A Hamburger Today
Standing Room Only: Redhot Ranch
2072 N. Western Avenue, Chicago IL 60647 (map); 773-878-9898
The Short Order: Brand new joint serving up hot dogs the old way.
Want Fries with That? Come with every order, and you'll eat each one.
Want Ketchup? They have it, and you may use it on your fries if you are crazy.
Chicago's Depression Dog seems to be making a comeback. This scaled-back version of a Chicago dog eschews the excessive vegetables of its more famous and well-to-do brother (the fully loaded Chicago Dog), in favor of brut force.
It has been kept alive thanks to a few Chicago stands that have stubbornly refused to change. I'm talking about places like Jimmy's Red Hots, Gene and Judes, and 35th Street Dogs, which seem to be the soul of Chicago's hot dog culture. Each tops their dogs with mustard, onion, relish, and sport peppers, then wraps them up with a handful of freshly prepared French fries. And that hot dog must be a natural casing Vienna Beef dog.
I'm an evangelist for natural casing hot dogs, because they provide a pleasing snap and a rush of pure beefy flavor that is lacking in skinless dogs. Once you try one, nearly every other hot dog will taste wrong to you. So it's a little frustrating that every stand in Chicago doesn't use them. There is a thread on LTHForum.com dedicated to documenting which stands use the proper kind of hot dog.
Let's go add another one to the list: Redhot Ranch, which just opened in January and sits on busy Western Avenue (which is also one of the longest roads in the country) in a former taqueria. I've been interested in it for weeks now after they put up a sign that eerily mimicked the bold red and yellow sign of 35th Street Dogs. I chalked it up to coincidence at first That's one of my favorite stands. Were they doing this to mimic the real thing, or were they trying to tell me something?
But from the moment I walked in, I could tell I was in for a treat. Right behind the counter, a refrigerator with glass doors contained a huge bag of natural casing hot dogs. For this alone, Redhot Ranch would be amongst the elite hot dog stands in the city. Everything else is just icing on the cake—french fries in this case, which, in classic Depression Dog fashion are hand-cut and fried to order.
The fries are better than they have any right to be. Unlike Jimmy's, where the fries can sometimes be limp and greasy, each one is perfectly crisp on the outside and tender inside.
Best part of Redhot Ranch, at least for me, is that it's awfully close to where I live (between Logan Square and Bucktown, a fertile culinary ground that also contains Honey 1 Barbecue and Belly Shack). Most of the other famous Depression dog places are further from the loop.
And, honestly, this is one of the best I've had. Since they opened in January, I've been twice and both times were phenomenal. So if you're in search of what a real Depression dog is all about, this may be your best option. Whether or not that means the recession is closing in or not, is another question (at least the hot dogs are getting better).