Here’s the thing: I love hot dogs.
Here’s another thing: when I say “love,” I mean it in an epic, Shakespearean, star-crossed sort of way. Ours is a legendary affair.
Considering my past liaisons with the hot dog, I quickly came to realize that it would be truly impossible for me to travel to Chicago and not partake in a dog or two. (Or, in this case, three.) But where to go? The city is packed with hot dog and sausage emporiums, after all, and a Google search for “Chicago hot dog” brings up a handful of local joints peddling dogs. In the end, the winner was Hot Doug’s, which in 2007 was the first Chicago restaurant to break the foie gras ban. Could there be a more perfect match for me than a hot dog seller who loves foie?
And so, less than two hours after we landed in the city, Keith and I stood in front of the Hot Doug’s menu, mulling over our options. Hot Doug’s offers about ten “regular” dogs, meaning they’re always available (though their names oftentimes change), and about six specials, which change daily. During our visit, the specials’ global influences were certainly evident, ranging from Algerian merguez to teriyaki chicken to Alsatian sausage.
Keith and I had already agreed to share “The Dog” (Chicago-style with mustard, onions pickles, relish, and tomatoes; $1.75) and the Marty Allen thuringer (made with beef, pork and garlic; $3.25), along with a large sack of fries ($2.25). The combination of our hunger and my hot dog love made us doubt two dogs for the pair of us would be enough, so we asked Doug himself to pick the third. Should we have the smoked Portuguese linguiça with smoked paprika Dijonnaise and queso Iberico ($7.00), or the ribeye steak sausage with horseradish cream sauce and smoked Cheddar?
“I’m always partial to pork,” he said, so the linguiça it was. And you know what? I think it was my favorite of the trio. The smokiness of both the linguiça and the paprika sauce was absolutely magnetic; even as Keith ate his half, my hand kept reaching for the dog. When he wasn’t looking, I dragged a few fries across the sausage’s surface, picking up as much of the Dijonnaise as I could.
The Dog was actually my first brush with the Chicago version, and I have to say that it was without a doubt love at first bite. The relish in particular was a surprising bit of loveliness, bright and sweet. The Marty Allen was also fantastic — we got it with what the menu described as caramelized onions; sautéed would be more accurate, though they were delicious nevertheless. The thuringer itself tasted like a traditional dog, but with a more intense, denser flavor. Mouthwatering stuff, these dogs.
A few things to note, if you plan on stopping by Hot Doug’s:
- Hot Doug’s is nowhere near an El stop. There is, however, a bus stop located directly across the street at the intersection of Belmont and California.
- Make sure you give yourself plenty of time at Hot Doug’s, and not just to savor the sausages. I can all but guarantee that you will encounter a line; apparently in nicer weather, it wraps around the block. I overheard an inside tip, though: call ahead to place an order for take-out, and you can skip the wait altogether.
- Hot Doug’s offers fries cooked in duck fat, but only on Fridays and Saturdays. If you’re coming in just for those, check your calendar first. (I didn’t know this, and would have been far more bummed out than I was had I not eaten duck fat fries before. They’re definitely special.)
- Technically, Hot Doug’s is open Monday through Saturday from 10.30 to 4.00, though it’s best to phone in to confirm that the restaurant is in fact open.
3324 North California Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60618