The scene: Friday at 11:10 am. TJ and I barely fit through the first glass door at Hot Doug's, 3324 North California, Chicago. Woo hoo! The line is short today, so we don't have to wait outside in the bitter cold. The smell of Doug's special duck-fat fries (available only on Fridays and Saturdays, mind you) hits us as we walk into the "Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium." TJ, eager for his favorite hot dog in the world, starts to chant, "hot dog, hot dog, hot dog, pickle!" I try to explain to him that we have to wait in line, because Hot Doug's is so famous that people from all over Chicago come here. The guy in front of us leans back to inform TJ that Mommy is wrong, people from all over the COUNTRY visit Hot Doug's. He begins to brag that 5 hours ago he was in his kitchen in Michigan when a Hot Doug's craving struck. Now, here he is standing with us in line. Are the hot dogs really that good, you ask? Oh yeah.
Whether you get your dog steamed or char-grilled, or get anything from a traditional Chicago-Style Hot Dog (TJ's favorite - with a pickle, of course) to "The Elvis" (polish sausage), to "The Keira Knightley" (fire dog, which is Travelin' Mom's and Dad's favorite), to "The Pete Shelley" (vegetarian dog), everything is addictively delicious. I like my dogs char-grilled - Doug, the owner, a culinary school graduate, personally stands behind the counter and courteously chats briefly with every customer despite the line-around-the-block. He also has the cooking time down pat - a nice snap on the outside, and juicy on the inside. Plus, every day there are several very creative, exotic, special dogs. This week, specials include the BLT (bacon sausage with avocado mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes), and Apple-Habanero Chicken Sausage (with lime-ancho mayonnaise and habanero-jack cheese). And the duck fat fries? They are simply the best french fry I've ever had. Perfectly crunchy and salty, not greasy. The prices are ridiculously reasonable ($3.50 for a huge portion of duck fat fries, $1.75 for a hot dog, $2.50 for a fire dog, and around $7 for the specials).
Hot Doug's is a great place to visit with kids, despite the consistently long lines. It is open Monday-Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. My advice is to go early on Fridays (you've got to get the duck fat fries, and the waits on Saturdays are even longer), no later than 11:30 a.m. The decor is kitschy with lots of Elvis tributes, cool music, and an always-festive mood. If your visit is anywhere near any type of holiday, check the website before you trek out there - Doug is known to take frequent long weekends and vacations, and if there's no Doug, there's no Hot Doug's. But hey, TJ and I can't complain - Doug is a true hot dog artist - he needs to recharge every once in a while.