Standing Room Only: Branko's
1118 West Fullerton Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614 (map); 773-472-4873; brankoschicago.com
The Short Order: Family run college-approved joint, with great stand food.
Want Fries with That? Not their strong suit.
Seats? This is more of a stand in spirit than practice.
Branko's is a stand in spirit, if not technically in practice. Of all the restaurants I've written about for this column, this one probably has the most seating options—I counted 20 or so—even if there is a legitimate counter along the right wall where you could stand and eat. But Branko's certainly serves quintessential stand food, and for the purposes of this column, that's good enough for me.
At Branko's you'll find all the Chicago classics—hot dogs, Italian beefs, and gyros—but every dish seems to have a distinct personal touch by the owners, which makes sense considering the same family has owned the restaurant since 1976. Take the grilled chicken sandwich ($5.99). This sandwich is a throwaway at most stands, one often added merely to appease those wanting something "healthier," even if it usually ends up overcooked and bland. But at Branko's it's a highlight. Marinated chicken only gets tossed on the grill after the order, resulting in chicken with genuine grilled flavor that is still impressively juicy. It does take awhile, a fact that the owners are quite clear about when you order. But I'd much rather have a freshly grilled chicken sandwich than a dry one that has been sitting around for an hour. Plus, this thing is enormous.
I'm not sure if it's all the skinless hot dogs I've been eating recently, but the natural casing Vienna Beef hot dog ($2.99) tasted extra beefy and snappy to me. Sure, dill pickle slices are used instead of spears, and the bun lacked poppy seeds, but complaining about the rules feels wrong with a dog as good as this one.
Even the Italian beef ($5.99) shows genuine care. With hot and sweet giardiniera joining the sliced beef on a large roll, it appears like every other Italian beef in town. But the thickly sliced beef has an intensely meaty backbone to it, one that I couldn't quite explain. The gravy is thin, and yet each bite featured a deep beefy backbone. Sure, the giardiniera could have been better, but this is one solid beef.
None of these items are quite the best of their kind in the city, and with the excellent Devil Dawgs and the very good Chicago's Dog House nearby, the area has its fair share of stand options. But the personal touch definitely sets Branko's apart.