Marcus Nilsson

The Windy City may have banned foie gras, but there’s no putting the kibosh on their hometown franks. T+L found the best in town, bite by bite.

Francine Maroukian
April 06, 2009

Hot Dog Lore

Ever since Austro-Hungarian immigrants Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany introduced Vienna-style red hots at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, hot dogs—and the stands that sell them—have become central to the city’s food infrastructure. Chicago hot dogs aren’t just served; they’re built. A red hot sits on a bun beneath a specific layering of condiments, with lots of colors, textures, and mingling flavors. If you want it all, order your dog dragged, walked, or run (depending on who you ask) "through the garden." For around $6, it’s an inexpensive meal found in humble surroundings, but that’s no reason to settle for just any wiener. T+L set out to find the best of the best, for the dog days of summer.

The Classic

Get it here In an old mom-and-pop–style storefront, Murphy’s Red Hots (1211 W. Belmont Ave., Lakeview; 773/ 935-2882) has wooden floors and cheery red-vinyl tablecloths for a cozy, pub-like feel. Best bites After 20 years, genial Bill Murphy has mastered every detail of the authentic red hot: a perfectly cooked Vienna Beef dog with a snappy natural casing on a warm, but not soggy, S. Rosen poppy-seed bun piled with impeccable condiments.

The Classic with an Accent

Get it here Former cookbook-editor Doug Sohn presides over what he calls his sausage superstore and encased-meat emporium, Hot Doug’s (3324 N. California Ave., Avondale; 773/279-9550). Best bites Balancing tradition and change, Sohn creates well-made native dogs plus international daily specials like "saucisse de Toulouse with sauce moutarde and Bergkase cheese" and a side of duck-fat fries.

The Classic with Car Service

Get it here The swirling neon gives a naïvely futuristic look—very 21st- century as imagined in the 1940’s—at Superdawg Drive-in (6363 N. Milwaukee Ave., Gladstone Park; 773/763-0660). The 12-foot-tall fiberglass hot dog couple on the roof is an homage to founders Maurie and Flaurie Berman, high school sweethearts who married in 1947. Best bites Roll down your window, speak into the "Suddenserve" squawk box, and await a tray bearing your Superdawg on a cushion of fries.

Franks with Sass

Get it here Don’t bring the kids after dark. Open late nights (until 5 a.m. on weekends), Wiener’s Circle (2622 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park; 773/477-7444) is best known for tough talk from the ribald—some say outright rude—counter help trying to keep the rowdy post-bar crowd in line. Best bites This no-frills hot dog stand serves some of the city’s crispest fries.

Location, Location, Location

Get it here The touristville location, across the street from the original Rock ’n’ Roll McDonald’s, is jarring. Although it is now part of the largest privately owned restaurant company in the Midwest, the hot dogs at Portillo’s (100 Ontario St., River North; 312/587-8910) are hard to put down—they are direct descendants of those served at the original trailer stand, opened in 1963. Best bites Try the messy chili dog—laden with homemade chili con carne.

Spicy Sausage

Get it here The iconic 40-foot fork spearing a red hot at Wolfy’s (2734 W. Peterson Ave., West Rogers Park; 773/ 743-0207) was featured in the film While You Were Sleeping. Best bites You can get every breed of dog here, but the real star is the Char-Polish, a well-seasoned all-beef sausage with crackly skin, adorned with grilled onions, mustard, tomatoes, and pickles.

Garden Variety

Get it here Go beyond the conventional concoction and choose from an array of fresh toppings at pared-down Byron’s (1017 W. Irving Park Rd., Lakeview; 773/281-7474), tucked away in a neighborhood setting with shady outdoor picnic tables. Best bites Salad-like add-ons such as cucumbers, curlicues of lettuce, and green peppers give at least the appearance of a healthy dog.

  • Poppy-seed bun from the old-world S. Rosen bakery
  • All-natural all-beef hot dog from Vienna Beef
  • Yellow mustard
  • Chopped white onion
  • Sweet green-pickle relish (dyed a glowing kryptonite green)
  • Dill-pickle spear
  • Sprinkle of celery salt
  • Sport peppers (small jalapeños)
  • Sliced tomatoes

Byron’s

This little rectangular, white building with big yellow signs near the Sheridan El stop on Irving Park Road is popular with baseball fans headed to nearby Wrigley Field. Serving loaded Chicago-style hot dogs and Polish sausages, Byron’s Hot Dogs has had the honor of making its hot dogs at a White House picnic in 2011. The Vienna-beef dogs come in small, jumbo, and Dogzilla sizes, and there are 11 toppings such as cucumbers, peppers, onions, and tomato. Fries can be ordered with cheese or tossed with celery salt in a paper bag.

Wolfy’s

Since it first opened in 1967, Wolfy's has been known for its take on the traditional Chicago-style hot dog. The diner has a retro look, with red -inyl booths, a painted Chicago cityscape, and classic works of art sprinkled with Wolfy's products, like the Mona Lisa holding a box of fries and a drink. But this is more than just a hot dog joint; they also serve burgers, polish sausages, Italian beef sandwiches, and thin-cut fries. Traditionalists, however, still order the Vienna beef Chicago dog, with onions, a dill-pickle wedge, tomatoes, and celery salt. 

Catalan

Wieners Circle

Don't be fooled by its shabby appearance. When Danny Meyer was developing the Shake Shack menu, he turned to this 1980s strip-mall relic for frankfurter inspiration. And these char-grilled jobs remain Meyer's favorite bun-pocketed specimens outside New York. During weekdays, the Wieners Circle is a lunch-only operation, but on weekends, when it stays open 'til 5 a.m., it's a hub for late-night revelers.

Superdawg Drive-in

Chicago hot-dog lovers tend to lie in one of two camps—the newfangled spot Hot Doug's or this Windy City classic. Superdawg is an old-school, 1950s-style diner that was ahead of the curve when it opened in 1948. You can still order up your dog via outside speakers (real Order-Matics), and a waitress will come attach a tray to the side of your car. There's nothing fancy here: the Superdawg is a juicy, pure-beef dog with the city's signature battery of garnishes on a standard poppy-seed bun.

Hot Doug's

"The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium" is how Doug's describes itself, so you know it takes the item between the bun most seriously. The dogs' names, however, are more playful, like The Elvis (smoked Polish sausage), The Paul Kelly (beer-soaked bratwurst), and The Salma Hayek (the "Mighty, mighty, mighty hot!" andouille). Every day—closing time is at 4 p.m.—brings a special or two, like a spicy Thai chicken or curry lamb sausage. Despite the wide range of links, The Dog—a Chicago-style sample with the quintessential trimmings—is de rigueur. On Fridays and Saturdays, insiders know to stop by for the deliciously decadent Duck Fat Fries.

Murphy’s Red Hots

In the mid 1980s, Bill Murphy opened a hotdog stand in Lakeview to put himself through architect school. Soon after, though, he realized his calling to serve some of the finest split and grilled Vienna Beef links in the Windy City. His small shop is now located in an older home with limited seating, but since it’s close to Wrigley Field, most diners just grab one on the go. Branch out from the usual toppings, and take your dog on a “walk through the garden,” adding mustard, relish, onion, pickle, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, celery salt and sport peppers.

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