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The Dog Show Thu Sep 13 2012
Chicago is a drinking city, so come early Sunday morning once the bars close down, it's no surprise that the busiest spots in town are familiar foods catering to the less-than-sober clientele. Everyone has a favorite, whether it's a taco joint, a greasy slice of pizza, or the local McDonald's you stumble into and regret the next morning. But in a city of high- and low-brow encased meat, the weapon of choice for many of us is the mighty hot dog.
Chicago, for the most part, take its hot dog game very serious. And I'm not just talking about the strict no ketchup policy and the fiery debates over what qualifies as "Chicago Style." We've got some amazing homemade purveyors making some innovative, creative, and strange combinations. If you're a fan of the higher brow hot dog scene, you know what I'm talking about. And as much as I love my foie gras dog at Hot Doug's, the main thing I crave after a night of already poor decisions is that classic, humble hot dog.
Red Hot Ranch is a favorite of mine whether sober or not, but let's face the fact that after a few drinks, even the most mediocre hot dog will do. The bun can be stale, the casing lacking snap, and the toppings can be an afterthought, but I guarantee that if it's past 2am and past a certain amount of drinks it will be, at that moment, the best hot dog you've ever had. I proved this exact theory once with a leftover corn dog from Tastee Freeze. Imagine the sadness when I went back for that amazing corn dog during the daylight only to find the ghost of great corn dog past in its place.
Now personally, I like my drunken food experience to not involve screaming and violent threats -- I'm a more a low key type of lady -- but if you like offensive racist stereotyping when you are drunk, there is always the standby famous Wiener Circle. I've never understood the appeal, but then again I'm not a mean-spirited drunk so that might be key. I've also worked in the service industry so it's in my blood to be nice to people in that field. That does not change no matter how many drinks I've had. But the culture of late-night noshing is an interesting one, full of bleary-eyed souls acting out against some of the most hardened workers in the food industry. My first job in high school was a 24-hour diner, and the waiters during the third shift were some of the toughest people I'd ever met, full of quick wit and no-bullshit attitude.
So next time you are facing the edge of the night where you need some substance to soak up the evening, skip the tacos (unless it's Big Star, I can't argue with that) and the greasy pizza and grab yourself some dog. I'll even give you hand because who wants to try and figure these things out when most needed? So write down these options across the city, stick them in your billfold, and thank me later.
1. Red Hot Ranch
2072 N. Western Ave.
As previously mentioned, this is my personal go-to spot. I like the polish over the regular hot dog, and I love hot peppers on mine. I also like to ask for my fries extra crispy, and if your stomach feels up for it I highly suggest grabbing some fried shrimp if you feel like a late night splurge. They have a great coating to shrimp ratio, are plump and juicy, and the hot dipping sauce works perfectly to give a little bite.
2. Susie's Drive-Thru
4126 W. Montrose Ave.
We've reviewed Susie's before and spoke highly of the cheese fries, and if you are here late at night, get them. Just trust me on this. They are transcendent in this type of situation and are a sponge for soaking up alcohol. Make it easier and get the hot dog on top of the fries, and wash it all down with a shake. There will be a wait, there will be drunk people, but eating those cheese fries under the night sky is well worth it.
3. Phil's Last Stand
2258 W. Chicago Ave.
The newest of the options listed here, Phil's has already garnered a lot of press and a hearty local fan club thanks to the quality ingredients and the gluttonous indulgence of this little stand. Get a char dog done right, and if you are really needing some stick to your ribs food, grab some mac & cheese as well. Whatever you do, don't let your friends or your own brain convince you to attempt the "Fatso's Challenge" at this moment in time. You will wake to regret it, and this is one walk of shame you can't climb out a window and return home from.
4. America's Dog
2300 N. Lincoln Ave.
I'm usually not in the Lincoln Park area much late at night, but when I am I like to stop by the Lincoln Avenue location of America's Dog. Sure, the crowd is usually rude and messy (I've bussed a few tables in sympathy before) and it's not the best dog in the world, but it's a solid bet and the real draw is all the options. The spiel here is they serve up regional style hot dogs from around America, a proverbial hot dog road trip if you will. I'm a fan of the Atlanta dog, with coleslaw, chili, mustard, ketchup and onions, as well as the Baltimore dog, which is deep fried and served with melted cheddar and grilled onions. Also, they have curly fries, so come post-midnight I am totally sold on this place despite it all.