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The 10 Best Hot Dogs In Chicago

By Staff in Food on Jul 2, 2014 9:00PM

It's no surprise that July is National Hot Dog month in America, where summertime is synonymous with firing up the grill and having a classic cookout. And Chicago is a hot dog loving town, from the high brow to the bare basics, we sure do love our encased meat.

First, we have to give a nod to Hot Doug's, who we've left off our list since Doug is closing up shop in just a few months. And we do not need to encourage those lines to be any longer than they already are. But Doug knows we love him and we'll shed a tear when we can longer celebrate Duck Fat Fryday. You'll also see some familiar favorites from our list last year, but this time around we tried to expand to some lesser known spots and places that offer even more variety when it comes to the meat, toppings and even buns when you order up your dog. So grab a greasy sack, hold the ketchup (most of the time) and share with us your favorites in the comments so we can all get our hot dog on this July.

(Jimmy's Red Hots/Facebook)

Jimmy’s Red Hots
This isn’t my first time writing about my love of encased meat on local news sites. I’ve long been a fan of the humble hot dog, something that can be both cheap and simple or dressed up with all sorts of fancy ingredients. There is just so much variety in the hot dog world, as long as you have passion and good ingredients your dogs will shine. And one of those classic spots in Chicago that has been shining for over 50 years is Jimmy’s Red Hots. Jimmy’s is no frills: cash only, just a tiny walk up window, simple menu and no ketchup. Follow the rules, grab your grub and be on your way. What matter is Jimmy’s does a Chicago classic perfectly. Their Depression Dog is snappy and flavorful, nestled instead a fluffy steamed bun, topped with the usual fixings including some of the hottest and most plump sport peppers I’ve seen around. And loaded on top is their fries, thick pillows that although aren’t the most crispy, they are full of rich potato flavor. The grease soaks right through the bag before you can even tear into your meal, so grab some napkins. Head to Jimmy’s and buy yourself a few rounds of dogs then find a spot to soak up the sun in nearby Humboldt Park. It’s a perfect Chicago afternoon. — Lisa White

Jimmy’s Red Hots is located at 4000 W. Grand Ave.

Red Hot Ranch
This humble hot dog shack on Western Avenue, wedged in between Bucktown and Logan Square, serves up a mean variation of what some say is the original Chicago Style Hot Dog--the Depression Dog. Red Hot Ranch’s dog is a classic Vienna Beef served up on a plain bun, with the perfect smattering of yellow mustard, onions, relish and spicy sport peppers with a heaping pile of freshly made crisp hand-cut fries right on top. The whole experience is a delicious mess that you can order up even after bar close, just be sure to have a few extra dollars of cash on you. We hear you can also ask for ketchup, but trust us, they better just be for the fries. — Gina Provenzano

Red Hot Ranch is located at 2072 N. Western Ave. Cash only.

While the hot dog is usually a deliciously cheap eat on a summers day, Allium’ offers a renovated, artisanal take with their signature dish. Their Chicago-style hot dog has house-made everything, from the house-ground beef hot dog to the poppy seed bun. The extra fatty dog is served in a build-your-own style: topped with a pickle spear and propped atop a tray with chopped onions, sport peppers, tomatoes, baby squirt bottles of condiments, and a small satchel of fries. The presentation is endearing, but the beauty is in the high-quality ingredients and the delicious execution: snappy, unctuous, crunchy and proud like a Chicago dog should be, but with elegance. The meal comes at you for $14, staggering compared to your everyday ballpark frank but worth every dollar. — Erika Kubick

Allium is located in the Four Seasons Hotel, 120 E. Delaware Place.

Growing up, hot dogs were that thing you ate when your parents wanted a break from cooking, that you pulled from greasy packages and boiled or “nuked” and stuffed into sad store-bought buns. As such, I had no strong affection towards them, and in fact shunned them altogether after Upton Sinclair temporarily made me a vegetarian. But once out on my own exploring the food we’re known for here...Superdawg changed my mind. Hot dogs seem simple, but they’re not when they’re done right, and Superdawg is the standard. They have the beautiful snap we’ve come to expect from the Vienna Dogs that abound in the area, but their own unique (and in my opinion unmatched) beef flavor. It’s unique because Superdawg has their dogs made just for them, and this is one thing I think sets them apart. Chicago dogs include a lot of elements, and from top to bottom Superdawg takes care with each one. The green tomatoes have a perfect tang, the sport peppers a fantastic heat that doesn’t overpower the beef flavor, a balancing sourness in the sci-fi-green relish, and onions diced perfectly to add to each bite. The bun is soft and seeded just right, and the delivery, in its own little box of honor atop’s just fun, like the drive-in itself. I never thought I’d be one to say “I am really craving a hot dog right now…” but Superdawg has made me a believer. Side note: Also try the chocolate chip cookies. Trust me on this. — Marielle Shaw

Superdawg’s original location is at 6363 N Milwaukee Ave, with a second location in Wheeling at 333 Milwaukee Ave.

Vienna Beef Factory Store & Cafe
Nine times out of ten, a Chicago dog comes from Vienna Beef. So why not get one right from the source! The factory store & cafe is actually attached to the factory that turns out Chicago’s favorite hot dogs, and doubles as the lunch room for the guys who literally know how the sausage is made. The cafe serves up a full menu of deli sandwiches, Italian beef, and burgers, as well as dogs, polish sausages and other encased meats plus the typical deli sides. And there’s also a full selection of hot dogs available in bulk and packaged to take home for your grill, including less common sizes (giant ΒΌ lb. dinner franks!) and the sometimes difficult to find natural casing hot dogs. — Benjy Lipsman

Vienna Beef Factory Store & Cafe is located at 2501 N Damen Ave.

(Johnny O's/Facebook)

Johnny O’s
Last year I profiled 35th Street Red Hots, the sister restaurant to Red Hot Ranch and Wiener Circle, in our best hot dogs list. If you aren’t a fan of Depression-style hot dogs, walk a mile west to this 40-year-old spot that serves up a tasty, crisp classic Chicago-style dog. The outdoor seating is plentiful and Johnny O’s re-opened their indoor restaurant last year to fill the void left behind by the closing of the Ramova Grill. Either space is acceptable for enjoying their hot dog and you can wash it down with some nice adult beverages purchased from the adjoining package store. —Chuck Sudo

Johnny O’s is located at 3465 S. Morgan St.

Although I’ve lived in Bridgeport for 15 years I’m a proud born and bred son of Chicago’s Northwest side and it’s nice to see this Harlem Avenue joint still around after more than 40 years. The Chicago-style dog here is served picture perfect, with liberal amounts of neon green relish, onions, mustard and tomato slices. You will need to specify whether you want sport peppers, though. —Chuck Sudo

Franksville is located at 3550 N. Harlem Ave.

Wiener Circle
Yes, Wiener Circle has an infamous reputation for the late night antics between the staff and douchebag customers. We’re not referring to that Wiener Circle--avoid at all costs after midnight! We’re recommending the version that exists during normal meal hours, and it one of those consummate Chicago neighborhood hot dog stands. Whether you want your dog boiled or char grilled, they serve ‘em as Chicago as they come… mustard, relish, chopped onion, tomato slices, pickle spear, sport peppers, and a sprinkle of celery salt on a poppy seed bun. Pair it with an overflowing order of cheese fries. Grab a stool inside looking out over Clark St., or if the weather’s nice take a seat on one of the sidewalk picnic tables. But whatever you do, DO NOT order a chocolate shake! — Benjy Lipsman

Wiener Circle is located at 2622 N. Clark St.

(Photo: Lisa White)

Budacki’s Drive In
As a vegetarian, I’ll never truly experience a “Chicago Style” hot dog, but the veggie dog at Budacki’s Drive In gets pretty close. Prices are incredibly reasonable; just make a note that it’s cash only. For 5 bucks you can get a veggie dog, soda and fries. Since it’s not a late-night spot, it closes at 8 pm Monday-Saturday, and it’s “all the way up” in Ravenswood, Budacki’s manages to stay pretty low-key. Think of it as the antithesis of the Wiener Circle. With limited seating your best bet is to go on a sunny day and take your food with you to the handful of picnic tables set up in the parking lot. Then chow down on some sport peppers. — Allison Kelley

Budacki’s Drive In is located at 4739 N Damen Ave.

Don’s Drive In
Superdawg isn’t the only hot dog joint in Chicago with a cartoonish hot dog on the roof begging you to eat him. This Ashburn restaurant would be so small you would pass it by if not for the hot dog on the roof slathering himself in condiments and stopping here is worth it. The hot dog here is a prototypical Chicago-style dog, with a Vienna Beef frank, neon green relish, and poppy seed bun. —Chuck Sudo

Don’s Drive Inn is located at 7748 S. Kedzie Ave.

The restaurants below have sadly closed since this article's original publication. Squeeze some mustard out for 'em.

Wiener and Still Champion
I don’t own a car and I live off the Blue Line near Logan Square, so a hot dog shack all the way up Evanston is a pretty long trek for me. Yet I still find myself making the journey or hopping in a Zipcar for a few hours when I need my fix of Wiener and Still Champion. The owner Gus is a true made genius when it comes to a deep fryer and his passion for his menu shines through in the fun he has with food. Besides the crazy dipping sauces and deep fried country bacon, the menu contains a few hot dog options. My all time favorite is the Dippin’ Dogs, their version of a corn dog, which is encased in their homemade batter, perfectly fried and delicious. It’s my favorite corn dog in all of the land. Another stellar hot dog selection is their bacon dog, where they wrap their all-beef hot dog in bacon, drop it in the fryer and let the bacon crisp. It reminds me of the bacon wrapped cheese dogs my dad would make during summers on the grill growing up. You can top it with your choice, but I always add some cheese and ketchup (yes, I know) for the nostalgia of my own youth. Also because the ketchup brings out that sweetness of the bacon. Wiener and Still Champion will never stop being a winner in my heart. — Lisa White

Wiener and Still Champion is located at 802 Dempster St. in Evanston.

The Salsa Truck’s Garage
Every Friday is Chicago Style Day at The Salsa Truck Garage. That means delicious classic Chicago hot dogs and some of their own takes like the Sonoran Hot Dog, which is wrapped in bacon and topped with black beans and chipotle crema. — Melissa McEwen

The Salsa Truck Garage is located at 116 N Aberdeen St.

Hoppin Hots
I might love me a cheap classic hot dog in a pillowy bun, but for my friends who choose to dine meat free or find their bodies not agreeing with gluten, I understand finding a hot dog can be a challenge when you crave some classic tubular meat. Thankfully Hoppin Hots in Andersonville caters to all sorts of hot dog fans with their variety of creative ingredients and the ability to customize your dog. First off you pick your meat, either a beef, duck or veggie dog. Outside of the bun, all their dogs are gluten free, but where is the fun in a bun-less dog? Thankfully you can upgrade to a gluten free bun at Hoppin Hots. Next you decide on which creative dog to nosh on, and thankfully the menu lets you know which options can be made vegetarian friendly. They’ve got a variety of interesting toppings but I appreciate their take on the classic Chicago dog. They mix it up with a fried pickle, tomato jam, a jalapeno mustard and house pickled celery. Word of the wise, they do have some strange hours, a sometimes common theme with hot dog stands, so check their website before you go. — Lisa White

Hoppin Hots is located at 1477 W. Balmoral.