CHICAGO: The Land of the Hot Dog (and where to get the best ones)

One summer when I was six, all I ate were Oscar Meyer Weiners. I am not sure how this happened, but I do remember eating them every single day. This is not an exaggeration. Ever since then, I’ve harbored an ambivalence towards hot dogs that is almost un-American. Sure, I’d eat them at barbecues when I really didn’t feel like a hamburger, but I never, ever craved them.

Having said that, when I moved to Chicago I couldn’t seem to get the words of food god Anthony Bourdain out of my head. Calling Chicago the best city in the world to get a hot dog, he suddenly made me interested in eating the all-American food again. If there is one thing Chicago takes more seriously than sports, it’s food, and the Chicago dog is the most prized food of all.

So over the course of a week I visited three classic Chicago eateries to see how their Chicago dogs stacked up against each other. I ate, I ate some more, and I even felt a little nauseous. This is what came out of my adventure:


The hot dog that single-handedly made me a believer.

Franks n’ Dawgs: Located in swanky Lincoln Park, Franks n’ Dawgs calls itself “five star dining on a bun.” Featured on the Food Network, Cooking Channel and the Travel Channel, Franks n’ Dawgs looks intimidating on paper. But once you walk down the narrow hallway to the entrance, you realize it looks like just your average hot dog counter. Do not make the mistake of expecting your average hot dog.

On this particular trip, I indulged in the “Bayou Dog,” which was made with Mint Creek Farms andouille sausage, red beans, blackened shrimp, red remoulade & chives. The bun was warm and perfectly toasted. The moment I bit into it, I had that “oh my god I cannot believe this,” moment that only comes around every once and a while. Everything about the dog was perfect, even to me, the cynical hot dog eater. I then proceeded to shove it in my mouth, which I don’t recommend. A dog that special needs to be savored. I’m leaving Chicago soon, but when I make a return, best believe I’ll be jumping in Franks n’ Dawgs arms like it’s a lost lover.


This counter at this Chicago classic is typically a fight-to-the-death at around 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Five Faces Ice Cream Shop: Let me start this one off by saying that Chicago classic Five Faces isn’t specifically known for their hot dogs. More or less, they are the destination for any and all “drunk food.” Open until 4:30 a.m. every single night in the heart of a nightlife district, Five Faces specializes in the foods you crave after a long night, Chicago-style hot dogs being one of them. So after a long (but completely sober!) day where I needed a quick meal, I found myself at the counter ordering the Chicago dog.

For about $3.50 I got a dog topped with lettuce, mustard, onions, tomatoes, hot peppers and a pickle. Delicious, but it did leave me wanting more. Perhaps the grandiose Franks n’ Dawg was a tough act to follow. And not to mention, I woke up the next morning with a little turning in my stomach.


No frills deliciousness at Red Hot Ranch.

Red Hot Ranch: Located on an ugly strip of the otherwise hyper-trendy Bucktown neighborhood, Red Hot Ranch doesn’t look like much from the outside, or inside, for that matter. They know what they are good at, so the menu reflects that; basically the only things you can order are hot dogs, fries and fried shrimp.

Undeterred, I decide to go for the full monty and order a Chicago dog with a full order of fries and a Dr. Pepper. My grand total? 5 bucks even. Once I picked my jaw up from the ground, I was able to examine my food. My dog was piled with all the classics of a Chicago dog, and was amazing. Definitely not as unforgettable as Franks n’ Dawgs, but the combination of the dog and the perfectly cooked fries led to a very satisfying meal. I left feeling stuffed but pleased.

Overall winner:

Can’t you tell? Franks N’ Dawgs is a must for anyone wanting to try the adventurous Chicago dog. As someone who previously found hot dogs to be a dime a dozen, this place promptly converted me to being a believer in “five star dining on a bun.”

Best bang for your buck definitely goes to Red Hot Ranch. No frills, no fuss, just tasty comfort food that’ll only put you back a five dollar bill.

And while I do love Five Faces after a long night, when it comes to the sacred Chicago dog, they leave here empty-handed. Perhaps they are best consumed when you aren’t thinking too much about what you’re consuming.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from being a Chicagoan, it’s that there will always be a new hot dog place to try. You’ll never “see it all’ when it comes to the Chicago dog. However, I’d like to think I’ve covered some good ground.


chicagohot dogs
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