There is quite literally a nationally designated month or day for almost everything. No joke, even drinking straws have a designated day to be celebrated. But there’s one that we can let pass without mention because, well, we’re Chicago. And, July is National Hot Dog Month. Love ’em or leave ’em, hot dogs are foot-long big in Chicago, and if your kids haven’t begged for one yet, they will soon. We love the on-the-go ease (no silverware!) and colorful condiments (kids get a pass on the sacrilege of using ketchup). Grab one at a legendary local spot and turn eating into an adventure. Scroll to discover a classic drive-in, counter-service icon and more.
The Kitschy Favorite: Gene & Judes
Since hot dogs and nostalgia go together like ketchup and judgment, enjoy them at old-school sensation Gene & Jude’s. The River Grove favorite has been around since 1946 and is often argued as having the best hot dogs in the country. The kitschy atmosphere feels preserved in time, maintaining the same rustic charm it probably possessed when it first opened. It’s rickety and frills-free, but in the most heartwarming of ways, with surly-but-lovable staffers and a bare-bones menu of hot dogs and fries. But rest assured these hot dogs and fries are exceptional.
2720 River Rd., River Grove; Online: geneandjudes.com
Best Drive-Thru: Superdawg
One of the most revered, iconic hot dog destinations not only in Chicago, but in the country at large, is Superdawg. Recognizable for its statues of hot dog characters that stand on the roof of their Norwood Park location, this spot is Americana nostalgia at its best. Pull up in a car and park by one of the intercom stations. You place your order with a staffer who shuffles to and fro the small restaurant and then indulge in your car. Just like the good old-fashioned drive-ins non-kids remember and cherish! It’s a bygone experience, made all the better by crinkle-cut fries, randomly square-shaped scoops of ice cream, and those dogs. Oh, those dogs. The signature Superdawg frankfurter arrives on a poppy seed bun with piccalilli, mustard, pickle, Spanish onions and hot peppers. Another favorite is the adorably named Whoopskidawh, a char-broiled sausage enrobed in “special” sauce with grilled onions and a pickle.
6363 N. Milwaukee Ave., Norwood Park & 333 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling; Online: superdawg.com
The Pit Stop: Fast Track
A jaunt to Fast Track captures the sensation of speeding along on a road trip, making a pitstop for affordable comfort food. The longstanding West Loop haunt stands out in the neighborhood's sea of high-end restaurants for its kitschy Americana motif and casual menu. The restaurant looks like a refurbished gas station, making it the perfect place to fuel up on all sorts of sandwiches, sides and hot dogs. There’s the standard Chicago-style hot dog made with Vienna Beef, as well as charbroiled dogs, cheddar dogs and footlongs.
629 W. Lake St., West Loop; Online: fasttrackchicago.com
The Worth-the-Drive Fave: The Dogfather
It doesn’t get any more family-friendly than The Dogfather, a Mecca of meaty decadence in far west suburban Bartlett. It's clean and inviting, outside and inside, and employees radiate friendly vibes. Grab a seat and dig into hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and gyros. The menu is focused and delicious, featuring the classic Chicago-style dog along with a cheese dog, chili dog, chili cheese dog and Polish sausage. There are kid-sized versions of the dogs, along with tantalizing sides such as fries, onion rings, tater tots and mozzarella sticks.
957 Illinois Route 59, Bartlett; Online: dogfatherhotdogs.com
Most Legendary: The Wieners Circle
Hot-dog-buyer beware: You NEVER know what's going to be served on the side of your dog at The Wieners Circle. But, we can promise you it will be filled with a heap of good-spirited sass. If you want a great dog and a hearty laugh, hit this spot for an unforgettable experience. One that will likely teach your kids some new words, but all in good fun. If this makes you a bit nervous, maybe save this one for an adult-only afternoon out. The Wieners Circle is currently closed for renovation but will reopen early fall with new offerings and additions to their already-cool space.
2622 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park; Online: facebook.com/TheWienerCircle
The Chicago Dogs
Continue the hot dog theme and spend a family day at the beautiful Impact Field watching The Chicago Dogs, Chicago's newest baseball team that pays homage to our favorite street food.
9850 Balmoral Ave., Rosemont: Online: thechicagodogs.com
Continued Hot Dog Education
And, to help with your kid's true-Chicagoan education, here's a helpful diagram that shows a classic Chicago-style hot dog.
— Maria Chambers & Matt Kirouac
Featured photo: Superdawg, Bob Z. via Yelp