1441 Rand Rd, Des Plaines, IL 60016 (map); 847-699-0606; randredhots.com
The Short Order: Minimalist hot dogs in Des Plaines
Want Fries with That? Exceptional fresh cut fries come with every order
Seats? Two tables and a counter to lean on
"I have found a Hot Dog Joint better than Gene & Jude's." That sentence, written last month on LTHForum, was the first time I'd ever heard about Rand Red Hots, a new hot dog joint in the northwestern suburb of Des Plaines. Talk about an introduction. Though obviously hyperbolic, I'm a sucker for these sorts of declarative statements, just so long as it all ends with me eating a great hot dog. But Gene & Jude's isn't any old hot dog stand. According to our very own unscientific study, it might be the best hot dog stand in the nation.
And you can safely compare Rand Red Hots to Gene & Jude's because both serve minimalist Chicago-style hot dogs. This variant, also called a Depression Dog, is straightforward and to the point, featuring only mustard, relish, chopped onion, and, if asked, sport peppers, all on a plain bun. The other key distinguishing feature is that most places wrap the hot dog up with a pile of hand-cut fries.
But Rand Red Hots certainly doesn't look the part. Minimalist hot dogs are usually served in minimalist surroundings. Just think about the stark interior of Gene & Jude's or the complete lack of decoration at Redhot Ranch. Rand Red Hots is a drive-in, sort of like a less flashy Superdawg, with classic soda signs covering the walls. Fortunately, the menu keeps things to the basics.
Enough buildup, how's that Hot Dog ($2.89)? Well, it certainly looks the part. Rand's uses a small natural casing Vienna Beef hot dog—an absolute must. The steamed bun was soft and airy. The rest of the minimalist toppings were there, but never overwhelmed each bite. It all added up to a compact and beefy bite. Of course, the real question is whether it actually is better than Gene & Jude's. That's really hard to say. Even if I tasted both side by side, the experience of both is so different, it'd be hard to pick a winner. However, there's little doubt that this is a great dog.
But the real story may be the Fresh Cut Fries, which, in true minimalist dog fashion, come wrapped up with every sausage. Sometimes the fries at places like this steam to the point where they become overly limp; this can still be satisfying, if not completely ideal. But these stay extra crispy while remaining creamy and soft on the inside. They remind me the most of Redhot Ranch, except I didn't even have to ask for them to be fried longer, they just come like this. I'd have liked a little more salt, but that's a small criticism to some otherwise exceptional spuds.
The Maxwell St. Polish ($2.89) doesn't hold up quite as well. Though it's loaded with caramelized onions just like at Jim's Original, the sausage isn't quite as assertive. While not a terrible option, your calories are better spent elsewhere.
Instead, why not save some stomach space for a chocolate shake ($3)? Honestly, this is one of the first times I've been able to order a milkshake with a minimalist dog, and just so you all know, the combination works. Creamy, but not to the point where it clogs up the straw, the shake is a great addition if you don't mind feeling a little sluggish afterwards.
So what's the final answer? It feels a little lame to stay neutral on the matter. But the honest answer is that Rand Red Hots is not a copy of Gene & Jude's, Redhot Ranch, or any other minimalist hot dog stand in the area. It's actually unique, which is about as big of a compliment as I could give it.