Serious Eats: Chicago
Standing Room Only: Superdawg
"I had my doubts. This place breaks nearly every one of my Chicago hot dog rules."
6363 Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago IL 60646 (map); 773-763-0660
The Short Order: Classic drive-in, with beefy mammoth dog.
Want Fries with That? Crinkle cut "superfries" come with every order.
Want Ketchup? It's available for the fries.
Superdawg is a fast-food fantasy land unlike anything else in Chicago. It's an honest-to-goodness drive-in with car hops, neon lights, and mascots (their names are Maurie and Flaurie) that seem to greet you from the road. It's the kind of kitschy, nostalgic place that seems best at home in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
The first time I drove by, I was convinced it was fake. It had to be some marketing directors idea of a drive-in. But Superdawg has the history to back things up. Open since 1948, it has been mentioned often and loudly as one of the best Chicago dogs in the city.
This is where you probably expect to read some history or peculiar facts about the place—but I'm not interested in history. It's been written better and more extensively elsewhere. I just wanted to know whether their hot dog would stack up to the numerous other great stands around the city that I've been able to sample.
I had my doubts. This place breaks nearly everyone of my Chicago hot dog rules.
First off, they don't use Vienna Beef hot dogs. That familiar "V" sign is nowhere to be seen amongst the neon glow of Superdawg. They use a "unique beef blend" from an unnamed source. Plus, they don't even have the decency to stuff it in a natural casing. It's huge and skinless, at first resembling a bloated Ballpark frank.
Second, and most oddly, instead of the usual slice of tomato that tops the best Chicago-style hot dogs, they use a wedge of pickled green tomato (some claim it is a tomatillo), too big to fit in the bun. You have to take a bite, then set it aside. What's the deal with that? How can a place often sited as "the best Chicago dog in the city," not play by the rules?
This place goes against the grand narrative I've developed about Chicago hot dogs. Because against all logic it serves one of the beefiest and best-tasting hot dogs in the city. I went twice in the past week to prove myself wrong, and both times left completely impressed. It's not my favorite Chicago hot dog, but it's one of the better ones you can find. Even the fries, so called "superfries" here, are crinkle cut wonders.
About the only bad thing I can say? While the dog and fries are served in an awfully cute box, it makes for an unfortunate delivery system. They get smashed together and it's a little hard to dig the dog out to begin devouring it. But, you know what? I'd probably be upset if it went away.
Nothing at Superdawg makes sense, anyway. Maybe that's OK. It's a wonderland, and a shrine to the drive-in era. It's hot dog heaven of sorts.