Papaya King Returns To E. 86th St., After Bruising Closure Rollercoaster

The beloved hot dog joint suddenly opened its doors to customers again on July 6, despite being expected to close for good after nearly a century of business. Our Town talked to some satisfied lunch-goers about the surprise comeback.

| 08 Jul 2024 | 04:34

Papaya King suddenly returned to E. 86th St. on July 6, after a tumultuous saga that included multiple evictions, not to mention the conversion of its original 1932 home into a construction site for a 17-story luxury condominium building. The restaurant–which was founded in 1932 by Constantine “Gus” Poulos, who originally hailed from Athens, Greece–has been a staple of the Upper East Side’s food scene for generations.

The beloved hot dog joint is no longer on the corner of 3rd Avenue, but instead sits next to an M86 bus stop very close nearby. The spirit of the restaurant has clearly not ebbed, and happy customers were busy getting lunch and swilling some papaya juice in the early afternoon of July 8.

Matt, who was raised on the Upper East Side, told Our Town that he was impressed by how foodies came from “other boroughs” to try Papaya King’s offerings. He added that he had “found out this morning” that the restaurant was reopened, and that he had to satisfy a craving even though he doesn’t “eat a ton of hot dogs.”

“If you’re going to a Yankee game or going to a movie, you can stop in. It’s the best hot dog that you can get. It has that beef, it has that casing that snaps,” Matt said. “I’m old enough to remember when this neighborhood was German, not that this place is German, but it was a pretty hot spot back then,” Matt said, noting the popularity of sausage links in the city’s German diaspora.

The one downside Matt could think of was the fact that some Papaya King menu items are now going for $13, which isn’t exactly cheap.

Tim, who was waiting in line and contemplating the menu, pointed out that he had just moved back to New York City. He had never been to Papaya King, but had stopped by Gray’s Papaya on the Upper West Side. “[Gray’s] stole it from these guys,” Tim joked, which is certainly an opinion that some locals have; the founder of Gray’s Papaya, Nicholas Gray, once owned a Papaya King franchise location before spinning off his own restaurant in the 1970s. The food blog Eater has compared the competition between the two hot dog shops to the rivalry between the Mets and the Yankees.

“It’s great to have Papaya King back,” Tim concluded, before making his way to the register.

A content creator, who goes by UA Eats on Youtube, was preparing to scarf down two sausages on camera: a mustard-and-chili dog (“that’s my go-to”), and a relish-and-sauerkraut one. He had never been to the original Papaya King, he told Our Town, but had stopped by its now-closed St. Marks franchise. Before he could chow down for his followers, however, he’d also have to conduct an interview for some CBS New York reporters on the scene.

Papaya King’s bright new storefront contrasted sharply with the clatter of construction equipment down the street, where it used to stand. The restaurant’s lease was cancelled there in 2020, after its then-landlord–Imperial Sterling Ltd.–sued Papaya King’s now-owner Sajid “Sid” Sohail for reportedly owing $120,000 in back rent. Demolition filings were submitted by ZD Realty, who bought the plot from Imperial, in 2021.

Actual destruction of the the restaurant’s debris-riddled former shell only began this year, after Papaya King settled ZD Realty’s lawsuit against them in April 2023. The luxury developer now plans on offering a mere 25 units on the site, which will be spread across 57,060 square feet.

In the meantime, a bid to open the restaurant directly across the street at 1535 Third Ave. failed for similar reasons, after Papaya King’s owners were once again sued for back rent by their new landlords in November 2023. That suit was settled in January of this year, and until last week, it appeared that Papaya King might be stuck in permanent limbo.

Now, locals making their way through the Upper East Side can finally reenter Papaya King and order a cool papaya beverage, which is almost a necessity given the city’s heat wave.