#29. Little Island from Chicago's 29 Best Hot Dogs

Chicago's 29 Best Hot Dogs

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Arthur Bovino

#29. Little Island

At the intersection of three incredibly busy roads — Crawford Avenue, Gross Point Road, and Central Street — in suburban Evanston, just 12 miles north of downtown, sits Little Island, what has to be one of the city’s most inconvenient hot dog stands. This is the kind of place that if you know and love it, you have your parking planned out as you approach, and if you don’t, and you’re noticing it for the first time, you’re probably going to have to loop around it to figure out your parking situation. It’s a tight space with blue walls, a few red booths, and most likely, a game on. There are more sandwiches than you’ll know what to do with — chicken, fish, and Italian — and one of the odder ordering situations you’ll have experienced (you look over a counter and down into the kitchen), but Little Island started as a hot dog stand at the suggestion of Whitey Siegel to his daughter Joanne and son-in-law Jerry Pincus, and the hot dog is still a good reason to navigate the island. Roughly cut onions, a healthy amount of both relish and mustard, and a respectfully heavy dash of celery salt make this a worthwhile stop.

Arthur Bovino

#28. Express Grill Dog

In the '50s, relative Tom Lazerevski opened a similar stand to Jim’s Original nearby called Express Grill. That may seem strange. Stranger, they were moved twice due to a University of Illinois at Chicago expansion: in 2001 and 2005. It’s hard to describe why and how these two places and their proximity to each other near the corner of Union Avenue and James Rochford Streets make sense, other than to say there’s an old-school kinship in place and preparation. At Express, the hot dog setup is similar to Jim’s. There’s that free bag of mushy fries (that’s not without its charm), and a dog on a bun bare of poppy seeds, that’s topped with grilled onions and mustard. There’s still a snap, but perhaps a bit less than at Jim’s, but when it comes to separating these two places, it’s really about splitting hairs, or how your allegiance formed.

Arthur Bovino

#27. Jim’s Original

"The Great Vest-Side," the area near Little Italy along Roosevelt Road, was once home of legendary Chicago hot dog spot Fluky’s, which Bob Schwartz of Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog Fame notes was one of the few stands in the city that could walk deliveries back to the Vienna Beef factory. The same was true of Jim’s Original on Maxwell and Halsted, which Jimmy Stefanovic took over from his aunt, keeping it open 24 hours a day, and bringing his Eastern European touch: polish sausages, sweet onions, and bone-in pork chop sandwich with mustard, onions, and peppers. As anyone who has visited knows, it’s a gruff situation, and dog. Opting for the closest you can get to Chicago-style means ordering the Vienna Beef Hot Dog, a "generous size, steamed Vienna Beef hot dog served on a steamed bun [no poppy seeds] with a layer of yellow salad mustard, topped with a mountain of sweet colossal Spanish onions grilled to perfection, and with an abundance of spicy hot sport peppers." A bag of french fries is included without charge (that’s nice, though the fries are a bit mushy). The dog is super snappy, more so than most others on this list, but there are no poppy seeds, the dark peppers feel a bit off, the grilled onions don’t offer the same bite, and of course, there are no tomatoes, pickles, or relish. It’s not a bad dog, it’s just not a superior Chicago-style dog the way all these toppings have come to be accepted together.

Arthur Bovino

#26. Gold Coast Dog

These days, there’s little left of the charm and personal touch at Gold Coast Dogs that’s detailed in Bob Schwartz’s Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog that once characterized it. The stand, which was founded in 1985 by Barry Potekin (who had washed out in the commodity business), is said to have produced good food at a time when it wasn’t the modus operandi of the typical stand (especially in the downtown Loop). There are now five locations (two at O’Hare and one at Midway), but Potekin and his partner Paul Michaels divested themselves of Gold Coast more than a decade ago. And while there are still standard-bearing hot dogs, there’s little personal touch. What Gold Coast may lack in charm, it makes up in char. These are some juicy red tomato-laden, char-grilled dogs with split ends that flay open in quarters like some crazy, juicy-crunchy hot dog end propellers on either side of the bun. 

Arthur Bovino

#25. Pluto’s Original Beef & Hot Dogs

Frequently, a theme also serves as a warning alert to stay far away from a restaurant. So you can be forgiven if the outer-space design and signs ("You just landed at Pluto’s," and "You’ll be blown out of this world!") have kept you more than a few hot dog links away. That’s a shame, because Pluto’s on South Cicero Avenue just south of West 103rd Street in Oak Lawn makes a perfectly fine, slightly relish-heavy Chicago-style hot dog — though poppy seeds are missing, and you do have to do a little work for it (sport peppers were by request, huh?). For those willing to venture off the hot dog trail, there’s "The Meteor," a triple burger with gyro meat shavings, cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles, and sautéed onions on a moist sesame-seed bun. Purists are bound to be suspicious. Ignore them. It’s a ridiculous burger, but one too good to pass up. 

Arthur Bovino

#24. Jimmy’s Red Hots

You have to admire the ardor and passion at this Chicago West Side icon; it takes the "no ketchup" position very seriously. There are signs on the wall and a vehement explanation of their position on their site that makes everything very clear: "There is absolutely, positively, without question NO FREAKING KETCHUP AT JIMMY’S! No means no. It doesn’t mean maybe on the side, in the bottles, or even in packs. Placing that foul condiment on a Chicago-style Depression Dog or Polish is like violating a tradition. So when you come to Jimmy’s, remember ketchup is outlawed. NO MEANS NO!" Admirable, appreciated, and fair enough. But with no disrespect to history (and going back more than 55 years, there is history at Jimmy’s Red Hots), the profound love for Jimmy’s really has to be attributed to the anti-ketchup crusade and not the crafting of their hot dogs. Put simply: they’re a mess. Crushed and rolled up with soft, soggy fries like a wadded up thrown away something you’d toss into the trash, Jimmy’s gets points for keeping what you’d have to imagine was a packaging tradition that originated as an everyman practicality, but does nothing to improve the product. The steamed bun gets a bit manhandled, there are few if any poppy seeds to speak of, and the peppers are darker and more crimped than any others in Chicago. But there’s ample supply of Jimmy’s favorite condiment, and a particularly snappy dog. 

Arthur Bovino

#23. America’s Dog

You have to give credit to brothers Manolis and George Alpogianis for being inspired to do something different with their hot dog stand. Twenty years ago, they set out on a cross-country hot dog tour, during which, they "sampled the local hot dogs in every city and brought the best back home with" them to Chicago. It’s a great story, so it’s not that the result of that road trip, America’s Dog (shouldn’t that be "America’s Dogs?") is without character, but there’s something about the super clean look — the non-Vienna beef signage, and a hot dog stand in Chicago with a menu doing homages to other cities’ versions in the metropolis whose iconic style represents mastery of the art form — that just doesn’t resonate. Of course, there is a Chicago hot dog, and it’s perfectly acceptable if a bit charmless. It’s like the graduating high-school quarterback unprepared for college freshman year reckoning: everything looks right, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s going to love you. Ample mustard, longer than normal chopped onion, and plump sport peppers, and a sparser than usual relish topping bring all the right intentions, but not a perfect ensemble.

Arthur Bovino

#22. Wrigleyville Dogs

This shoebox of a hot dog stand about two blocks from Wrigley Field on North Clark Street isn’t much to look at; it’s perhaps a slight exaggeration, but it doesn’t seem that much bigger than the neon yellow square sign rimmed with light bulbs at the top of the red pole out front. What looks like it’s been part of the Wrigleyville surroundings of Great Lake forever, if not since 1914 when the Cubs took residence nearby, has actually only been around since 1992. Credit the charming name/sign discrepancy (is it "Wrigleyville" as their site proclaims, or "Wrigleysville" as their sign insists?), and the patina and indifference gained from more than a decade of fans and patrons who need a good hot dog after drinking away their baseball sorrows in the surrounding bars. But whether you’ve been drinking or not, Wrigleyville’s Chicago-style formula satisfies. The steamed poppy-seed bun is only slightly squished, the pickle spear is crunchy, the onions rectangular cut, and there are thick tomato wedges. 

Arthur Bovino

#21. Franks 'n' Dawgs

What is five-star dining? An exemplary dining experience? Nonpareil food and service? At Franks 'n' Dawgs in Lincoln Park, owner Alexander Brunacci and chef Joe Doren (a veteran of Blackbird) set some high expectations with their sign outside proclaiming "5-Star Dining on a Bun." That means hand-crafted artisan sausages (identified by chef hats on their menu), in-house-made accoutrements, and New England-style top-loading lobster roll buns made daily by a local bakery. There are pheasant, scallop, goat, salmon, lamb, lobster, and turkey sausages (among others) and toppings just as diverse and creative. But this is Chicago we’re talking about and even one of the city’s most gourmet hot dog shops has to have an homage to the city’s icon. Frank 'n' Dawgs Chicagoesque isn’t your typical Chicago-style hot dog. It’s an all-natural (nitrate-free and uncured) 100 percent beef artisan ⅛-pound skinless frank topped with house pickles, cherry tomato relish, caramelized onions, and beer mustard. It’s a skinless link so there’s not the traditional snappiness, the top-loading bun is butter-griddled, and the onions are caramelized, so you miss out on that raw onion flavor and crunch. It’s very much a different situation, a bit sweet, and everything just a step away from the mainstream Chicago dog, but the riffs all make for a worthwhile interpretation with a buttery crispness you’ll find nowhere else in Chicago.

Arthur Bovino

#20. Portillo’s

It may have started as a "The Dog House" in 1963, but with more than 30 locations in Illinois, and a menu that goes far beyond Chicago-style hot dogs — think ribs, salads, burgers, and beef and chicken sandwiches (among others) — Portillo’s seems more chain than hot dog stand. But given its iconic status, it wouldn’t be fair to exclude it, even if it can be found in Arizona, California, and Indiana (lucky them). Cheese fries have nothing on Devil Dawg’s, and the Polish gets a bit too much of a char, but there’s nothing wrong with the hot dogs. The link is plump and juicy, there’s ample mustard, and a perfectly respectable pickle spear, and it’s just a bit of a narrow affair when considered next to many other hot dogs on this list. It’s perfectly tasty, but lacking quantity of the requisite toppings. Purely on the basis of its dog, Portillo’s ranks at number 20 on this list. Still, if you could give the hot dog extra points for that chocolate cake or the chocolate cake shake it would skyrocket to the top 10.

Arthur Bovino

#19. Phil’s Last Stand

Phil’s Last Stand opened in early 2012, but the new stand is hardly without pedigree. The red-painted brick shack on West Chicago Avenue on the very edge of the city’s Ukrainian Village on the west side of Chicago’s downtown is "Fat" Phil Ashbach’s return to the hot dog game (in the '70s, he co-owned Herm’s Hot Dog Palace in suburban Skokie). Fat Phil teamed up with the team behind nearby bar and grill Lockdown to open Phil’s Last Stand, a simple affair with umbrella-shielded red picnic tables outside and wiener dog parking by the front door. Don’t be confused by the stand’s icon, a blue-uniformed rendition of Fat Phil eating a decked-out hot dog while riding a giant fried shrimp. Yes, there are shrimp, Fatso’s Famous Fried Jumbo Shrimp to be exact, but you’re at Phil’s for the dog, and at Phil’s that means a split-tip "char dog" that’s grilled, not steamed. There’s a fluffy poppy seed-studded bun, and a char-tasty dog that has more texture than most stands in Chicago, and with a liberal coating of mustard. It’s a beautiful thing, and it should be enough. But if you’re inspired to ask for off-menu items, or to take on Fat Phil, ask about the Jumbo (a hot dog inserted into a split Polish and smothered in salami-spiked mac and cheese), or Fatso’s Po’Boy Challenge, a 60-minute affair that involves a Cheddar-slathered giant hoagie bun topped with fried shrimp, coleslaw, and shoestring fries. It’s only three iPhones long, one wide, and one high. 

Arthur Bovino

#18. Parky’s

On North Harlem Avenue near the corner of Madison, a gray vinyl-siding, residential-seeming building is ornamented with a framed, glass triangle that seems to zoom up and out from the base toward its colorful black and pink sign. Parky’s has been an institution on the far west side since Eugene Arisit opened the first one more than 70 years ago. This one, opened in 1947, was taken over by Ben and Olga Flores, and then their daughter Sonya, and was renovated not too long ago. Near a busy but quiet intersection, Parky’s puts out some consistently strong hot dogs and makes long, thin skin-on fries that manage to be crispy and crunchy, sent on their way in greasy-stained double brown paper bags. A thin steamed dog (that lacks a little snap) covered by copious mustard, lots of relish, huge half-moon tomato slices, and larger-than-average sport peppers is super satisfying but makes for a bit more garden than dog.

Arthur Bovino

#17. The Original Maxwell Street Station

The corner of West 67th Street and South Cicero Avenue is not the most glorious location for one of Chicago’s best hot dogs. With just a storage facility and a  group of five airport hotels just blocks from Chicago’s Midway Airport, there’s little reason to stop save the traffic lights that regulate the three lanes of traffic heading north and south. What surrounds The Original Maxwell Street Station is redeemed by its house specialties (pork chop and the Maxwell Street Polish) and classic Chicago-style hot dog. Have the Polish, a thick Chicago rendition with a glistening casing that crackles under the soft, wide-cut, grilled onions that top it, made even better with the addition of sport peppers by request. Hot dog options are simple: cheese, chili, chili cheese, Chicago-style, and Maxwell-style. Maxwell-style means mustard, grilled onions, and sports peppers — a variation that adds sweetness to the city’s iconic flavor profile. And the classic? It’s in the Gene and Jude’s school of hot dogs of squished dogs packaged with fries. Think of a mix between Jimmy’s Red Hots, Gene and Jude’s, and Parky’s — squished steamed bun, general indifference to appearance, and greasy-good skin-on fries packaged with the dog. In this case the standard dog seems to be a jumbo. The result is a bit meatier with a bit less supply of the standard Chicago toppings. If you dig wiener, these proportions are for you. It’s a far better hot dog than anyone staying at a Hilton Garden; Courtyard; Holiday, Residence, or Fairfield Inn, could ever dream to expect. 

Arthur Bovino

#16. Gene & Jude’s

A trip to Wrigley Field in 1945 by Gene Mormino and friends turned into the inspiration for a Chicago institution, one that many people claim (Serious Eats, do some sourcing, the list on USA Today was clearly The Daily Meal’s) serves the best hot dog in a city known for great ones. "While at the game, the group ordered some hot dogs and drinks," notes Gene and Jude’s website. "Looking down at the food in his hands, he felt something was missing. The wheels started turning and by the time he got home the experiment had begun. He came up with an idea so good he used it to open a little stand in 1946 on Polk and Western Avenue, serving hot dogs and fries along with a few other items on the menu." Mormino supposedly lost the original stand in a card game, but opened another one in 1950 in River Grove where it’s run by his son Joe. The hot dogs are a mess — covered with and rolled up with sometimes surprisingly soft fries, but that introduction of saltiness and textural variation makes them more nuanced than many other Chicago dogs. And their 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. hours, when many other of Chicago’s iconic eateries are closed, make them a Sunday hot dog savior. Still, it’s not really a Chicago-style dog, it's a variation, but not a good enough one to list anywhere near the top of a best-of list. 

Arthur Bovino

#15. Hot Doug's

Doug Sohn defied popular (and familial) consensus by opening what has now become a Chicago icon. The signature order is the foie gras and sauternes duck sausage with truffle aioli (it garnered press in 2006 when Sohn defied Chicago’s foie gras ban, ultimately victoriously). Still, this is a list of the best Chicago-style hot dogs. Hot Doug’s is a bit of a puzzle then. Because of its story, legend, line, and status, you’d expect it to be higher. There are those who attribute Sohn to having raised the status of Chicago’s hot dogs. There might be something to that. But whether Hot Doug’s uses Chicago-area bread producer S. Rosen (which has been making breads since the early 1900s) and caramelized onions instead of raw ones, the Chicago-style hot dog just doesn’t seem as good as some of its signature, standout, and outrageous dogs. As it goes, the Chicago-style dog, while good, and better than half of the very high-quality dogs on this list, isn’t the reason you’re waiting on that line.

Arthur Bovino

#14. Museum Campus Food & Beverage Cart at the Shedd Aquarium

Just because you don’t have a store, and don’t have a storied history doesn’t mean you don’t know how to make a great hot dog. That’s just what goes on outside the Shedd Aquarium at the Museum Campus Food & Beverage Cart, a stand with all the classic ingredients, and at least during a last visit, a dog that can be put up against any other on this list. A big juicy frank, a liberal squirting of yellow mustard squiggled up and down its length, a healthy scattering of chopped onion, relish tossed up and down the dog, and a pickle spear to rival the great juiciness of that snappy, all-beef dog makes for a hot dog stand that won’t get press, but perhaps best represents the underlying greatness of Chicago’s great unknown hot dog makers: the everyman dog.

Arthur Bovino

#13. Superdawg

Topped by what has to be considered some of America’s best signage — a flexing hot dog showing off his muscles to a winking wiener girl — Superdawg has been an institution on Milwaukee Avenue across from Caldwell Woods since Maurie Berman opened it in 1948. The recently returned G.I. designed the building and devised his own secret recipe and set up a drive-in at what was then the end of the streetcar line where he planned to sell $0.32 Superdawg sandwiches to "swimming families and cruisin’ teens" for a few months during the summer to help put him through school at Northwestern. In 1950, Maurie passed the CPA exam, but he and wife Flaurie decided to keep operating Superdawg and to open year-round. The family-owned, working drive-in still serves superior pure beef dogs, which it describes as "the loveliest, juiciest creation of pure beef hot dog (no pork, no veal, no cereal, no filler) formally dressed with all the trimmings: golden mustard, tangy piccalilli, kosher dill pickle, chopped Spanish onions, and a memorable hot pepper." Right, and be on the lookout for their pickled green tomato. 

Arthur Bovino

#12. Irving’s for Red Hot Lovers

The brainchild of marketing guru and furniture business vet Irving Greensphan, Irving’s for Red Hot Lovers, was reported as having 14 restaurants in its heyday in the 1980s and a franchise in Japan. These days, Irving’s is in the hands of his son "Top Dog" Andrew, and is limited to a strip mall in Wilmette on the North Shore, where it’s been a staple for more than 35 years. As the Chicago Tribune noted more than a decade ago, after the death of its founder and one-time Windy City red hot icon, Irving was an expert on the ingredients and production of Chicago-style dogs, "a zesty concoction that can make New Yorkers sag their heads in cultural defeat and Californians shudder just to contemplate the preservatives involved." What does asking for a Chicago-style dog at Irving’s garner? On this visit, double the pickle spears and double the half-moon tomatoes; not a standard move at most of Chicago’s hot dog stands. A mistake? Many would call doubling either the meat or the veg toppings a blessing,  bold statements for one reason or another. Here, that double veg, including two sharp pickle spears and tomatoes adds a little more welcome fresh garden delight to the full Chicago package.

Arthur Bovino

#11. Mustard’s Last Stand

In Evanston on Central Street, less than a block from Northwestern’s Ryan Field where the Wildcats play, and in a shack that that contains barely 700 square feet, Mustard’s Last Stand serves hot dogs with a pedigree that few others have. Owner Danny Polovin grew up in Albany Park and apprenticed at Maury’s Red Hots, a red hot stalwart that sold hot dogs in a traditionally Jewish neighborhood of Chicago for more than 30 years (it closed in the summer of 1985 after its namesake Maury Andes passed away). Many, including Bob Schwartz of Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog, credit that Maury’s pedigree for Polovin’s own some 30 years of success in Evanston, and Boulder and Denver where he has also had hot dog spots. Go in, order a Chicago dog, sit down at the concrete-ring picnic table outside, and dig into a great dog in a classic setting.

Arthur Bovino

#10. Clark Street Dog

It’s just blocks from Wrigley Field in a parking lot in the middle of an intersection and it's  housed in a building that very much resembles an auto body shop, but Clark Street Dog, which has been in operation since 1977, serves one of Chicago’s great hot dogs (until 3 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday). If you decide to go off the hot dog trail and you’re looking for something a little different, opt for the Italian Sausage Combo Sandwich, a marriage of Italian beef and sausage. 

Arthur Bovino

#9. Muskie’s

Muskie’s doesn’t show up on the typical best-of Chicago hot dog list. That’s partially because of this Lakeview joint’s rep as a hamburger joint — hey, the sign outside does say "Muskie’s — The Original Char-Broiled Hamburger." Forget that rep, but embrace that killer sign and the old-fashioned red-and-white stripes of this classic-looking stand on North Lincoln Avenue, and start giving it its due. Muskie’s, a counter-service spot said to date back to 1981, makes one of Chicago’s great hot dogs, and with a smile — Muskie’s is good people. Think Wiener’s Circle in composition and flavor, but without those hard edges. Muskie’s uses Red Hot Chicago brand dogs, which are a little longer and leaner than Vienna’s, and sure to dismay purists, doesn’t serve its dogs on poppy-seed buns. But they’re steamed soft all the way through and layered with coarsely chopped versions of Chicago’s classic hot dog toppings. This is a hot dog that stands up to a plane trip. 

Arthur Bovino

#8. Devil Dawgs

Just a few years ago, one of Chicago’s best hot dog stands was a place that focused on removing stains from shirts, not one whose food is so good you can’t help make a mess of yourself in your enthusiasm to scarf it down. The once Lincoln Park dry cleaner was replaced in 2010 by Devil Dawgs, a small brick-walled dive dedicated to devilishly good hot dogs. There are six different dogs on the menu: Polish sausage, slaw dog, Coney dog (with sweet Coney sauce, mustard, and onions), Cheddar dog, Chicago dog, and the namesake Devil Dawg (with onions, sweet relish, mustard, and sport peppers). These are all exemplary all-beef hot dogs, the quintessential Chicago dog among them. The bun is super steamed, the dog has a great snap, all the other elements are in great harmony — it’s a beautiful thing. And not that this hot dog’s ranking on this list is based on them, but Devil Dawg’s Coney cheese fries are some of the best you’ll ever have. There’s a huge Styrofoam cup filled with crispy fries draped with melted cheese and that Coney sauce. There’s some incredible fry to cheese to Coney sauce ratio — you never have to seek out any one component— a situation where you know it’s wrong for you with every bite. 

Arthur Bovino

#7. Vienna Beef Factory

Vienna has been around for 120 years, so you have to figure they have an idea as to what they’re doing when it comes to making a Chicago-style hot dog. They’re predictably proud and why shouldn’t they be? As they note, "From the moment Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany gave Chicago its first taste of Vienna, we've been making hot dog history." According to the company, the big debut was in 1893, when more than 27 million people flocked to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago to witness the latest inventions, including the Vienna Beef hot dog, created by Austrian-Hungarian immigrants Reichel and Ladany. Their first store opened a year later, their sausages spread across Chicago in 1908, went from horse to buggy in 1928, expanded beyond Chicago in 1950, and started regularly getting dragged through the garden in 1957. In 1972, Vienna made Chicago's North Side home, setting up headquarters where you can stop by for a hot dog when they’re open for the season. Don’t expect lots of love. And yes, it feels a bit like a cafeteria and the one-on-one exchange will not likely be the same as any you’ll experience (for good or evil) at the rest of the hot dog stands on this list of Chicago’s best, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more exemplary version of the platonic ideal. And if you plan far enough ahead (as of publication, they're booked through October 2015) you can get a more personal touch through a guided tour. Steamed bun, juicy dog, all the right toppings and proportions... you’ve found the place that holds the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame. You can’t go wrong. Really, you can’t.

Arthur Bovino

#6. Vienna Beef Stand at Chicago O'Hare International Airport

Wait, one of Chicago’s top 10 hot dogs is at O’Hare? "What kind of dog are you smoking!?" I’ve gotten into dirty water for making proclamations about airport dogs before, namely saying you can find better hot dogs in airports than any hot dog in New York City. It’s true. (The major problem with New York City’s hot dogs is the stale, non-steamed buns, and any place that has a good bun plus more flavor will easily beat out the basic kraut and mustard dog on bread not worth eating.) And when a stand is manned by the standard-bearer of Chicago hot dogs, Vienna Beef, this pick shouldn’t be too controversial — minus the décor. Located in Terminal 2/Concourse E of O’Hare, the Vienna Beef stand isn’t much to look at. There’s none of the personality of the other Chicago hot dog stands on this list, but what an airport stand lacks in personality it makes up for with quality: a juicy jumbo dog layered in a steamed bun with all the expert proportioning and ingredient ratio you’d expect from Vienna Beef. Sure it scores points for giving departing Chicagoans and converted believers a last great taste of the city. Sure, it’s the last best chance to bring back the freshest possible version of one of America’s best hot dogs to whoever you’re going back to wherever they are, but on its own merits, the dog tasted there ranked higher than many other icons. Go figure.

Arthur Bovino

#5. Murphy’s Red Hot Joint

Murphy’s is special. On the North Side of Chicago just blocks from Wrigley Field, off the corner of North Racine and West Belmont on the ground floor of a gray-vinyl-sided house, Murphy’s is a throwback joint. It’s what Vienna Beef senior vice president and author Bob Schwartz of Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog says harkens "another time when small storefront shops were set up on ground floors or in back of the restaurants or stores" and owners lived nearby, as Schwartz noted Murphy’s owner Bill Murphy does. One difference here is the fresh, crusty French roll Murphy serves dogs on. Char-broiling is more prominent than at most of Chicago’s notable hot dog joints, and that split, charred dog adds lots of texture and flavor to the Chicago icon. A char-broiled dog with all the Chicago fixings is more complex and interesting than most other dogs you’ll find, but if you feel the need to go big, Murphy’s offers two great options. There’s the charbroiled footlong red hot (in Japan, where Murphy’s has done a cameo, it’s called the "Big Murphy"), and the "Screamin' to be Eaten Polish," Murphy’s ⅓-pound charbroiled Polish sausage. 

Arthur Bovino

#4. Wolfy’s Double Dog

Wolfy’s has some serious Chicago hot dog heritage — Mickey Becker opened the stand with Phil Winnick, the brother-in-law of Abe "Fluky" Drexler, whose Chicago hot dog pedigree goes back to a stand opened in 1929 in Chicago’s famed Maxwell Street market. It’s been featured toward the top of Chicago’s best-of lists going back at least as far as the mid-'70s. The Fluky’s connection may have faded, but the reputation for great hot dogs continues starting with the famous tong-pierced red hot sign planted outside. In the Double Dog, a thin, super-steamed, but still-not-soggy-bun is the foundation for two natural-casing dogs nestled with all the traditional Chicago fixings with a beautiful bun-long pickle spear, and thicker-than-normal slices of tomato. You want a quintessential Chicago hot dog done right? Stop by Wolfy’s.

Arthur Bovino

#3. Wiener’s Cricle

If you’re not too intimidated to order (the infamously, ahem, rude environment can get a little rowdy at night when employees and drunk customers share barbs), the move is a double chardog with everything. The traditional Chicago hot dog is fairly represented at this Lincoln Park icon with one exception. A Vienna Beef hot dog on a poppy-seed bun gets all the iconic Chicago toppings (raw onions, neon-green relish, pickle spear, tomato slices, and celery salt). The departure from the purist version? Wiener's Circle char-grills its dogs rather than steaming them. A double char is simply two blackened dogs underneath all those veggies on one bun. And yes guys, everyone knows and appreciates that you think you’re the @#&%ing best. It’s almost true.

Arthur Bovino

#2. Byron's Hot Dog Haus

People who say "bigger isn’t always better" are often trying to make someone feel better. In the case of Byron’s, a tiny shop with a small counter inside where you may actually have to wait just to get in, bigger means more great juicy beef flavor, more classic Chicago toppings, more toppings, and more of a mess — all great things. Byron’s has been around since 1975, the brainchild of Byron Kouris, the famed Chicago restaurateur behind the Lunch Pail and the Art-Deco institution Zephyr’s. There aren’t as many Byron’s around anymore, but it’s worth seeking out one of the two remaining locations to take on Dogzilla, a 1/2-pound natural casing hot dog served with the traditional Chicago toppings, along with (if you like) cucumbers, green peppers, and lettuce (no, it’s not a gimmick). This is a dog you’re not going to want to put down once you pick it up — that steamed bun starts to fall apart — just eat it until you’re finished. Often in Chicago, the double dog is the way to go — all those extra toppings need the extra salty, beefy, juiciness of a second dog. Dogzilla solves that problem with that 1/2-pound beauty. Hot diggity. 

Arthur Bovino

#1. Fat Johnnie’s Red Hots

It may not be much to look at, but what Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots lacks in décor it makes up with flavor, fantastic names for menu items, and a tasty mess. Sitting on an industrial stretch of Western Avenue, a 20-minute drive from The Loop, this ramshackle, white-paneled hut with a tiny window through which you place your order is just a bit taller and wider than the canoe planter filled with grass on the sidewalk lip in front of it. Whereas tamales and hot dogs go hand in hand at many of the other spots on this list, here it’s literally the case. John Pawlikowski serves the Mighty Dog — a hot dog and tamale on a bun with chili and cheese. Sounds like a monster, right? You’re right to be scared, it’s a mess. "I don't even know how people eat it, to tell you the truth," Judy Pawlikowski, Johnnie's wife, told DNAInfo. "But people love it." You want tomato, sport peppers, relish, and pickles on that? You bet you do. Soft steamed bun, moist tamale, fresh snap of the dog, chili, cheese, and a slice of cucumber sliced on the bias — it’s one of the best hot dogs you’ll ever have. Johnnie celebrated 40 years this past May (no Fat Johnnie’s isn’t closed, you just can’t trust Yelp). 

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Chicago's 29 Best Hot Dogs