If there’s one food that Chicago can claim as its own without contention, it’s the hotdog.
What started as a Depression-era budget meal has grown into a source of pride for Chicago over the intervening years. And with that pride comes fierce loyalty – every Chicagoan has a hotdog joint they swear by, their go-to stop for a pre-game meal or late-night snack.
There’s a deep heritage to the Chicago hotdog stand – a sort of simple, exact architecture to both the shop and the dog itself, with the stands squat and colorful, and the dogs precisely layered. And while the hotdog is a relatively simple thing, each shop’s minute variations make a world of difference. For that reason, Culture Trip has gathered the top hotdog joints in the city so that you can try them all out and find which one speaks to you. Just be careful who sees you with ketchup.
The Wiener’s Circle
Restaurant, American, Fast Food
This Lincoln Park joint is legendary not only for its food but also for the verbal abuse its workers will gladly dish out on the late-night crowd. The scrappy stand has been in operation since 1983, though the insult policy wasn’t instituted until the early ’90s when owner Larry Gold found that the best way to get the attention of drunk and distracted clientele was to yell obscenities at them. Since then, it’s become a sort of rite of passage – a blustery, blissful experience that is quintessentially Chicago. It helps that its dog is a bit different, too. While it’s commonly served “all dressed up”– meaning with the classic toppings of tomato, relish, mustard, white onion, sport pepper, celery salt and a dill pickle – the wiener itself is a char dog, granting the whole thing a bit more smoke and bite than your standard steamed frank.
While the classic Chicago-style dog is hands down the reigning king of Windy City frankfurters, there are options outside of the dragged-through-the-garden variety. Take, for example, the Maxwell Street Polish, a decidedly simpler staple done exceedingly well by Jim’s Original in Little Italy. Swap out the slender beef frank for a meatier Polish sausage and the greenery for some grilled onions, and you’ve got a tried-and-true classic descended from the city’s considerable Eastern European heritage. It’s one that Jim’s Original has had time to perfect over the stand’s 80-year existence.
Devil Dawgs has a variety of all-beef hotdogs and sausages | Courtesy of Devil Dawgs
Devil Dawgs is an experience in options. For one thing, the shop has four locations spread out across the North Side, meaning you don’t have to run all across the city to find that one particular stand. It also has a variety of hotdogs – there’s everything from the classic Chicago to a Coney imitation and even a taco dog. There’s also a separate menu for the titular “Devil Dawgs,” quarter-pound grilled sausages dressed up in toppings ranging from the Chicago Polish to a kimchi-slathered Seoul Dawg. Hit one, or hit them all, and bask in the freedom of choice this great city affords you.
For another fabulous twist on the classic recipe, head either to Lakeview or Logan Square for a taste of Redhot Ranch, where four bucks get you one of the best two-for-one combos in the city. Redhot offers what’s been deemed the Depression Dog, a stripped-down variant sans all the sliced vegetables and with a hearty vein of fries packed right on top of the frank itself. It’s perfect for a grab-and-go curbside chow, main course and side dish wrapped up in one easy, delicious package.
On the other end of the variety spectrum is Wrigleyville Dogs, a standard dog-and-beef joint down the street from Wrigley Field. What you see is what you get here – your options are a Chicago dog and a Polish. You can, of course, grab a burger or Italian beef, but nothing quite matches the walkability of a hotdog, especially if you’re heading over to a game.
This Ukrainian Village stand is perhaps best known for its burger, frequently billed as one of the best in the city. But this is a hotdog list, and its garden-dragged char dog is well worth the trip, as are its world-class shakes – and its fried shrimp. Really, Fatso’s Last Stand makes this list for its sheer consistency across its whole menu – it knows how to combine buns and meat in marvelous ways. Come here for the char dog, but bring your friends and grab one of everything so that you can bask in the glory of greasy Chicago goodness.
It’d be a downright travesty to shine a light on the Cubbies’ fan food without mentioning its crosstown rivals, the White Sox, and their stadium-adjacent hotdog hut, 35th Street Red Hots. The dog is your usual Depression-style fare – fresh-cut fries rolled directly onto a Vienna frank smeared with mustard and relish. There is an option to put ketchup on your dog, surprisingly enough, but you’ll have to ring the Ketchup Bell of Shame to do so. If the public humiliation is worth a smear of the red stuff, then go right ahead.
Wolfy’s on the Far North Side has been serving up dogs for more than 50 years now, and its recipe has stayed more or less the same. The frank is Vienna beef, the pickle is a spear, and the celery salt is dusted just so over the top. It’s an original, an icon, an encapsulation of what the Chicago dog means – history, heritage and a sense of belonging to a neighborhood as well as a city. Wolfy’s is a bit out of the realm of skyscrapers, but it’s well worth the hike to dine at a joint that’s been doing it the Chicago way for so long.