Sam's Red Hots
2375 W Armitage Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60647 (map)
The Short Order: Straightforward stand with decent hot dogs.
Want Fries with That? Crinkle cut fries come with every order.
Seats? Nope. Not even a counter to lean on.
Sam's Red Hot's in Bucktown is a stand in the truest sense of the word. Forget about seating, there's not even a counter to lean on. All you can do is order from the walkup window on Armitage, get your food, and leave.
Even the menu follows the basic formula of hot dogs and fries served together minimalist-style, along with Polish sausages and tamales to help to round things out. Sam's is also open late, and has been serving the local community for years in the kind of little hut I have a serious weakness for.
It ain't perfect, but most neighborhoods would love a place like Sam's to call its own. That said, most neighborhoods don't have Redhot Ranch, one of my very favorite stands in all of Chicago, less than two blocks away. Considering they serve basically the same things, comparing them is inevitable. It's almost unfair. Where Redhot serves natural casing hot dogs and hand cut fries, Sam's serves skinless dogs and frozen crinkle-cut fries.
Even the Polish is skinless, something I hardly ever encounter. But even if it did have a casing, the beefy and garlicy profile is oddly missing here. Instead, it just tastes like a bland, oversized hot dog.
Like most minimalist dogs, fries come wrapped up with every order, making this an especially cheap meal. Though I prefer my fries hand-cut and freshly fried (like the glorious ones at Redhot Ranch) I can appreciate a frozen crinkle-cut fry, especially when it's extra crispy. But that's the problem. These are pale, limp, and under salted—three serious strikes. Perhaps you have ask for them extra crispy, because these just didn't satisfy.
And yet. Even though the minimalist-style hot dog uses a skinless dog, and despite the pile of mediocre fries surrounding it, all the toppings are on the mark. It all adds up to a reliably good hot dog, one that never fluctuates too much from the few times I've had it. Sometimes that's a good thing. For all the other times, Redhot Ranch is just around the corner.