Where notoriety is concerned, Chicago’s hot dogs rival the city’s deep-dish pizza and Italian beef. And not just one individual or restaurant is responsible. German immigrants first introduced Chicago to tubed sausages in the mid-1800s. S. Rosen’s started baking poppy-seed buns in 1909. They’re still unofficially the official Chicago-style hot dog bun. Around the time of the Great Depression, Jewish immigrants refined the by-then traditional dog with their kosher all-beef sausages. At some point, seven condiments became the Chicago-style standard. Yellow mustard, white onion, sweet pickle relish, sport peppers, tomatoes, kosher dill pickle spears, and celery salt are affectionately called the Magnificent Seven. Hundreds of cooks and restaurateurs have played around with these ingredients since, seeking to perfect the Chicago-style hot dog. Here are some of the most influential players in the Chicago hot dog game.
“You are about to have the best hot dog in town,” reads a sign posted on the west side of Byron’s hot dog stand. Many Chicagoans agree with these bold words. Byron’s product is a classic Chicago-style dog—a Vienna beef burger topped with the Magnificent Seven ingredients and served on a poppy-seed bun. Cucumber, lettuce, and green bell pepper are also available. Byron’s hot dogs come in three sizes. The largest is a half-pound monstrosity called the Dogzilla.
You may know it as ‘Donald Duk’s Red Hots.’ But this historic Chicago hot dog vendor has operated simply as ‘Duk’s’ since receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Walt Disney Productions a few years after setting up shop in West Town in 1954. Duk’s deep-fried dogs are less of a staple in the health-conscious modern age than they were in the 1960s and 1970s. But Duk’s original location still stands, as does its place in Chicago’s hot dog history. Duk’s Red Hots was inducted into the Vienna Beef Hot Dog Hall of Fame this past February.
Abe “Fluky” Drexler opened his first hot dog stand on the corner of Maxwell Street and Halsted in 1929. Fluky’s opened three additional stands in the following seven years, faring better than most businesses during the Great Depression. By selling his product for five cents at a time when many Chicago hot dogs cost three times as much, Drexler helped others weather the economic turmoil as well. Drexler’s “Depression dog” is widely considered the originator of the Chicago-style dog. Fluky’s roadside stands are no longer. But you can enjoy a Fluky’s frankfurter at the Wal-Mart in Niles, a 15-minute drive from AMLI Evanston.
Gene Morino was devouring a hot dog at a Cubs game when it occurred to him something was missing. That something was the salty crunch of a pile of French fries. Gene opened a hot dog stand on the corner of Polk and Western in 1946, serving Chicago-style dogs topped with French fries. The stand was a hit until Gene gambled it away in a card game in 1949. In 1950, Gene reopened the stand with the help of a friend named Jude DeSantis. Aside from relocating to River Grove, this beloved Chicago hot dog stand hasn’t changed much. Its signature menu item is the same hot dog Gene created for himself at that Cubs game more than 70 years ago: Vienna Beef, relish, onions, hot peppers, mustard, and French fries.
Unlike most of the hot dog purveyors on this list, Hot Doug’s is a 21-century institution. The Avondale sausage emporium was also much more than a simple hot dog stand. Hot Doug’s was influenced by Chicago’s hot dog history and continues to shape it. Its classic Chicago-style dog and inventive sausage sandwiches are named for legendary Cubs’ players. Hot Doug’s standalone location closed shop in 2014, but its sausages are not lost and gone forever. You can bite into one at Wrigley Stadium’s Platform 14.
Jim’s specialty is Polish sausage sandwiches, but the iconic eatery originated as a hot dog stand. After working his aunt’s stand for a couple years, a young Polish immigrant named “Jimmy” bought the stand from his aunt. He concocted the Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage Sandwich in 1941, and it quickly became Jim’s best selling sandwich. Jim’s also sells Vienna beef and double Vienna beef hot dogs, as well as hamburgers, pork chop sandwiches, and fish sandwiches. Jim’s is a mile from AMLI Lofts.
Famous for its foot-long dogs, this Lakeview institution has won the hearts and stomachs of many a Chicagoan. Murphy’s is also beloved in Japan, where restaurateurs consider Murphy’s a model for the ideal American hot dog. In addition to foot-longs, Murphy’s serves smaller hot dogs and popular cheddar burgers.
In 1963, Dick Portillo opened a hot dog stand with ,100. In 2014, he sold his 33-stand strong hot dog empire for billion. At the heart of his success was a classic Chicago-style dog, which hasn’t changed since the company was purchased by a private equity group three years ago. Portillo’s now has 41 Illinois locations, one of which is a five-minute walk from AMLI River North. The Chicago hot dog chain has also expanded to Arizona, California, and Indiana.
High school sweethearts Maurie and Flaurie Berman started Chicago’s most famous drive-in hot dog shop in 1948. Nearly 70 years later, Superdawg is still family-run. Its all-beef hot dogs, topped by the Magnificent Seven and pickled tomatoes, have hardly changed during that time.
This Chicago hot dog institution is known for its Vienna red dogs, charred Vienna dogs, and rowdy atmosphere. As long as you’re prepared for the vulgar reception you may meet when ordering at Wiener’s Circle counter, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
Wolfy’s original owner was rumored to be Abe Drexler’s brother-in-law. But while Wolfy’s dogs bear even more resemblance to Fluky’s than other Chicago-style hot dogs, the Lincolnwood eatery has built a solid reputation of its own. If you’re looking for a Vienna char-dog, topped with the Magnificent Seven and sandwiched by a poppy-seed bun, Wolfy’s offers bang for your buck. Even today, a hot dog with all the works sells for just .69.
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