All For the Love of a Good Dog

by Nancy Bestor

How far would Bob and I travel to eat a hot dog proclaimed by many to be the best in all the U.S.? Would we ride the Chicago subway an hour out of our way? Would we walk 30 minutes, rolling our suitcases down a Chicago neighborhood on a cold winter's day? Would we wait in line outside for over an hour? Yes, apparently we would. And was it worth it? Yes it was.

We were visiting Chicago in March for a travel goods trade show, and looking for good city eats for the three days we were there. We ate a delicious meal at Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill (Read more about that in our April e-news brief), but we were looking to experience some of Chicago's cheaper but equally delicious dishes. Our friend Matt suggested Hot Doug's, in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood. Hot Doug's bills itself as a Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium. With a description like that, how could we refuse? It has more than 1800 reviews on Yelp, with the average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Even Anthony Bourdain has weighed in on Hot Doug's, naming it one of the 13 places to eat before you die).

We rode the subway from downtown Chicago, getting off at the nearest subway stop to Hot Doug's, Belmont Station on the Blue Line. From there we walked, rolling our Eagle Creek suitcases behind us, more than two miles on a chilly day to get to this famed hot dog shop. Thinking we would arrive early and avoid the long lunch lines, we were surprised to see at least 30 people ahead of us, at about 11:30 a.m. The hour long wait just gave us plenty of time for the anticipation to build, as we deliberated over which dog we would choose to devour.

On any given date, Dough has at least 10 special dogs of the day. At the time of this story's writing, the daily specials (around $8) included smoked antelope sausage with black garlic confit aioli and chipotle-cheddar cheese, teriyaki and mandarin orange chicken sausage with sriracha mayonnaise and kimchi. Or how about the portobello mushroom and swiss cheese pork sausage with blue cheese dijonnaise and wild mushrooms sauteed in duck fat. Or maybe you might even like the beer, white cheddar and jalapeno chicken sausage with Guinness stout mustard and cheese-stuffed hot peppers. I ordered one special dog, and Bob ordered two, and we shared a basket of fries. I was sorry that we couldn't visit Hot Doug's on a Friday or Saturday, when he serves French fries cooked in duck fat. But on the other hand, the lunch line on those days is usually two hours. Yes, two hours.

Doug himself works behind the counter, chatting customers up and helping them decide what to order. Hot Doug's is open Monday-Saturday from 10:30-4ish. Call ahead to make sure they're open, as they take off many holidays and close up shop if they run out of dogs. Hot Doug's is well worth any detour in the Chicago area.

As Tony Bourdain says, "Hot Doug's is proof that food doesn't have to be expensive to be great."

- Nancy just finished lunch, sadly not a hot dog from Hot Doug's, and is on her way to wash her hands. She thanks Doug's bathroom sign for the tip.