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Feature Fri Jul 18 2008
People have been talking a lot about hot dogs lately, and with the declaration of tomorrow being "National Hot Dog Day" by Evanston tube steak aficionados Wiener and Still Champion ($1 hot dogs will be sold all day!), we thought we'd take a minute to give props to some of the great places that sell our friend in the poppy seed bun.
21 E. Adams St.
(additional locations in Lincoln Park, Randolph Street and Navy Pier)
I have something weird to admit. I rarely eat Chicago-style hot dogs in Chicago. I don't know why — maybe if I lived closer to the Weiner’s Circle or frequented more sporting events... but even those are lame excuses, because I'm down the street from Rock Star Dogs and honestly, who needs sports as an excuse to eat a hot dog? They're delicious all the time! But it seems that the only times I've really dug into an old-school Vienna Beef Chicago dog with neon relish, celery salt, sport peppers, tomato wedge, onion and mustard is when I'm on the road somewhere else. If I'm not tempted by another city's wiener variation. Regional hot dog variations seem to be very en vogue right now, with various geographic oddities popping up on menus all over the place. Like a Southern-style dog with coleslaw or chili, right there in the bun. Or, even better, BOTH coleslaw and chili! Maybe a Wisconsin dog (okay, brat), smothered in sauerkraut and grilled onions. Or a Jersey deep-fried dog. Oh yes.
This phenomenon was not lost on the local founders of America's Dog, who decided to build a whole restaurant chain around the idea of regional tube meat variations. With 13 "city dogs," (and a geographically unspecific veggie dog option), America's Dog has the standards covered, as well as a few surprises. Like the Buffalo Dog, which is exactly what it sounds like (buffalo sauce, blue cheese, celery salt) but wouldn't be a combination that normally crossed my mind. I played it safe with the Des Moines Dog on a recent visit — a good old-fashioned corndog, perfectly crisp (I watched the deep-frying myself), and wonderfully meaty. America's Dog goes for the traditional Vienna Beef, and I would say gets extra props for being one of the just darn cutest hot doggeries I've ever seen. Red walls, with black framed and randomly spaced photographs that pop against the dark booths and tables, and a map of the founder's hot dog research road trip covers one wall. It's kind of adorable — on Adams Street! Right next to the El! Apparently hot dog vendors are just as full of surprises these days as hot dogs themselves seem to be. Maybe next time I'm there I'll actually get the Chicago Dog. But I wouldn't bet on it.
4739 N. Damen Ave.
Budacki’s is run by a Korean couple and is a local fast food joint. You know the type — most of the basics are covered: burgers, fries, hot dogs, grilled chicken sandwiches, gyros, etc. But they do offer a veggie dog. And a Chicago-style veggie dog no less. I ordered one, with all the fixins. Despite having lived in Chicago for a long time, I’d never had a Chicago-style dog. I was surprised on all counts. Veggie dogs can be really bland sometimes. No smoked flavor, none of that meaty texture, and they end up being the limp — *ahem* — things that they are. But Budacki’s has a solid veggie dog. Good flavor and holds up well to the strong Chicago-style flavors. A good dog if you’re in the area, though I’m not sure if it’s worth going out of your way for.
3324 N. California Ave.
What more can be said about Hot Doug’s that hasn’t already been said? They’ve always had a veggie dog on the menu and for many a vegetarian, this has been a godsend whenever they’ve been dragged by their friends to this encased meats mecca. The Pete Shelley, as it’s currently called, is a solid, meaty veggie dog. As with all of Doug’s dogs, fixins are up to you. Let’s put it this way: eating a veggie dog here is like having one of Sohn’s regular basic dogs — it’s not having one of the "specials."
1507 W. Balmoral Ave.
Huey’s is a small-ish hot dog staple in Andersonville. All prices included fries (which is welcome and solid) and they offer a veggie dog that is hands down my favorite veggie dog to get in the city. The reason why? The dogs are plump, relatively dense and if I didn’t know better, I'd think they were meat dogs. The factor that beats the rest of the veggie dogs I’ve has is that they char the dog to give it some caramelization and an authentic smokey taste. For the win, my friends.
Byron’s Hot Dogs
1017 W. Irving Park Blvd.
(additional locations in Ravenswood and Forest Park)
He could tell I was a virgin. When he asked me how I wanted it — my hot dog, that is — I hesitated.
"Give it to me the way they like it around here," I said.
"I’ll hook you up — Chicago style," he replied with a wink.
A couple of minutes later, he slipped me an all-beef Vienna frank nestled in a steamed bun, topped with mustard, onions, relish, tomato, cucumber, green pepper and celery salt. The generous side of steaming hot shoestring fries teased me from within their glistening paper bag, but I devoted my full attention to the dog. Every bite was a new sensation — tangy, salty, juicy, sweet. I knew then and there I had a serious new crush: Byron’s on Irving Park and Sheridan.
Next time I go, it won’t be my first time. I’ll know better. I’ll order the foot long.
6363 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Superdawg opened in 1948 and quickly became a landmark thanks to the big winking statues of two hot dogs — one in a cave man toga, the other in a blue dress — on the roof. But the restaurant's real claim to fame is its signature Superdawg Chicago-style hot dog. The sausage is made from a special secret recipe only for them — it's a little thicker and juicier than your standard dog, with a distinctive snap to the casing, and it's topped with all the standard trimmings, including one of the best pickle spears I've had on in the city. They're served in a retro box with a side of crinkle-cut fries right to your window by a carhop (or go to the window and order if you like). My only complaint is those crinkle-cut fries ‐ being enclosed in that box causes them to steam a bit and lose some of their crispiness. But the great hot dog and kitschy atmosphere make up for it.
1300 N. Milwaukee Ave.
(additional location at 3031 W. 111th St.)
As one of many spots feeding Wicker Park's hunger for vegan food, Veggie Bite has done with their hot dog the same magic they've served up in gyros, meatballs and nuggets. That is, a juicy and tender fake meat that seems to have lured back at least one bacon-lover. A person working their counter confirmed they'd serve me one Chicago-style. Then, he asked me if I wanted celery salt. Just like it should be, I confirmed. He turned the order back to the kitchen, and later seemed to correct them with a comment like: No ketchup, mustard. The juicy dog was tender, and its bun hearty. Sure enough, celery salt and mustard made their scheduled appearances - without ketchup. My side of fries was hot and crispy. If was still hungry, I'd be going back for a chocolate shake — vegan, like everything else at Veggie Bite.
Hot Diggity Dogs
251 E. Ohio Ave.
On the corner of Fairbanks and Ohio is a parking lot that’s always chock full of cars. One corner of the space, however, is reserved for a little white building that houses Hot Diggity Dogs. Sitting in a neighborhood that houses mammoth condo buildings and upscale eateries, you wouldn’t expect this place to be that great or distinctively Chicago. But when you walk into Hot Diggity Dogs, you know you’re in a legit joint: a framed, signed promo photo of NBC’s Anna Davlantes hangs on the wall. The menu that hangs on the wall is of the moveable letter persuasion, the kind you see at small-town ice cream stands. The guy who took my order had a thick Chicago accent. They sell fountain drinks, cheese fries and pizza puffs. And of course, they sell hot dogs.
I’ve worked in this neighborhood for a few years and have never visited Hot Diggity Dogs, as I’ve tried to avoid greasy foods that guarantee a junk food-induced mind block that makes the afternoon seem like a blurry, heavy eternity. However, my goal was to get in there and sample the goods.
The place is busy with office workers and hospital employees — the actual restaurant has some small counter space where customers can look out the windows as they chow down, and a few picnic tables outdoors for the more adventurous types — and a huge amount of tourists, one of whom was snapping pictures and heaping praise on the staff for his meal. I was tempted to order the Polish, but I went with the Chicago Dog with everything (gulp) and the Fresh Strawberry Shake. My colleague had a Chili Dog and Cheese Fries. Both our meals cost under $10.
Images aside, this place is good, solid junk food. If you’re going to soak your innards in fat and calories, I recommend this place. The Chicago Dog was great (I often forget about the nice juxtaposition of the crunchy, vinegary pickle slice with the hot dog), and the Fresh Strawberry Shake (at a whopping $3.50) is completely worth the visit alone — it had real bits of strawberry in it, and great flavor. The fries were surprisingly light and crispy. We both agreed we would come back, even if we needed a nap afterward.