Standing Room Only: Art's Drive-In
1333 West North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642 (map); 773-489-0099; artsdrivein.com
The Short Order: Solid hot dog stand in the industrial corridor.
Want Fries with That? Crinkle cut specimens are decent.
Seats? A long counter a few high top tables.
Of all the stands in Chicago, I've probably driven by Art's Drive-In the most. So why have I never eaten there? Located as it is in the industrial corridor between Lincoln Park and Bucktown, it's certainly not in the prettiest part of town, but that's never bothered me before. No, my absence from Art's is all about guilt of the fresh produce kind. See, it is directly across the street from Stanley's Fruit & Vegetables, a.k.a. the place where you can score bananas for ten cents. Sure, picking up a hot dog after loading up on all kinds of fresh produce seems a little wrong, but there also is another explanation.
Perched high above on the sign is a rotating figure of Stanley casting judgement upon me, all while straddling what looks like a flying watermelon. It's like I'm riding shotgun with Gatsby past the sign of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. Can you deal with that kind of guilt?
Not that Art's didn't look appealing—it is probably cleaner and more polished than most stands—but I also had no proof of its prowess. That's until I was reminded of the skirt steak sandwich, which was featured in our recent roundup of 13 Steak Sandwiches We Love. Wasting no time, I high-tailed it for a dinner. Good thing I hurried when I did, too, since Art's closes at 6 p.m. sharp, and while they were more than happy to serve me, a worker mopping the floor didn't seem to think I'd mind a little soap on my shoes. (He graciously left a two-tile square of dry space for me to stand in.)
Though he was in a hurry, the food was luckily not just slapped together. The natural casing hot dog ($2.25) from Red Hot Chicago was crisp and plump, and the toppings were evenly applied. While not the most exciting hot dog in the city (plus it was missing the poppy seed bun) I'm always pleased to find another stand serving natural casing dogs.
Other items I tried weren't as rewarding, even if they weren't disaster. The Shish kabob on pita ($4.89) has nothing on Mr. D's, but the meat is flavorful, and when you mix in the white sauce served on the side, it makes for a genuinely filling dinner.
The crinkle cut fries (free with the shish-kabob dinner) were standard and a little soft. But I also got the last batch of the day, so that may have had something to do with it.
So it's not exactly a find, but Art's Drive-In is definitely worth the guilt dished down from up high.