Ever since I moved to Chicago, Hot Doug's has been on my to eat list. It's also on Anthony Bourdain's list of 13 places to eat before you die.
Bourdain says the following about Hot Doug's:
"This place convinced me the Chicago red hot is, in fact, superior to the New York hot dog. And it's home to two great innovations in American gastronomy: the "foie gras dog" and the weekends-only practice of cooking French fries in duck fat. It's proof that food doesn't have to be expensive to be great."
Here's a link to the article if you're interested in his other 12 recommendations.
Hot Doug's is notorious for its crazy long lines. Everyone says you end up waiting an hour and a half anytime you go. Given that he's only open Monday through Saturday 10:30 am to 4 pm, Saturdays are the only times I am able to go to Hot Doug's.
My friends and I all happened to be free one Saturday morning so we all decided to check it out.
We intended on getting there right when it opened, but by the time we picked up everyone we were late. By the time we got there around 11 am, there was a line around the building. One of my friends got there around 10:15 am and just when we arrived she had made it inside the front door, which was quite a feat in it of itself. We felt bad cutting in front of all these people that were ahead of us, so our group decided to go to the back of the line and just wait like all the other civilized people waiting for hot dogs on a Saturday morning. My friend had been waiting quite a bit for us and had another engagement she had to go to, so I kept her company and shared some hot dogs with her, then stood in line with the other group of friends to eat again. These are the sacrifices I make for my friends. :) It's a tough job but someone's gotta do it. haha.
Once you make it inside, an hour plus later, you will see this menu of all of their different types of sausages. In the center you will see their daily special hot dogs.
Here's a shot of Doug himself taking all of the orders. He's super friendly.
Now this hot dog gets lots of rave reviews so we had to try the Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel ($9.00). You would think putting foie gras mousse on sausages is overkill, but oddly enough it works. The first few bites were great, but I have to admit, it was too rich for me. Caroline and I split this and thank goodness we did, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to finish it.
We also got the Keira Knightley (formerly the Jennifer Garner and the Britney Spears), a spicy hot dog ($2.50) with all the fixings. It included mustard, caramelized onions, relish, tomatoes, pickle and celery salt. I'm a big fan of pickles on anything.
This was a simple hot dog that was a nice balance to the rich, creamy hot dog that we previously tried.
We also got an order of the duck fat fries ($3.50), which are only available on Fridays and Saturdays. I wanted to love these but I didn't. They weren't served very hot, it felt like it was sitting out for awhile, which is surprisingly since the hot dog orders come out so fast. Had they been hot and fresh from the fryer, it might have been different.
Now for the battle of the duck fat fries vs. regular fries. I could barely taste the duck in the duck fat fries and couldn't figure out what the hype was about. I told my friends about our disappointment with the duck fat fries, so my friends got an order of plain french fries with cheese ($2.75). Only when I tried the regular fries could I taste the difference. It's so subtle and had they been fresh from the frier, they might have been spectacular. Don't expect to be blown away, but they are unique and a bargain at $3.50 for a huge basket full of fries.
My friends and I got a whole slew of different hot dogs to try. Here's a Bacon and Jalapeno Duck Sausage with Bacon-Garlic Mayonnaise and Smoked Gouda Cheese ($7.50). Hot Doug's speciality hot dogs stand out for their combination of savory sauces and rich creamy cheese toppings. This was no exception. Who knew Gouda cheese could be so good in a hot dog.
Here's another. The Black and Blue: Dark Beer and Blue Cheese Pork Sausage with Dark Beer Mustard and Raw Milk Garlic-Cheddar Spread ($7.50). This one on the left didn't have a textural element, which wasn't as satisfying to me. On the right was a regular hot dog with the standard fixings.
Now for my two favorite hot dogs. I was debating between this one and the Hot Sauce Chicken Sausage with "Buffalo" Mustard and Moody Blue Cheese. I asked Doug for his advice and he wisely led me toward the Smoked and Spicy Alligator Sausage with Shrimp Remoulade and Fontina Cheese ($8.50). When in doubt, ask Doug for suggestions. Now, I could not fathom eating an alligator anything, but in sausage form, with tons of toppings, I am game. The sausage was spicy and a bit salty, but the creaminess of the shrimp remoulade and the chunks of fontina cheese was a perfect complement. Doug sure knows how to match up sausages, sauce and cheese. It's a gift I tell you.
All in all, Hot Doug's lived up to the hype and I will definitely be back. He changes his daily specials from time to time so be sure to check his website before you stop by. Although you really can't go wrong with any of his regular hot dogs too.
3324 N California Ave
(between Henderson St & Roscoe St)
Chicago, IL 60618