At Gilley’s in Portsmouth, N.H., the hot dog is king

for Travel - xxgilleys - Although Gilley's has been expanded, its original 1940 oak and porcelain interior remains. (David Lyon for The Boston Globe)
David Lyon for The Boston Globe
The original 1940 oak and porcelain interior of Gilley’s PM Lunch remains.

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. - Regulars can always tell when a first-timer makes a pilgrimage to Gilley’s (a.k.a. Gilley’s PM Lunch), which claims to be one of only five Worcester Lunch Car Co. mobile lunch carts ever built, and the last one still in operation. They watch as would-be-diners push the door to open, pause, and then give it a pull. Finally, someone will motion that the door slides sideways to admit customers into the compact 1940 car with its original oak and porcelain interior, a work station at one end, and just eight stools along a horseshoe-shaped counter.

Like its early-20th-century predecessor, Gilley’s used to be towed into Market Square every evening to serve hungry workers, a scene depicted on a mural on the wall behind the parking lot. Permanently settled on Fleet Street since 1974 and anchored to an attached wing, Gilley’s has lost none of its retro charm, in part because the menu adheres to such basics as burgers, grilled cheese or fried egg sandwiches, and fries.

But the steamed hot dog is king here, and, not surprisingly, there is an art to placing an order. Ask for “the works’’ if you want mustard, relish, and onions on your dog. Ask for “loaded’’ if you want to add ketchup to the toppings. Ask for “everything’’ and the server will pile on mayonnaise and pickle as well. It’s a messy (but tasty) bite of history.

Gilley’s175 Fleet St., Portsmouth, N.H., 603-431-6343,, daily 11 a.m.-2:30 a.m., hot dogs $1.85-$3