You can hold it in one hand while you stroll with a kiddo or beer in the other, or flip the virtual pages of your iPad books. Like many of its European forebears, it acquired a New World pedigree in St. Louis as a food of the working man on a little staycation holiday, and has since developed as many variations as there are hyphenated Americans. Whether you’re anti-tethering or pro mandatory neutering, here are more than a dozen reasons to play dog-catcher this summer.
Alamo Hot Dog Company
Corner of St. Mary’s and Market
This hot-dog cart has been camped out downtown for the last two years on St. Mary’s and Market and has a pretty good following. For $3 you can get their signature item, the Alamo Dog, all kosher beef on a sesame-seed bun. Everything is grilled on the spot. You’ve got options such as chili or nacho cheese but we went with grilled onions, jalapeños, and shredded cheese with mustard. The beef has a good squirt. The bun gets grilled a little to give it a slight texture. San Antonians might overlook street food but this is a very respectable dog. As an added bonus, they also offer a bacon-wrapped dog.
Big’z Burger Joint
2303 N. Loop 1604, bigz-burgerjoint.com
The unsurpassed decadence of the Big’z burger served dirty (fried egg on top) raised our expectations too high for this OK take on the Chicago experience. Yes, all the accessories were in place, but the beef dog was neither juicy nor hot, and the tomato was under-ripe. For $6.28 we got fries and a drink, too, but no satisfaction. Next time we’ll order the dog dirty and wash it down with a beer.
The Broadway 5050
5050 Broadway, 9837 I-10 West,
Broadway 5050 has only one hot dog on the menu but it’s a monster: $6.99 for a chili-cheese-jalapeño dog that comes with a generous portion of tater tots. The wiener is all Angus beef, but we spent our first few bites working around the layers of cheese and chili — not a bad thing because the chili is quite good. The bun is toasted to help give some semblance of structure, but for the most part this is an open-faced free-for-all. A heart stopper, but well worth the adventure.
4602 Callaghan, chunkysburgers.com
If you want a dog at Chunky’s, renowned for its apocalyptically huge and challenging burgers, you have to order from the Kids & Big Kids menu. The humiliation. But the dogs, slashed and grilled, are serious quarter-pounders, and the plain ($2.89) is relentlessly naked. No mustard in sight. But served in a buttered and toasted bun, it’s pretty good unadorned. In Moroccan merguez fashion, you could add in some of the OK fries. Dining outside, we battled a plague of flies for the chili dog’s attention ($3.75); maybe they also liked the dark and, yes, chunky chili — no cheese. “Where size matters” proclaims the servers’ T-shirts. Size first, taste second we conclude.
Donnie’s Chicago Style Italian
Beef and Hot Dogs
4939 NW Loop 410, donniesbeef.com
Donnie’s offers some enticing takes from the more-is-more school, including the Original Donnie’s Dog ($3.99), which is stuffed with French fries and those ubiquitous sports peppers, and the Jalapeño and Cheddar Dog ($4.29), which is topped with real peppers and dripping in a cheese-esque sauce that would make Rico’s proud. The Chicago dog is respectably larded, too, with fresh tomatoes and plenty of celery salt atop a full pickle spear, but we’d like a juicier, hotter dog, please.
606 W. Cypress, thecove.us
The Cove offers a $5 organic, all-beef hot dog … on the kid’s menu. We were able to substitute a Boylan soda for the juice box, but it still felt like a kid’s meal. It’s served existentially bare – wiener, bun. The whole-wheat bun is a nice touch but it didn’t have great flavor or texture. It was good to know that the meat was healthier but that didn’t improve the taste. Overall, this dog feels like an afterthought. There was no magic with the first bite, even after we added some mustard. The Cove has plenty of great food so maybe it’s unfair to judge them on the merits of their hot dog; the kids won’t be complaining.
Fatty’s Burgers & More
1624 E. Commerce, fattysburgers.com
The “More” in Fatty’s name doesn’t extend to the dogs, both plain ($2.50) and chili-loaded ($3.50); they are nowhere near as baroque as the burgers. The plain is relentlessly thus: a pup on a puffy bun. We had to ask for mustard. The weenie lacks that hoped-for burst between casing and filling. But its taste is decent enough to stand up to a non-chunky chili with almost-acceptable flavor on the decorated dog. With lots of strands of melty yellow cheese product. Fatty’s onion rings are of the slip-their-coating sort, but shards of the coating added to the naked dog helped to raise it from punitive to putative. Fatty’s free, serve-yourself pinto beans, do much to enhance the overall experience.
Jerry’s Chicago Style Hot Dogs
149 E. Commerce, jerryshotdogs.com
The Maxwell Polish sausage ($3.99) at Jerry’s is absolutely fantastic. The wiener has a crisp outer edge. Underneath, the flavors jettison outwards within seconds of that first bite. It was that good. The bun isn’t toasted but works very well. The black sesame seeds are a nice touch. We went with the owner’s suggestion and got it with grilled onions instead of sauerkraut. With spicy mustard, “sport” peppers, and pickles, this was a legendary dog. Also, this is a fun place to check out. The hot dog that gives the restaurant its name is no slouch, either, the toppings — including very fresh tomatoes, the requisite nuclear-green relish, and plenty of zingy celery salt — carefully arranged like an Ellsworth Kelly painting on top of a juicy all-beef dog.
Kings Court Frankfurter Express
111 Kings Court, kingscourtfranks.com
Frankfurter Express is a hot-dog mecca with an overwhelming menu. Their Chicago dog ($4.29) is classic — neon-green relish, sport peppers, tomatoes, mustard, celery salt, and a pickle on a poppyseed bun. The all-beef link still brings a good amount of flavor for not being grilled. The bun is standard but the garden-like presentation is a real eye pleaser. We really liked the Texican ($4.49), which is wrapped in bacon and deep-fried. The condiments resemble a chalupa compuesta with frijoles, guacamole, and tomatoes. It may sound like too much but the condiments don’t distract. It’s a winner from the very first bite. Veggie options available, too.
R& B’s Taste of Chicago
1308 Austin Hwy., (210) 822-1774
The Twitterati seem to be obsessed with the divey atmosphere at R&B’s, but we think they should get over it. The people are friendly, the service accommodating, and the eponymous pup ($3.30) is the best in town, according to at least one Current dog catcher. Balance was the key here: lots of celery salt and tons of vibrant relish — plus tomato, pickle, peppers … all the required accoutrements in a poppyseed bun. The snappy Vienna Beef dog did itself proud. The Polish sausage, Maxwell Street version with grilled onion and mustard ($3.80), was Polish lite, but the more tender texture worked in its favor. Good crumb-coated onion rings, too.
2926 N. St. Mary’s, flatsisback.com
The born-again Tycoon Flats offers a Double Dog Basket at $8.49. The Chicago pup boasts lots of fluorescent relish, a brace of sport peppers, sliced tomato, and fancy red onion and ballpark mustard — but no pickle or detectable celery salt. The dog itself is snappy and moist. The chili-cheese model, triggering a $1 supplement, comes with automatic mustard and onions plus both white and yellow cheese. This is more Texas than Windy City, but the chili is ordinary, the mustard superfluous. Keep the onion. If doing the double, consider a dog with Dijon and kraut — or just do Chicago x 2. The optional mixed sweet-potato and potato fries are dry but worth a few calories regardless.