Chicago Hot Dogs
I visit Chicago regularly but do not indulge in their famous deep-dish pizza. Sometimes, I’ll have a burger (for research) but honestly I'd much rather eat Chicago’s favorite fast food - the hot dog. Only in Chicago will you find the iconic Chicago dog ‘dragged through the garden,’ which in local vernacular means loaded with chopped onion, tomato, neon-green relish, mustard, celery salt, sport pepper and a pickle spear served on a soft, poppy seed bun. It’s a mouthful and I love them. The Chicago Hot Dog, unlike anywhere else in America, is a foodstuff elevated to worship status and protected by intense local pride. Where to go, though? Here are some of my favorite spots to grab a hot dog in Chicago.
The Wiener's Circle
If you visit Wiener’s Circle during daylight hours you’ll find a quiet, no-frills hot dog stand in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. But stop by after midnight and the place will be transformed into a rowdy, packed free-for-all complete with shouting drunks and legendary sassy servers. There really is no place like it. Wiener’s Circle isn’t just about the scene, though. Thankfully, the craziness is backed up by arguably the best char-dogs in the city. The dogs are cooked over a flame until they burst. Load it up or eat it plain -- either way it’s amazing. Grab an order of their famous cheddar-cheese fries and you’ll be in heaven.
This drive-in hot dog stand in the Norwood Park neighborhood southeast of O’Hare is a throwback. Use their classic talk-back speaker system and carhops will deliver the goods to your car. Order the Superdawg and you’ll get a box that has a fully-loaded dog with a wad of fries mashed underneath and on top (a strange Chicago tradition at a few of the older stands). Make sure to order yours with hot sport peppers -- it is a truly satisfying hot dog experience.. Superdawg also makes great Supermalts and a surprisingly good fish sandwich, aptly named the Superfish.
Gene & Jude's
This bare bones hot dog stand has served up tasty dogs for decades in River Grove and not much has changed since opening day. Gene & Jude’s is just that, a stand. It’s not the kind of place to linger and the average dining experience can be as short as 2 minutes as you stand and lean on a counter to scarf your dog. Don’t be dismayed by the long line - it moves fast. So fast that you’d better know what to order when the impatient guy behind the counter makes eye contact. Fortunately, the options are few and all hot dogs automatically come with a pile of fries dumped on top. Gene & Jude’s departs from tradition and eschews the tomato and pickle found on most Chicago-style hot dogs. And don’t even think of asking for ketchup.
Most of the great hot dog stands of the past half-century are gone and the best that remain are far outside the Loop catering to locals only. Downtown Dogs is one of the only decent stands I’ve found in downtown, this one near the mega-shopping zone of the Near North Side, close to Michigan Ave. You can order yours charred or steamed -- both are great. Most opt for the char-dog fully loaded and there are a few places to sit at tables on the sidewalk. The owners are dog-crazy and there are photos of pups all over the stand. Bring your own canine and find water bowls outside for doggy refreshment.
The king of the new, Hot Doug’s is the real-deal and self-proclaimed ‘Sausage Superstore and Encased Meats Emporium.’ You can choose from a dizzying selection of gourmet dogs, brats, and sausages that range from the enticing, spicy Keira Knightley to the downright bizzaro Smoked Yak Sausage with bacon garlic mayo and gouda. I tend to stick to the classic dog with everything, and at less than 2 bucks this dog is a bargain. Even though Hot Doug’s specializes in the gourmet craziness, his straight-up dog is the bomb. On any given day the lunch line at Hot Doug’s snakes out the door and down the street and sometimes the wait can exceed 1.5 hours. If you show up on a Friday or Saturday expect an even longer line - that’s when Doug offers his sublime fries cooked in rendered duck fat.