Byron's Hot Dog Haus
1017 West Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60613 (map); 773-281-7474; byronshd.com
The Short Order: Hot dog takes "fully loaded" to a whole new extreme
Want Fries with That?Decent skinny fries, but eat them while they are hot.
Seats?There is a small counter inside, a some patio furniture outside.
To put together the Serious Eats Chicago Dog Style Guide, I drew from the many hours of first hand research (a.k.a. stuffing my face) that I've been doing on an almost weekly basis for the past four years. That has included visits to stands all over the city, from the Northside, to the South Side, and everywhere in between. But Byron's? Never been. But in the name of research before that guide was published, I made sure to stop by to see what I've been missing.
Not that I've been avoiding it, but it just seemed like one of those places that was famous for a variation, even if that particular variation wasn't actually all that tasty. It's easy for journalists to write about places that do things differently, and, to be sure, Byron's does. The stand is famous for topping its dogs with a literal salad of ingredients. Along with the traditional seven toppings (mustard, onion, relish, dill pickle, tomato slices, sport peppers, and celery salt) that you'll find on a classic Chicago dog, lettuce, green pepper, and cucumber are also added. So, if you already thought that the Chicago dog was a tad too unwieldy, look away now. Plus, I also knew that it didn't use natural casing hot dogs, at least not for the regular or the jumbo versions (more on the Dogzilla later), which is a major strike in my book.
But when has making sense ever been a virtue of a Chicago stand?
This city is full of joints that don't look right on paper, and yet somehow they manage to create a uniquely delicious experience. Much like Susie's Drive-Thru or Superdawg, excess works in Byron's favor, and against most good sense, it serves a delicious variant of the classic Chicago dog.
As I mentioned above, Byron's doesn't sell one hot dog, it serves three: an 1/8th pound skinless hot dog ($2.69), a 1/4 pound skinless Jumbo Dog ($3.89), and a 1/2 pound natural casing monster known as the Dogzilla ($4.79). Taking a hint from Titus at Smokin' Chokin' and Chowing with the King, I went with the Jumbo, as I kind of figured that the regular would get lost amongst the toppings, and, frankly, I'm kind of scared of the Dogzilla.
Without a doubt, the Jumbo dog is messy and out of control, but it's also kind of impossible to hate. Though skinless, the Jumbo brings along an extra beefy profile, standing up admirably to the cool mix of ingredients. Sure, the bun will collapse halfway through, but that's a small price to pay for a hot dog that balances the cool and crunchy with the savory so well.
Honestly, with the hot dog out of the way, I didn't know what else to try. Byron's menu doesn't help. With dozens of different sandwiches and sausages, I felt a little lost. But after seeing some brats already on the griddle, I went with one of those. It was a good call. As you can see from the picture, the brat had a great sear, and featured a crisp casing. Dressed simply with mustard and onions, it was a solid choice, if not quite as fun as the hot dog.
Be sure to eat the fries quickly. Though they aren't made in house, they arrive crispy and well salted. Unfortunately, they cool quickly, simultaneously losing all their power.
With a few dozen more options left to try, I undoubtedly missed something. A return visit is in order. But regardless of whether I try anything else, this version of the Chicago dog is definitely a worth the visit.