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Chicago’s Hottest Dogs

Marcus Nilsson Chicago hot dogs

Photo: Marcus Nilsson

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.

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