In Chicago, National Hot Dog Day is practically forcemeat Christmas. Which is why you'll want to eat your way around the city's multifaceted hot dog landscape to celebrate the encased meat holiday on July 23. Here's a roundup of some of Chicago's top dogs.
Franks 'N' Dawgs (1863 N. Clybourn Ave.)
Likely the most novel hot dog emporium in Chicago is this tubular joint in Lincoln Park. Far beyond the call of encased meat duty, Franks 'N' Dawgs approaches hot dogs with a crafty culinary ethos, whipping up exotic sausages, stuffing them in custom (and hella buttery) New England-style buns, and heaping them with offbeat accoutrements.
Examples include the cheekily named lamb-orghini dawg with lamb barese sausage, housemade giardiniera, Calabrian chili aioli, and deep-fried basil; the chilaquiles dawg with habanero goat sausage, fried egg, queso fresco cheese, tomatillo salsa, red pepper relish, tortilla strips, and cilantro; and the slammin' salmon dawg with citrus-cured salmon, herb cream cheese, bagel crisps, fried capers, salmon roe, and dill. Vegetarians have options here as well, like the singhing fu dawg with smoked tofu, basil paneer, spicy turnip masala, chivda, and cilantro.
Hot Doug's (3324 N. California Ave.)
One of the country's most famed hot dog shops is renowned for good reason. Hot Doug's has been packing customers in for years, routinely drawing lines that wrap around the street in anticipation of ostrich sausages, alligator sausages, corn dogs, classic Chicago dogs, and lots more. Weekend-only duck fat french fries add to the allure. The queues are especially incessant these days, what with Hot Doug's owner Doug Sohn having announced he will close the restaurant in the fall. So you'd best get in line now.
Old Town Social (455 W. North Ave.)
One of the very few restaurants in Chicago actually going to great lengths to make their own hot dogs is Old Town Social. Sure, housemade sausages are a dime a dozen in our meat-happy city, but hot dogs are another beast entirely, necessitating meticulous work and recipe formatting to ensure consistency, texture and flavor.
In fact, Executive Chef Jared Van Camp cites his scratch-made hot dog method as one of the most challenging things he's ever done in his career, requiring months of practice to get them just right. Using strictly local, sustainable heritage breed pork, Old Town Social breaks down whole hogs and cures them in-house before crafting a mini hot dog trio: the Coney dog, the corn dog and the classic Chicago dog. The proof is in the pudding. Or the pork.
Bangers & Lace (1670 W. Division St.)
In the pantheon of Americana one-two punches, hot dogs and beer go together like adult-friendly peanut butter and jelly. The duo doesn't get any better than at Bangers & Lace, Wicker Park's quintessential beer and sausage bar stocked with a bevy of novel meat creations. Think banh mi made with kimchi sausage; smoked venison sausage with fig preserves and smoked bacon; goat sausage adorned with roasted beet yogurt and Burrata; and a duck and bacon "BLT" sausage flecked with oven-roasted tomato, aged Gouda, and leaf lettuce.
There's also a slew of more classic hot dog creations, along with a salacious foie gras corn dog made with French garlic sausage, seared foie, brioche corn bread, orange marmalade and brown butter caramel.
Belly Shack (1912 N. Western Ave.)
One of my single favorite hot dogs in Chicago is one of the most unusual. At Belly Shack, the format is fusion at its finest, showcasing the culinary dexterity of chef Bill Kim. This is best exemplified in a hot dog that toes the line between all-American and Asian flavors.
The aptly named Belly Dog is a hefty behemoth comprised of an all-beef hot dog served in a fluffy pita-like bun with crispy egg noodles, pickled green papaya, and a side of togarashi-spiced fries. In other words, Kim was pairing crispy noodles with meaty sandwiches long before the ramen burger came along.
25 Degrees (736 N. Clark St.)
25 Degrees may best be known for burgers. And boozy shakes. And rightfully so, considering the caliber of ground beef at this River North bastion. But don't overlook the stellar Sonoran hot dog. This thing takes a backseat to no burger, and it makes an apt meal on Hot Dog Day.
The Mexican-inspired Sonoran dog features a Bobak beef dog wrapped in bacon, doused in caramelized onions, tomato, pinto beans, beef and turkey chili, queso fresco, mustard and garlic aioli. It's all topped with hatch green chile and served in a fluffy brioche bun.
Superdawg (6363 N. Milwaukee Ave.)
When it comes to hot dog classics in Chicago, one of the preeminent destinations is appropriately Superdawg. Follow the (somewhat ominous) twinkling eyes of the giant hot dog figurines atop the restaurant on the northwest side and find your way to hot dog Mecca.
A throwback destination at its best, Superdawg still has drive-in service, meaning cars park and place their orders through machines. Servers then bring the food to the window and you eat in the car. It's a bygone blast from the past if there ever was one. And the dogs are delicious to boot. From the namesake Superdawg with piccalilli, pickle, chopped Spanish onions, mustard, and hot peppers to the char-broiled Whoopskidawg with special sauce, grilled onion and a pickle. Crinkle-cut fries are a nice supplement, and weirdly square-shaped ice cream scoops make for a nice finale.
Photos: Franks N Dawgs, Hot Doug's, Old Town Social, Bangers & Lace, Belly Shack, 25 Degrees, Superdawg