Concerning Chicago Style Hot Dogs (Chicago, IL)

One of the great things about hot dogs is that they really do have a fair bit of regional variation. I’ve had “rippers” from Rutt’s Hut in New Jersey. I’ve had Coney Islands in Detroit (not to be confused with a Nathan’s hot dog from the actual Coney Island). I’ve had Rochester whites. Rochester red hots. Carolina slaw dogs. The list goes on.

One of my favorite varieties, however, is the Chicago-style Hot Dog. Not content to just have an hot dog on a bun, Chicagoans demand that pretty much every aspect of the hot dog is pimped. The hot dog itself must be all-beef (preferably Vienna brand). The bun should have poppy seeds on it. The preferred condiments are chopped onions, sliced tomatoes, livid-green relish, celery salt, a pickle, and just enough “sport peppers” lined up to match the length of the hot dog. It’s known as “draggin’ it through the garden,” and, quite frankly, I like the result, even if it does bury the hot dog a little bit.

It also has several subtle variations at different Chicago-area eateries. Some places steam or boil the dog. Some places grill it to put a char on it. And some places, if you order two, will give you one boiled and one charred. Some places grill the onion.

None of them will give you ketchup. Which is a good thing.

However, one of the odd problems I’ve had with Chicago dogs is that most of my trips to Chicago involve downtown, and it’s really hard to find a good Chicago Dog downtown. Heck, it’s hard to find just about any Chicago Dog within easy walking distance of the Magnificent Mile . The one exception this trip was Portillo’s, which at least has one location a few blocks west of Michigan.

However, despite it’s chronic ranking of #1 or #2 on most “Best Chicago Dogs” lists, I usually find it a little lacking. For example, my latest dog (at right) was hastily assembled and deficient in sport peppers. Not a bad dog, but not the best.

Oddly, the dogs I can get at Midway airport (either from Superdawg, another perennially top-ranked Chicago area chaing), Gold Coast, or even “” at the end of A concourse all seem to be of decent quality, and better than what I usually get at Portillo’s (the picture at the top of the article is from The condiments are plentiful and properly proportioned. Alas, none of these have the char I really like.

This is contrasted with O’hare, where my hot dogs are always a little odd. My last trip (at right) resulted in the oddly symmetric but difficult to eat dog at the left. I’m not sure the food service workers at O’hare “get it.”

For the record, however, my favorites for a good Chicago Dog are the Weiner’s Circle (everyone needs to go there at least once at night for the experience, although I find you get a better dog with much less waiting during the day). I’m disappointed I couldn’t get up that way this visit.

Superdawg is usually reliable, but most Superdawgs you can’t get a charred dog. Portillo’s? Usually disappointing.

And don’t even think of getting a dog at Wrigley Field. For a city that loves hot dogs, they suck.

In any case, that’s my take on the Chicago Dog.

3 Responses

  1. alphageek 09 Jun 2012 at 20:21 #

    This article is a great rundown of how something can be the same, yet still have that little touch that makes each one unique. I am inspired to take this idea another stop further, and do something along the lines of comparing kung pao chicken, or something else that an area is not know for, but that everyone likes to eat. I suspect there are many more differences than I have noticed in the past.

  2. Jim 07 Sep 2014 at 20:39 #

    “None of them will give you ketchup. Which is a good thing.”


    Ketchup is the #1 main topping to put on a hot dog. If you only put one thing on a hot dog it’s ketchup. A Chicago-style hot dog has way too much vinegary stuff, relish, pickle, mustard and the peppers(which appear to also be pickled).

  3. AJ 16 Mar 2016 at 16:45 #

    Mustard is more important than ketchup in the NY metro area. As for Chicago dogs, they suck.

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