Serious Eats: Chicago

Standing Room Only: Jimmy's Red Hots in Chicago

Note: This post marks the debut of Nick Kindelsperger's Standing Room Only series, in which the author visits Chicago's best seatless eateries. Have at it, Nick.

"The best seat is probably in your own car."

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Why start the column at Jimmy's Red Hots on the West side of Chicago? I asked myself the same question as I stood in the jumbled joint gazing out at the rush of tangled traffic at Grand Avenue and Pulaski, some eight miles from the Loop.

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Joint might be the polite term. Jimmy's Red Hots sits on the front part of a large and poorly paved parking lot, its facade full of faded signs, including one with what looks an awful lot like a bullet hole (photographic evidence after the jump). Good fun.

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Inside, there's one tiny room with people lined up to one side waiting to order and a long counter facing the windows on the other side. The very small menu lists red hots, Polish sausages, fries, soft drinks, and tamales (yes, tamales). That's it. From what I can tell, there are no tables outside. The best seat is probably in your own car.

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Picturesque is not the first word that comes to mind, and it certainly isn't the easiest place to get to. And, to be perfectly honest, there are more expertly prepared dogs in comfy, A/C-equipped surroundings. But pleasant and peaceful don't always add up to the most delicious dining experience. Luckily, delicious is something Jimmy's Red Hots manages to do extremely well.

Jimmy's Red Hots

4000 W Grand Avenue, Chicago IL 60651 (at N. Pulaski Road; map); 773-384-9513
The Short Order: A "minimalist" Chicago dog--a natural-casing Vienna Beef sausage topped with chopped onion, mustard, relish, and sport peppers housed in a plain steamed bun
Want Fries with That? Yes. Freshly cut and twice-fried, they are nearly perfect.
Want Ketchup? Not a chance.

This is a no-nonsense, get-in-get-out establishment that serves a limited number of items but serves them well. Even its Chicago dog is no fuss. Instead of the usual dragged-through-the-garden dog that this town is famous for, Jimmy's subscribes to the criminally underreported minimalist school of the Chicago dog. It uses only the relatively spare toppings of mustard, onion, relish, and sport peppers on a plain hot dog bun.

The minimalist style dog is more brash and more compact than a typical Chicago-style dog and it's most famously served at Gene and Jude's. It's a variety I (perhaps) prefer. For those unmoved by the excesses of a traditional Chicago dog (ahem, Mr. Richman), the version served at Jimmy's Red Hots might be for you.

Its dog, like those of most fine hot dog purveyors in Chicago, is an all-beef natural-casing dog from Vienna Beef. The dogs are simmered in huge white crocks and are fished out with tongs at an incredible rate. The toppings are quickly scattered on, along with a mountain of fries whether you want them or not.

Oh, and you want them. The fries are freshly cut and fried twice, which results in the delicious combination of crisp crust and smooth and creamy interior. I was astounded by these guys; they're perfectly seasoned with salt and didn't need an ounce of ketchup to go down. And that's quite convenient since Jimmy's subscribes to the militant "No-Ketchup Rule" of hardcore Chicago hot dog stands. The large men who staff the place wear black T-shirts with crossed-out bottles of ketchup. They mean business.

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Everything is wrapped in paper and tossed into whatever bag the staff happens to find that day. I've had them in a Burger King bag and in a bag from some random fried-chicken chain.

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When you unwrap the package, the fries spill all over the place, and the dog, which has been squeezed tightly by the wrapping, looks haggard and spent. It's not the most beautiful presentation. Taking a picture of this is a losing proposition. But the flavor suffers no ill effects.

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It's juicy and beefy, with a perfect snap from the natural casing and nice bite from the hot peppers. While probably not the best dog in the city, the combination of the dog, minimalist toppings, and perfectly cooked fries makes this one of my absolute favorite Chicago experiences. And it all costs a paltry $2.27 ($2.50, when you add tax), which has to be one of the best cheap vertical lunches available.

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