3324 N California Avenue
All these horror stories we had heard about the line at Hot Doug’s, and we were prepared. For the crowd-consensus best hog dogs in a hot dog-crazy city like Chicago, we were told to expect lines of three or four hours – especially now with the news of Hot Doug’s permanent vacation, beginning October 4. But who would be in line on a Monday morning at 9:30am, just an hour before they opened? Answer: one single person. So, with a group of three, we chatted together, made some jokes, thought about what to order, and by the time Doug himself opened the door at 10:30am, it almost seemed laughably soon. Getting a table? No problem. We can spread out in any of the open spots. Relax at the table while we wait for the order. But as waltzed right up to the cash register with our orders, we looked back at the line, which now snaked around the block, likely hours of waiting.
Doug is a friendly, gregarious guy. He takes every order himself, and it seems no matter how long that line is, he will take his time with you. The same amount of detail he puts in to those interactions seems to be the attention he puts into his hot dogs. Between the three of us, we shared the classics as well as some of the daily specials. The Chicago Style, a steal at $2.50, is a must – relish, mustard, onions, pickles, celery salt, perfectly prepared. Yet we spent our full hour deciding on the specials. Matt eventually decided on the kale, walnut, and raisin pork sausage, topped with curry-coconut mayonnaise, jalapeño-havarti cheese, and crispy smoked pancetta ($9). Our friends ordered the spicy Thai chicken sausage with sriracha mustard, sesame-seaweed salad, and duck cracklings ($9) and the boudin blanc with roasted garlic rouille and L’Edel de Cleron cheese ($8).
Doug knows how to pair his ingredients, he knows how to present bold and esoteric flavors, and he knows how to showcase his sausages. If you think $9 is too high a price to pay for a hot dog, then you have not had these. The kale-raisin sausage was the clear winner of the day, in working a lighter, summery sausage against the heavier cheese, but still balancing all the flavors well. The Thai sausage was also a big winner, and it was serious about its spice level. And you just can’t go wrong with the Chicago style. But the question Yelp and everyone else asks – is it worth it? Is it worth the three hours of waiting? All we can say is that the food was great, the owner amiable, and the others waiting in line were having a good time even while they waited. My recommendation is to get there early on a Monday like we did, and then you don’t have to answer that question!