Serious Eats: Chicago
Standing Room Only: 35th Street Red Hots
"I don't need much in my life, just a 100% all-beef natural casing Vienna Beef hot dog with freshly fried French fries."
35th Street Red Hots
500 W 35th Street, Chicago IL 60609 (map)
The Short Order: Bare bones hot dog stand serving minimalist dogs with handfuls of handmade fries.
Want Fries with That? The nearly perfect fries come lovingly heaped onto every dog.
Want Ketchup? Come on. Not on these fries.
Some things you just have to learn for yourself. During the swing of baseball season, I originally attempted to write about the best dining options of Chicago's two great baseball parks, Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular.
But as fellow Serious Eater Michael Nagrant pointed out on Twitter, there isn't much of a point. Average at best, and greasy and overbearing at their nacho-cheese splattered worst, the end result was not the appetizing piece I had hoped to document.
What the experience taught me is that you need to stuff yourself before the game. And if you're a White Sox fan on the way to U.S. Cellular Field, there are some great options. Perhaps the closest one is 35th Street Red Hots, which is about a block away from the field and absolutely destroys any of the offerings inside the ballpark.
I heard about this stand from a particularly enthusiastic post from Smokin' Chokin' and Chowing with the King, which heralded it earlier this year. I had surprisingly never heard of it. How could that be? It's not mentioned in the pantheon of great Chicago hot dogs stands, which is odd considering how few still take the time to do everything from scratch.
There are a couple picnic tables outside, probably great during the summer before a game, but they aren't worth the pain when the weather is cold. There are also a few stools inside but not many. This is food you eat quickly. The menu is blessedly small, with just a few options beyond the standard hot dogs and fries. You can get a double dog, which is just two hot dogs in one bun. They also have a Polish sausage.
About the only oddball item is the fried shrimp served with a cup of hot sauce. They were solid, but nothing compared to versions at former Standing Room Only spots Hagen's Fish Market and Calumet Fisheries. I don't recommend veering from the dogs and fries. I mean, why pass up one of the best dog and fry combos in the city?
35th Street is a practicing member of the minimalist Chicago dog club (sometimes called the Depression Dog). Like Jimmy's Red Hots and Gene and Judes, it forgoes the usual accouterments of the classic Chicago dog in favor of a simple smear of mustard, touch of regular relish, sprinkling of chopped onion, and a sport pepper or two.
Sometimes the excess of a Chicago dog fits your mood, but during the cooler months there is something really comforting about this minimalist version. I feel like the toppings better accentuate the flavor of the dog. The overall effect is a beefier and heartier bite.
Each dog is loaded up with a handful of fries, a hallmark of the minimalist dog presentation. I've had versions from other stands that didn't hold up as well. Sometimes the fries get limp and their grease spills into the dog, making for a soggy, messy affair. But I'm pretty sure any food would taste better with a sprinkling of these crispy fries. They are astonishingly good.
Some stands leave the fries a tad limp, but these are crispy on the outside and perfectly tender inside. They also get a generous sprinkle of salt. But that still doesn't quite explain why they are so addicting. In the great ranking of fries, I'd put these up with Chickies.
I don't need much in my life, just a 100% all-beef natural casing Vienna Beef hot dog with freshly fried French fries. It's Chicago's hallmark and one of the top reasons I love this city. But far too few stands take the time to do the basics correctly from scratch. That is what makes 35th Street Red Hots, a relatively charmless stand on crumbling parking lot, one of my favorite hot dog stands in the city.