Austro-Hungarian immigrants introduced Vienna-style red hots at the 1893 World?s Fair. These legendary Chicago hot dogs start with an all beef frank nestled in a poppy seed bun. Very specific condiments piled high atop the dog mingle flavors, colors and textures.
As part of our annual trek to the windy city we thought it would be fun to sample a few of the premier Chicago wiener joints and weigh in on the hotly debated topic of best Chicago hot dog. With a single exception the restaurants are favorites of food critics and forums. The results of our hot dog adventure are presented here in this scientifically subjective comparison.
The E.A.T.S rating system - Scoring is a composite of four factors with a maximum score of 5 wieners. The Experience is a blend of atmosphere, genre, style and fun. Authenticity scores the combination of ingredients which are typically found on a classic Chicago style hot dog. Overall Taste and texture is the third factor in our scores. Service is the final contributor to E.A.T.S ratings.
Hot Doug's - 3324 N. California Ave
Hot Doug's Sausage Superstore was the second spot we hit on our Chicago dog tasting tour. A well decorated interior greets the diner including a tongue in cheek encased meat timeline and great photo of Sid Vicious jamming a Chicago dog in his meat hole.
The Vienna Beef dog with everything did not include sport peppers and came with caramelized onions in lieu of raw Spanish onions. The variation on a theme did not detract from the encased meat experience; it was perfectly cooked and delicious with an ideally steamed poppy seed bun. Raw onions and sport peppers are available on request. We also ordered a duck sausage with Foie Gras which was heavenly. The thirty minute wait in line was well worth the delightful offerings.
Doug Sohn is the consummate host and has developed a masterfully efficient operation. Despite the throngs of hungry patrons, seating was available for all in the modest sausage shop. We will definitely return to Hot Doug's to sample the amazing array of specialty sausages paired with delectable condiments.
Murphy's Red Hots - 1211 W. Belmont Ave
Murphy's defines the neighborhood food stand. Over twenty years of Chicago dog creation has paid off with perfection. Several of our local resident panel members rated Murphy's Red Hots as the best wiener in the windy city.
The storefront is old fashioned with a glass front food counter and a few tall tables with bar stools that make the most of the tiny dining area. The walls are adorned with ads and articles raving about the cozy restaurant. Murphy's menu is extensive. The counter staff was friendly and exceptionally fun.
The dog itself was a snappy Vienna Beef wiener, assembled with skill. Cucumbers and lettuce may or may not belong on a Chicago dog, but were present on the Murphy's bun. We ate the Greek salad condiments, but some had to fight the urge to pick them off. Overall, these dogs were quite yummy and highly recommended.
Poochie's Plaza - 3832 Dempster St
Just getting to Poochie's was quite an ordeal. However, this was no detraction from the dog served here. The wiener joint is located in an empty strip mall, but this restaurant definitely qualifies as an anchor store. It is extremely popular among locals. There was a steady stream of folks enjoying the culinary delights featured here.
A helpful order taker offered a cost saving two dog special which we overlooked on the menu. The Chicago dog ( in Skokie ) was the definition of an authentic Vienna style beef frank. The overall experience could have been better, but an extra point was awarded for superior french fries.
Wolfy's - 2734 W. Peterson Ave
Wolfy's is a 1960's vintage family diner with ample seating and a reasonably sized parking area. The restaurant is easy to find thanks to the four story tall fork and wiener out front. Wolfy's walls feature classic paintings with food items added for fun and the dining area was notably clean. The service is all business, yet the counter staff even chuckled as they served the crazy lady who ordered ketchup on her hot dog.
We ordered a steamed dog and a char dog to sample. The hot dogs themselves were picture perfect with ideally proportioned ingredients. The steamed dog was good, but lacked the expected snap to the casing. The char dog was delightful.
Portillo's - 15900 S. Harlem Ave
The corporate chain store atmosphere was slightly more distracting than the salad bar at Portillo's. We tried hard to overlook the food court feel, but it was omnipresent with separate "bars" for salad, ribs, adult beverages, etc. We ordered a couple of brews and were informed that there were no clean beer glasses
The dog was a Vienna Beef creation made especially for Portillo's. The bun was slightly soggy and sans the required neon relish. Overall, a pretty good wiener with a seasoning blend that extended the celery salt flavor factor.
Creamery - 15112 S. Bell Rd
The experience at the Creamery was exceptional mainly due to wonderful friends and ferocious wildlife. Attacking snapping turtles risked small arms fire as they attempted to cross Bell Road in a zombie like search for hot dog loving patrons. At the expense of several vehicles and their occupants the turtles created quite a stir as they careened from lane to lane on the thoroughfare.
The Creamery location we visited was home to the Iron Horse grill, a recent addition to the Gas City empire. While the ice cream shop is a local favorite, the skinless generic hot dogs were less than remarkable. Important to note, the Iron Horse dogs cost less than a buck and were the least expensive on the tour.
Superdawg - 6363 N. Milwaukee Ave
Superdawg was the only disappointment of the restaurants we patronized during our quest for the perfect Chicago dog. They do offer car hop service and the Milwaukee Avenue location sports two huge caricature hot dog statues representing the founding couple.
The service while placing our order was less than impressive. We asked for a knife to portion the dogs which was absent along with napkins as we opened the clever serving boxes. At five dollars each, the Superdawg was the most expensive on the tour. The dining area needed a serious cleaning.
Soggy fries were jammed on top of the Superdawg and extrication was required to get at the damp and greasy hot dog. Surprisingly, the no casing wiener by itself was delicious and may have been the best tasting meat of the tour. The sport peppers were very hot, overpowering the the tomatillo laden Chi-dog.
The two day period spent roaming around the windy city was plagued with insane gridlock, lane closures, dead traffic signals, mile long funeral processions and beyond crazy drivers. Well over twelve hours on the road were required to hit the wiener joints identified as Chicago classics.
Byron's Hot Dog Haus was a victim of the vehicular melee. Both days that attempts were made to try the Byron's offering Chicago Cubs home games made street parking an impossibility. We were unable to find lot parking for fewer than 25 dollars, which seemed excessive based on the goal of enjoying a two dollar hot dog.