Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
Considering I've done about 60 Lunch in the Loop posts, it's still a wonder to me that there really aren't that many classic hot dog joints down in Officeville. You know the kind—the ones that not only serve hot dogs, but also Italian beefs, gyros, char-burgers, and the like. I mean, there's Luke's, which fits the bill, but Pepper's closed down, Standing Room Only is tucked away on Printer's Row away from most of the Loop.
So when you think about it, Max's Take Out is really a gem, especially if you're looking for a hometown Chicago lunch. The place is a shoebox, there's only a few stools to sit on, and everything's covered in a thin layer of grease, just like me. Ladies, don't line up all at once. Ladies? No one? Bueller?!
Now this is a hot dog ($2.99). Ordered with everything, it's your decked out tube steak with mustard, relish, onions, pickle, tomatoes, sport peppers, and, of course, a fairy dusting of celery salt. Is it Vienna Beef? Check. But is it natural casing? Check! Thanks, handy-dandy Chicago Natural Casing Hot Dog Map!. Not that you need the map to know for sure; it's definitely got that classic snap when you bite into it.
You can get your dog steamed, or in this case, with char. I prefer the char-dog as it just adds that extra layer of grilled flavor, but that's just me. Yes, the tomato slices are huge, and no, it's not a poppy seed bun. But otherwise, this dog sings Chicago. Not the band, Chicago, though, unless you happen to be singing Chicago while eating this hot dog and now this metaphor's just driven itself off a cliff.
In case your workday hangover is really bad, there is this glorious mess of a chili cheese dog ($3.25). I mean, just look at it. You'll need to wear a trash bag over your business casual outfit while you eat it, but I won't tell anyone. This is a pump-cheese, meat-and-bean chili, Vienna Beef hot dog trainwreck, in the best way possible. It's salty, unapologetically processed, and full of guilt -- so in other words, perfect.
If you're hankering for a Maxwell Street style polish, just order the regular polish ($3.89) with mustard and grilled onions. The charred version is preferred as it does add that extra layer of flavor on top of the rich sausage.
I didn't really get my hopes up too high for the gyro cheeseburger ($6.15), but when I unwrapped it, I was impressed. The sweet, spongy, and glossy egg bun is a surprise -- you wouldn't normally expect this sort of bun from a greasy hole in the wall. The gyro meat is shaved straight off the spinning meat log and piled right on top of the char-grilled patties.
But is it any good? Actually -- yes. It comes as a surprise; my coworkers and I unanimously voted it better than the regular double cheeseburger. The gyro meat adds a boost of savory flavor on top of the grilled preformed patties (did I mention it's a double cheeseburger, too?). Tzatziki is served on the side, and if you choose to use it, the sandwich turns into a seamless mix between burger and gyro. It's worth trying at least once.
The cheese fries ($2.99) aren't much to write home about; it's the same glistening pump cheese as in the chili cheese dog, but the fries themselves seem like a bit of an afterthought. But you know, there's always a place in the world for cheese fries like this -- they might not be the best, but you end up eating them happily anyway.
I still don't understand why people like these tamales ($1.58), you know, the kind wrapped in paper, knotted on both ends with butcher's twine. But they're just a part of Chicago's food landscape, and at least seeing them on the menu gives Max's Take Out some extra street cred.
With all the newer lunch places opening up slinging things like bánh mì, an endless supply of falafel, and fancy fusion sandwiches, Max's Take Out is just a good place to get Chicago comfort food, which feels like a breath of fresh air. Fresh, greasy, air.
Max's Take Out
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.