Chicago Hot Dogs
The hot dogs in this town are missing the one thing that most Americans consider essential: ketchup. Upon first encountering a Chicago dog, tourists are known to exclaim, “A hot dog without ketchup?!” To which locals in the know reply, “Damn straight.” Out-of-towners, take note: A Chicago-style dog is an all-beef hot dog (Vienna Beef, preferably) on a poppy seed bun with mustard, onion, sweet pickle relish (it’s got to be the neon green kind), a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, sport peppers, and celery salt. Some varieties exist, and everyone’s got an opinion about who does them best. Here are five of our faves:
Hot Doug’s offers the standard Chicago-style hot dog along with many sublimely unique options — like the Port and Cassis Smoked Venison Sausage, served smothered in a black currant-brandy sauce, and blue cheese. You’ll have to wait in line for a few hours to grab your dog, but it’s worth it for the warm, chewy buns alone. Many loyalists swear this is the best dog on the menu, and Doug himself will give you a friendly earful if you attempt to order it with ketchup. We like to go on Fridays and Saturdays to order duck fat fries on the side. (Note: Doug will not put cheese on your duck fat fries).
It’s pretty hard to miss Superdawg. A huge neon sign featuring boy and girl hot dogs winking at one another sits atop this classic joint. A throwback to the drive-ins of the 1950s, car hops bring your food out to you at this neighborhood favorite near Norwood Park. The dogs here fit the name; they’re super-sized. They’ve been serving boxes of the jumbo Chicago-style Superdawg here since 1948, and the recipe hasn’t changed: pure beef dog, Spanish onions, tangy piccalilli, kosher pickle, and of course, mustard.
The Wiener’s Circle is a favorite late-night Chicago dog destination. With the classic toppings served and late-night crowds, this Lincoln Park spot screams greasy and good. The crowd is rowdy and the servers take a certain pride in being rude, but it all adds to the experience. Chicago-style dogs complete with neon-green relish and TWO pickles, are grilled to order. We suggest you ask ‘em to char yours.
The oldest hot dog joint on our list lies in Bucktown; George’s Hot Dogs has been around since 1948 and isn’t likely to go out of style any time soon. This family-owned restaurant delivers all over the city and offers several types of dogs and sausages, along with the best gyros you’ll find outside of Greektown. The hot dogs are pure Vienna beef, and your food doesn’t hit the grill until you order it at George’s.
Portillo’s Hot Dogs is called by its owner, “the finest in Chicago street food” and indeed the whole enterprise started out in 1963 as one street cart. The famous chain of stores has over 45 locations and serves signature hot dogs and Polish sausages. The river north location has sports memorabilia from momentous Chicago wins and a 1940s feel (each Portillo’s has a different theme). For a simple Chicago hot dog that’s easy to find (with about 30 locations in the Chicagoland area), Portillo’s has you covered.
Photo: Jeremy Keith