

Youth Gone Mad’s founding guitarist, Paul “Ena” Kostabi, first visited Oki-Dog in the late 1970s after attending a metal show at the Starwood. “There were people milling about, some of the early punks,” he remembered. “I wasn’t really in the scene yet. But that’s kind of what turned me onto the punk, avant-garde art movement, was going there and seeing people milling about.”

Word of Oki-Dog has spread far beyond L.A. the past few decades—even Anthony Bourdain grilled Gold about his love for Oki-Dog when they met a few years later—in large part because of the punks who congregated at the West Hollywood location at all hours of the day and night. The owners of World Famous Oki-Dog, now located near the corner of Fairfax and Willoughby in West Hollywood, have embraced the restaurant’s punk reputation. (Based on a public records search, the two Oki-Dogs appear to share an owner, but I couldn’t reach anyone to confirm.) Its Facebook and Instagram accounts are chock-full of vintage images from Oki-Dog’s heyday. Look closely and you can find a screenshot of Germs guitarist Pat Smear taken from a 1982 rockumentary called The Slog Movie. Or a scan of a highly detailed flyer that cartoonist Shawn Kerri drew for the Circle Jerks that depicts a nun standing before a classroom of bedraggled teens: a punk skanking prominently in the lower third sports a mohawk and a ripped T-shirt with “Eat at Oki Dogs” written in big bold letters.

Histories of punk tend to focus on L.A.’s exports—the records, the people who made them, the zines that covered it all—and the performance spaces that incubated them. But Oki-Dog, while it appears only in the margins of these histories, was crucial to building the scene’s sense of community.

Author Francesca Lia Block first went to Oki-Dog in the early ’80s and wrote the restaurant into her cult 1989 YA novel, Weetzie Bat. For Block, Oki-Dog represented a continuation of the punk shows she began attending at the end of high school. “If you go into a small dark club, and there’s this music, and people dress a certain way, it’s separate from reality,” she said. “If you go somewhere else, and it’s kind of still alive, it makes you see that this is a bigger scene.” Oki-Dog was that “somewhere else.”


In the October 1979 issue of the Hollywood punk scene’s vital zine Slash, contributor Phast Phreddie answered readers’ queries about after-hours options. “There are a total on [sic] one and half places to go after hours in Los Angeles,” he wrote. “Danny’s Dogs and Blackie’s. Danny’s Dogs (also known affectionately as the Okie [sic] Dog) is a well-lit hamburger stand on the corner of Gardner and Santa Monica Blvd.” Blackie’s, a traditional club a mile southeast of Oki-Dog, couldn’t match the joy Phreddie got from the hot-dog stand and the “fabulous show nightly” behind the counter. And he wasn’t the only one. Phreddie listed nearly 50 bands and musicians as Oki-Dog regulars, including members of the foundational L.A. punk groups the Screamers, the Bags, and X. As Phreddie wrote, “Danny’s is quickly becoming THE place to tie on the feed bag while in Hollywood.”

At Oki-Dog in Jan 1982, left to right: Wasted Youth’s Chet Lehrer (brother of Lucky Lehrer from the Circle Jerks), Steve Cervantes, “unknown punker girl”, Circle One’s Michael Vallejo, and unknown punk
At Oki-Dog in Jan 1982, left to right: Wasted Youth’s Chet Lehrer (brother of Lucky Lehrer from the Circle Jerks), Steve Cervantes, “unknown punker girl”, Circle One’s Michael Vallejo, and unknown punk
Photo: courtesy of Jordan Schwartz, from “We Got Power: Hardcore Punk Scenes From 1980s Southern California” (Bazillion Points)

By the time of Phreddie’s column, multi-disciplinary artist and scene linchpin Pleasant Gehman had already been a regular for at least a couple of years. Screamers vocalist Tomata du Plenty originally introduced her to Oki-Dog. “Tomata was such a huge ambassador of wonderful weirdness,” Gehman said. “Tomata and [Screamers co-founder Tommy] Gear were always there. They always had their fingers on the pulse of anything that would now be called underground or countercultural.”

Gehman had noticed Oki-Dog before even stopping in at her friend’s suggestion. Gehman didn’t have a car at the time, so she would travel around West Hollywood on foot when she couldn’t get a ride. And Oki-Dog was on the route between several hot spots for punks. West of the Starwood, just after Santa Monica bends south, sat the Tropicana Motel, where nearly every big touring rock band crashed while in L.A. The Plunger Pit, a large punk residence/party palace, was just around the corner from the famous bookstore and gay porn store Circus of Books—which itself was a stone’s throw from the Starwood. In the summer of 1977, Scottish expat Brendan Mullen set up a series of practice spaces and a performance space in the basement of the Hollywood Center Building and called it the Masque. Not long after the Masque began hosting shows, punks discovered the Canterbury Apartments about a block north had cheap rent, and transformed the place into a rock dorm.

As zinester and writer Daniel Weizmann explained, Oki-Dog existed right on the border of the exciting parts of the scene—and just out of frame of the picturesque parts of the area. “Hollywood is touristy,” he said. “But it’s like the first point where you are outside the zone of mythological Hollywood, and you’re into how it actually is—it’s kind of like the border between fantasy and reality.”

Food spots also served as crucial hangouts for the gestating community. West Hollywood had long been a bastion for LA’s LGBTQ population, and rockers who preceded the punks had already embraced a few area dining establishments, including Duke’s, a coffee shop attached to the Tropicana and Canter’s, a 24-hour Jewish deli on Fairfax Avenue. In Little Tokyo, the Atomic Cafe drew in punks who were near downtown after shows, and in nearby Chinatown, two restaurants, Madame Wong’s and Hong Kong Cafe, began booking punk shows themselves.

Two West Hollywood coffee shops also drew illicit activity and punks like magnets: Arthur J’s, just east of Oki-Dog, and the Gold Cup on Hollywood Boulevard, right around the corner from the Masque. “Both of them were like scenes out of the Rocky Horror Show,” Gehman said. “With giant drag queens and lunatic street fringe people, which was a perfect place for really young kids that looked crazy to hang out. No one was going to hassle you about an ID. No one was going to hassle you about the way you looked.” The punk scene showed these places love, most notably in the form of Black Randy & Metrosquad’s 1977 single, “Trouble at the Cup,” and the short-lived band Arthur J. & the Gold Cups.

Oki-Dog stood out from the other food spots, though, partly because diners ate outdoors. “At the beginning it was just this little lone stand,” Gehman said. “If it had been cleaned up a little bit, it almost would have looked like something that came out of American Graffiti. It had that slightly Atomic Age look to it.” Gehman recalled its front windows were covered with signs advertising many of the dishes. The elements had warped the signs so thoroughly that the photos of the food looked like inedible blobs: the fact that Oki-Dog’s workers doctored the images on the signs to look more like the items on the menu didn’t make them any more discernible, nor did the oddly misspelled words they’d written. “Whoever did it didn’t really know how to draw,” Gehman said. “Stuff that was supposed to be, like, French fries or a burrito, and it just looked like, like a serial killer had drawn a bunch of shit in fat-point magic marker on top of it.”’

The Oki-Dog counterman nicknamed “Arnold” by the We Got Poweri crew
The Oki-Dog counterman nicknamed “Arnold” by the We Got Poweri crew
Photo: courtesy of Jordan Schwartz, from “We Got Power: Hardcore Punk Scenes From 1980s Southern California” (Bazillion Points) (Other)

Oki-Dog also stood out for its countermen. An Okinawan immigrant named Sakai “Jimmy” Sueyoshi ran the place, gave it its signature dish, and likely manned the counter for most of Oki-Dog’s halcyon days—though it’s unclear if he worked the graveyard shift, when the cooks put on a hell of a show. “They’d be sitting there, like, juggling knives—I’m not making this up,” Gehman said. “Or chopping stuff up really fast, and screaming at the top of their lungs, ‘OK, OK, alright!’ And the other one would go ‘Alright alright, OK!’” As Oki-Dog’s reputation grew among L.A. punks, the cooks proved to be a draw in their own right. “Anytime I’d bring someone there, I’d be like, ‘Wait to see this,’” Gehman said. “’I don’t know what kind of drugs were in the water supply in Okinawa, but these people are on the finest speed that none of us could ever afford.’”

The food was inexpensive, too—you could get a burrito and fries for less than two bucks, which went a long way for cash-strapped punks. “Everybody shared food, too,” said Penelope Spheeris, who made the 1981 scene documentary The Decline of Western Civilization and later directed Wayne’s World. “’Cause most people didn’t have money for the food even.”

Oki-Dog workers didn’t mind customers loitering on the worn picnic benches outside, which meant you didn’t even have to order food to hang out. Such a permissive attitude made it an obvious draw for punks with nowhere to go after a gig. “We were young, so it wasn’t like we were going to bars,” said Genny Body of the band Backstage Pass. “A lot of us didn’t drink—I mean, if you did drink, you bought stuff from the liquor store and drank it in your car. I didn’t drink because I was young.”

Oki-Dog turned into a de-facto hangout for Geza X, who in addition to producing plenty of punk bands also played in the Bags, the Deadbeats, and Arthur J and the Gold Cups. Geza X would frequent Oki-Dog as often as five times a week—and not always just to party after a show. “Many important meetings were held there,” he said. “The small labels that put out records by these bands would meet us at Oki-Dog and we would discuss the project.”

Musician and L.A. Punk Museum creator Tequila Mockingbird, who booked punk bands on the public-access TV show New Wave Theater, didn’t spend a lot of time at Oki-Dog but saw its utility. “If you were going to have a gig, you would go to Oki-Dogs to give out flyers for that gig,” she said. “That was the telephone because you didn’t really have anybody’s number.”

Minutemen cofounder Mike Watt felt the same. He and his bandmate D. Boon saw the world in two categories: gigs and flyers. “Anything that ain’t a gig is a flyer to get people to that gig, because it just seemed like that’s what it was all about—meeting people,” Watt said. Records, for example, were flyers. Oki-Dog was different; the camaraderie that brought together performers and audience members at gigs also happened at the hot-dog spot. “This is what it was about—the audience being part of the gig,” Watt said. “In a way, Oki-Dog became part of the gig.”

As the punk scene claimed Oki-Dog as a home, Spheeris noticed social hierarchies play out in ways that resembled a high school cafeteria. “When you went there, you kind of had to decide for yourself, ‘Am I cool enough to be at this table? Or should I go to that table because I’m uncool?’ It had that kind of mentality,” she said. Germs frontman Darby Crash, a poster boy for the wider scene, was the veritable prom king of Oki-Dog. “Darby was always there,” Spheeris said. “If you got to sit at Darby’s table, then you felt special.”

Oki-Dog drew punks on the periphery too. Larry Hardy, the founder of In The Red Records, first went there after attending the monthly Capitol Records Swap Meet in the parking lot of the label’s Hollywood headquarters back in 1978. Hardy’s parents wouldn’t let him go to shows at the time—he was 14. But the friend who took him to Oki-Dog had been to enough shows in Hollywood to know it was a destination. “He’s like, ‘Oh, it’s this great place we go after shows,” Hardy remembered. “We’d be going there like 10 a.m. and eating these Oki dogs.”

By 1979, L.A.’s punk scene had gotten a tad stale, which left some room for bands outside the Hollywood crowd to get notice. That benefited Middle Class, a proto-hardcore group from Santa Ana whose members never ingested anything harder than Dr. Pepper. “The original Hollywood punks, they really, they accepted us,” said bassist Mike Patton. “So everybody put us on their bill, because we were something new.” Patton only began to hear of Oki-Dog as a place to hang in the early 1980s, when hardcore took over and teens flooded punk shows. “All the kids were going to Oki-Dog,” Patton said.

Weizmann refers to the brief period between the first wave of L.A. punk and the explosion of hardcore as “1.5.” It’s a brief era in which bands such as Fullerton’s Adolescents and the final version of the Germs played a more ferocious and fast version of punk. The Starwood gave these bands a place to perform, and even welcomed underage kids—as long as they were accompanied by an adult. Those kids began to make their way to Oki-Dog. “It was the right place to embrace a younger scene,” Weizmann said. “It was the right place to fortify—or to create a petri dish for a younger scene.”

The Germs in particular cast a long shadow over the incoming hardcore scene. They oversold their final show at the Starwood, on December 3, 1980. Four days later, Darby Crash died of a heroin overdose.

The following year, Slash Records, born out of the zine of the same name, released an odds-and-ends Germs EP called What We Do Is Secret. Its B-side included a few songs from the band’s final show. It ends with Crash sending an invitation out in the dark edges of the crowd: “We’ll see you all at Oki Dogs.”

The young punks Darby Crash inspired fiercely embraced Oki-Dog in full force by the early 1980s; they flocked to the place by the hundreds. “It was like Arnold’s on Happy Days,” David Markey, cofounder of the zine We Got Power and director of The Slog Movie, wrote to me in an email. “In fact, I think I said as much at the time.” The We Got Power crew referred to Oki-Dog’s late night customer wrangler as Arnold in tribute to the sitcom.

Illustration for article titled “We’ll see you all at Oki-Dogs”: The story of L.A.’s legendary punk hangout (with hot dogs)
Photo: Glen E. Friedman

The Circle Jerks understood the magnetism of the place when they booked Oki-Dog for a tongue-in-cheek “Sell Out” party at the end of November 1981 to celebrate their deal with the IRS imprint Faulty Products. The label would provide the free food. “We just thought it’d be funny to make fun of ourselves for quote unquote signing our lives away to a record deal and selling out,” said guitarist Greg Hetson. “What better place to have that than the place where the punks hung out?” It rained that day, so only a scant number of people turned out. But one of them was the photographer Glen E. Friedman, who commemorated the occasion. (Oki-Dog’s social media accounts have shared that image too.)

Hetson would sometimes visit Oki-Dog as frequently as five nights a week. It’s where he first hung out with Henry Rollins shortly after Rollins moved to L.A. to join Black Flag, and where he got familiar with a teen punk band from the San Fernando Valley called Bad Religion. “People would bring their demos and give it out and, and network with other bands,” Hetson recalled. He spent a good deal of time playing Pac-Man on a tabletop arcade cabinet, too.

Jennifer Finch started going to Oki-Dog around 1981, even before she could get into some gigs. “I came in on a wave of all ages in a land where everything was at least 18 or 21 and over at the time,” she said. “So there was a lot of just going to Oki Dogs, and when other people went to shows, we just ate at Oki Dogs.” And when Finch began playing shows herself, her friends from Oki-Dog were there for her; L7’s 1987 self-titled debut was the first release for the revived Epitaph Records, helmed by Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion.

The scene at Oki-Dog was big enough to attract people from way outside the community. “Andy Warhol showed up at Oki-Dog,” recalled Jordan Schwartz, cofounder of the zine We Got Power. “He was taking pictures. And those pictures actually ended up in Interview magazine.”

Few punk zines were as dedicated to Oki-Dog as We Got Power. Nearly every issue included at least one Oki-Dog reference. The second issue included interviews with local punk bands Overkill and Redd Kross (then known as Red Cross) that were conducted at Oki-Dog: a third interview, with artists Brian and Nikki Tucker of the collage-heavy photo zine FER YOUz, took place across the street at an Astro Burger (Markey preferred their food). The Tuckers distributed their zine for free, usually at Oki-Dog.

Punk even made its way into the kitchen at Oki-Dog thanks to precocious punk Marc Vachon. He’d been playing guitar in Mad Society at age 12 back in 1979, and started hanging out at Oki-Dog by 13—he lived a block away. He started working at Oki-Dog in the early 1980s as a prep-cook, usually on a shift with five other people. “Everybody did everything from peeling onions, cutting potatoes, slicing the meats, making the tuna,” he said via email. “It was work!” Occasionally, Vachon would have to keep an eye on the customers on the benches and in the parking lot if things got a little rowdy, though he said he didn’t encounter much friction often. It helped that Sueyoshi, the owner, looked out for his customers. “Jimmy was cool as shit! He was super supportive and was always so giving and generous,” Vachon said. “He literally fed the whole neighborhood for free.”


But how was the food at Oki-Dog?

“Oh, come on,” said Tequila Mockingbird when I first posed the question. She further explained: “If you’ve been drinking all night, it’ll save your life. You’re not going to catch COVID-19 if you ever ate at Oki-Dog. It would give COVID-19 heartburn.”

The rest of the pool of punks I surveyed didn’t offer a unified answer, but their reactions tended to be strong.

Jennifer Finch: “It wasn’t known for being awesomely good, but it was definitely yummy.”

Daniel Weizmann: “The food was terrible. It was so terrible that it was, like, joke-terrible.”

Mike Watt: “That’s good chow, especially if you’re borracho drunk after a gig.”

Paul Kostabi: “I stuck to the French fries. This might be the reason I’m vegan today—just looking at that gross... whatever it was.”

I knew Oki-Dog’s menu had been wide-ranging in its scope, but what intrigued me the most was the dish that shared the joint’s name. It often came up in conversation without me specifically asking about it.

“The first time I ate an Oki dog, I’m not even sure if I liked it,” Geza X told me. “The two hot dogs, the pastrami, the chili, the cheese, the burrito wrapper—I’m ready to just go, ‘What the fuck.’ When it hits your stomach, it creates that incredibly awesome lump that every drunken teenager just loves when they eat food.”

It was generally agreed that the food went down better after a few drinks—and it was more useful that way, too. “It was to take on chow to soak up booze before the hell ride home, which is kind of stupid—when you’re young and dumb, full of cum,” Watt said. “So it’s kind of like a safety measure.”

Kevin Barrett of the Urinals and 100 Flowers was far more devoted to Oki-Dog than any of his friends. “I love burritos, so it was a revelation for me—‘Oh, a hot dog in a tortilla,’” he said. “One of my favorite things was to describe an Oki dog to people who had never heard of one.” Barrett’s descriptions would draw flustered reactions. His own stomach had no trouble with it. “It seemed like the perfect conjoining of street level food,” Barrett said. “The combination just makes it so much more than the individual parts.” He didn’t hang out with other punks at Oki-Dog; it was the food that brought him back constantly.

Larry Hardy called the Oki dog an art project. “It tasted genuinely good to me,” he said. “I’m sure they were using the cheapest hot dogs and bad ingredients.” When friends would visit from out of town, Hardy would sometimes bring them to Oki-Dog. The food rekindled a buried childhood memory in one friend. “He was saying, ‘Wow, I have never tasted cheese like this since I was a little kid when my family was poor—we’d get government cheese and this is what this tastes like,’” Hardy recalled. “It didn’t taste like normal cheese, but I liked it.”

Hardy’s love for Oki dogs was so strong that in 1986 he and his roommate decided to make some for Thanksgiving. In order to complete their home-cooked Oki dogs, they ended up purchasing chili from the restaurant. “We realized that’s the one thing we can’t recreate, and it’s not going to taste right if we don’t get the same chili,” Hardy said. “So they sold us this container of chili.” The chili congealed in their fridge: when Hardy and his roommate retrieved it, the oil had separated and pooled at the top.

I, too, attempted to make my own Oki dog. I live more than 2,000 miles from LA, so I made do with the mass-produced ingredients available from my local grocery store.


Homemade Oki Dog

  • 1 can of Hormel chili without beans
  • 2 Hebrew National Beef Franks hot dogs
  • 3 slices Hillshire Farm Ultra Thin Sliced Pastrami
  • 1 slice Kraft Singles American singles cheese
  • 1 large Mission Tortilla flour tortilla

Shake out the jelly-like blob of chili into a small pot and place over a low flame on a backburner while you boil water for hot dogs. Once the water has boiled, submerge the franks and leave them in for five minutes. While the hot dogs cook, warm up the tortilla on a griddle or pan. Then use the same pan to fry a few slices of pastrami with a little oil—I threw on a dash of veggie oil. Reserve a cold slice of cheese for eventual assembly. The chili should be properly heated by the time the dogs are done.

To assemble, scoop up a one-third cup of chili and spread it out in a line along the lower third of the tortilla. Plop the cheese right in the middle of the chili, and balance one hot dog on top. Quickly fold the lower flap of the tortilla over the meat-and-cheese pile, and lightly press it into the edge of the chili puddle to encase the food. Place the second hot dog atop the folded tortilla flap, and set the pastrami slices on top of it. Fold the sides of the tortilla flanking the meat toward the center to keep the ingredients in place, and flip the meat-and-cheese pocket over the hot dog and pastrami pile to lock it in. Fold the food pockets upward again to form a burrito.


My Oki dog was loose but structurally sound. The chili, cheese, and hot dog portion began to sink as I ate it, but I managed to avoid any spillage. I noticed I disproportionately favored one side of the Oki dog as I ate, which meant I’d get a mouthful of spicy, sharply salty pastrami and a hot dog at one moment, followed by a gooey chili-cheese mess the next. Once I managed to chomp down on both sides simultaneously, I understood the Oki dog’s potency: it’s a swirl of complex flavors, with the rubbery boiled hot dogs providing a solid anchor amid the viscous slop.

I also understood how Weizmann viewed the Oki dog as a symbol of punk. “People that got into that scene had to make a choice. It wasn’t something you could do that casually,” he told me. That punks found refuge at a place serving food that people with more refined palates considered outrageous made sense: “It took a commitment to eat an Oki dog.”


In October 1965, in compliance with California’s civil code, a man named Ronald C. Risk announced in the classified listings of Hollywood’s Citizen-News that he planned to open up a hot dog stand at 7450 Santa Monica Boulevard. Danny’s Dogs opened shortly thereafter.

Ascertaining the deeper history of the original West Hollywood Oki-Dog proved challenging. It’s unclear when Sakai “Jimmy” Sueyoshi came to own Danny’s Dogs and appended the restaurant’s name with several “Oki-Dog” signs. In February 1985, Sueyoshi told the LA Times that his hot-dog stand had been in business for 22 years, which would have preceded Risk’s opening of the business by two years. (Sueyoshi was also 39 at the time the story ran, which would’ve had him running Oki-Dog at 17.)

It’s also been challenging to discern the “official” name of the place. I dug up LA Times and LA Weekly press clips from the punk era that cycled through several names: Danny’s Dogs, Oki Dog (with and without the hyphen), Danny’s Hot Dogs, Danny’s Dog, and Oki Dogs. I did locate a “World Famous Oki-Dog” trademark registration from 2019—but it’s for the West Hollywood location on Fairfax. And according to public records, the fast food joint at 4601 W. Pico Boulevard in the Vineyard neighborhood called “Oki’s Dogs” is an entirely different business.

I wanted to learn more about the history of Sueyoshi’s business, and his relationship with LA punk. And I especially wanted to know more about the provenance of his most famous creation. I tried to reach out to Sueyoshi and a few family members I found that may have been involved in the business, but no one responded to my messages.

Here is the little I do know: the Oki dog takes its name from Sueyoshi’s native Okinawa, a collection of islands between Taiwan and Japan that are under Japanese rule. And Sueyoshi’s dish has been adopted across the Okinawan diaspora (and also across LA: UCLA’s on-campus dining offers its own version).

In 2004, Honolulu Star-Bulletin food critic Betty Shimabukuro wrote a story recounting how Sueyoshi’s Oki dog became a fixture of Honolulu’s annual Okinawan Festival. It began in 1989, when festival organizers Isaac Hokama and Howard Higa made a pilgrimage to Oki-Dog in Los Angeles and Sueyoshi gave Hokama and Higa permission to recreate his Oki dog once a year at the festival. It has been a staple ever since. Two years ago, the Okinawan Festival sold more than 4,700 Oki dogs.

This is how Kapi’olani Community College cybrarian Shari Y. Tamashiro grew up eating Oki dogs. “I don’t see my parents craving Oki dogs at the festival, but people my generation below, we think it’s like such a cool thing,” she said. “It’s such a weird item, when you think about the combination of things in a tortilla. We didn’t quite get it, but we always knew that it came from L.A.”

Higa adapted the Oki dog to Hawaii. Instead of using chili of mysterious origins, the Okinawan Festival sources it from Zippy’s, a chain of Hawaiian diners founded by an Okinawan family. Higa did away with the cheese and introduced greens—specifically shredded lettuce. And he replaced the pastrami with shoyu pork kuzu, which are the pieces of meat too small to otherwise serve.

“Okinawans eat every single part of the pig,” Tamashiro explained. “It is a major part of the diet.” And pigs are a big part of Hawaiian Okinawan lore. According to Tamashiro, the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, which organizes the Okinawan Festival, first formed in order to send aid to Okinawa after World War II. The organization raised nearly $50,000 to ship 550 pigs from the U.S. mainland to Okinawa to replenish the population—before the war, there had been 100,000 pigs, but afterward that number was less than 1,000. Four years after the pig shipment, Okinawa’s numbers were back to their pre-war days.

In November 2020, Okinawan Festival organizers organized a “Feastival” to celebrate and support local Okinawan restaurants during the pandemic. Twenty restaurants served Festival-related fare for just one week. A fusion spot called Gochi Grill made Oki dogs. “They just got slammed because we didn’t have the festival—people didn’t have their Oki dog fix,” Tamashiro said.

Talking about Hawaiian Oki dogs appeared to heighten Tamashiro’s interest in the original. “We always thought it was so weird that the Oki dog in L.A. has nothing Okinawan,” she said. “Other than the guy who made it.”


In 1982, the LA punk zine Flipside ran a comics issue. Illustrator Gary Panter, who created the Screamers’ logo and went on to do the set design for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, teamed up with future Simpsons creator Matt Groening on a two-page comic called “Occurrence at Oki Dog.” Their increasingly entropic drawings nearly blot out any white space: it’s challenging to figure out what exactly is happening.

The energy Panter and Groening evoked in “Occurrence” matched what could be found at Oki-Dog and throughout the larger scene. Punk had undergone a rapid ascent in popularity about a year earlier, despite the odds against the insurgent wave of hardcore. Clubs began banning rowdy local bands in 1980: wherever Black Flag managed to get booked in the area there was a good chance the cops would wind up clashing with young punks afterwards. L.A. County Superior Court shut down the Starwood for good in June 1981, cutting off a vital lifeline.

And yet, about a week later, Black Flag headlined a 3,500-person crowd at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. And Penelope Spheeris’s documentary on the scene, The Decline of Western Civilization, came out later that summer: soon punks around the country could see Oki-Dog regulars on the silver screen. As hardcore spread throughout greater LA, punks piled into the Oki-Dog parking lot by the hundreds. “It was almost like the Old West, where you’d pull up to the depot on your horse to find out what was happening, because there’d always be somebody lounging around there,” Weizmann said. “You’d cruise up before the mayhem, and you’d find out where the parties were, and you’d find out where the action was—or not, maybe there wasn’t any action and you would just kind of mill around.”

The crowds Oki-Dog drew were customers that most mainstream businesses didn’t care for, and they weren’t limited to punks. In July 1984, LA Weekly ran a lengthy feature on the teen hookers who treated the hot-dog joint as their informal headquarters. A 1987 Sacramento Bee story called Oki-Dog “a landmark in the world of male prostitution.” As violence rippled through the hardcore punk scene in the mid-’80s, it sometimes surfaced at Oki-Dog. One incident that involved a crew of white-supremacist punks violently attacking a gay teen after he ate at Oki-Dog became the focus of a 2013 Oscar-nominated documentary short, Facing Fear.

“The progression of Oki Dogs was parallel to the progression of hardcore shows and all ages shows in Los Angeles of that era,” Finch said. “By the time the 1984 Olympics came, there was a lot of police crackdown on gatherings. Oki Dogs presented another specific problem in that it was in a community that was being gentrified and re-gentrified.”

By the mid-’80s, neighbors were putting the squeeze on Oki-Dog. In 1985, Sueyoshi successfully fended off the L.A. County district attorney’s attempt to close the place, partly by limiting the joint’s hours: it closed from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. But during a Business License Commission hearing in December 1989, a recently formed neighborhood coalition called East End Community Action Group pushed to close Oki-Dog. The vote to revoke Oki-Dog’s restaurant’s license was unanimous. By April 1990, the West Hollywood location had closed.


In 2009, indie-rock veteran Chris Brokaw released an album of acoustic material that contained a curious instrumental called “We’ll See You All At Oki Dogs.” Brokaw had first heard the phrase on the Germs’ What We Do Is Secret, but for years, it remained a mystery. “I had no idea what [Darby Crash] was talking about,” Brokaw said. “I didn’t know if that was a club or a record store. I just spun my imagination as to what Oki Dogs could be. In my mind, I immediately dismissed the idea that it was actually a hot dog stand.”

Then, around 2000, he was driving through L.A. when he noticed a sign advertising Oki dogs. “It was a huge—it was like seeing the Loch Ness Monster or something,” he said. “It was just this thing that I didn’t know was real.” His response became the driving force for his own song. “Oki Dog sort of became a linchpin for thinking about how you get information and what it means to be out in the world,” he explained.

Darby Crash’s Oki-Dog salute still travels. In 2010, Rhino Records released the full recording of the Germs’ final performance on CD, Live At The Starwood Dec 3, 1980. Jonathan Gold wrote the liner notes. And yes, he did work in a reference to Oki-Dog.

 

DISCUSSION

eddie-brannan
Eddie-Brannan

This piece is WAY too long! 3,000 words? Edit, cuzzo.

I heard about this place when I moved to LA though. You could get all kinds of sausage there, so it was said. You probably mentioned that 2,000 words into your epic poem, but I had long given up.