Hot Dogs, Fries, and West Coast-Style Burgers at the New Red Hot Ranch at the Bunny Hutch
Our complete and utter adulation for Red Hot Ranch around here is no secret. With the exception of Gene & Jude's, it's easily the most revered hot dog stand on this site, and for good reason: the dogs are always snappy, natural casing Viennas; the toppings are never off balance; and with the "open-sesame"-esque words, "extra crispy," the skin on fries become a contender for best in the city.
So when Nick received some advanced intel from the owners earlier this summer that they were taking over food service for the Bunny Hutch in Lincolnwood, I was thrilled. Between 35th Street Dogs (their first spot) on the South Side, Red Hot Ranch on the West, and this new venture up North, the sun practically never sets on their minimalist dog empire (Lakesiders, you have to be content with the all-out Chicago dogs at the team's OTHER stand, The Wiener's Circle).
But as excited as I was for the dogs and shrimp, even more intriguing was the promise of West Coast-style burgers, a la In-N-Out. If there's anything Serious Eater gets more excited about than INO, it's news to me. Thus far, save a few camera-less LTHers, Red Hot Ranch at the Bunny Hutch has been lacking in attention. This ends today.
The RHR Hot Dog & Fries ($3.25) mold wasn't broke, and they sure as hell didn't go trying to fix it: this is the depression dog we still can't get enough of. Maybe the air is sweeter up North, but the dog itself seemed extra snappy and beefy on my visit. Though I took my fries as given for review purposes, you absolutely shouldn't: "extra crispy" is your best defense against over steaming in their white paper pouch.
Again, nothing new to report on the Half Pound French Fried Shrimp ($9.00)—these are the same cornmeal-heavy, hard-fried shrimp derided by East Coast transplants throughout the city. Enough already, haters: the shrimp are plump, juicy, and sweet, and if Chicago-style fried shrimp could find a place on the unique foods guide, RHR's would be the gold standard.
Here's where things get different, and we can all thank Las Vegas for the West Coast Double Cheese Burger & Fries ($4.75). Turns out that when the owners aren't gambling, they're eating at the In-N-Out Burger located just off the Vegas strip. Wanting to bring the burgers back to Chicago, the extra space in the Bunny Hutch's kitchen was all the push they needed to expand the hot dogs-fries-polish-shrimp menu ever so slightly.
The burgers begin with beef ground and pattied by a butcher just down the street. And just like In-N-Out, they're topped with sliced American cheese and served on a toasted bun garnished with Thousand Island-esque sauce, iceberg lettuce, and a bright red tomato slice. One structural innovation I'll be integrating into my own burgers is the placement of the thick raw onion slice between the two cheese-topped patties—though messy, this burger never fell apart.
Not to say that there isn't room for improvement. Said freshly ground beef would be greatly enhanced by a generous shake of salt. There are also no sliced pickles on the premises, and their dilly absence is greatly missed. Still, this is a great fast food burger, though more reminiscent of the Rally's/Checkers Big Bufords of my youth than the Double Doubles I've grown to crave as an adult.
The Bunny Hutch apparently used to serve all forms of sundaes, but you'll have to be content now with soft serve-based shakes. Small loss—the Strawberry ($3.50) packs more of that McDonald's flavor than the original, and I'd rather stare at a creepy bunny statue than a creepy clown statue any day.
Full disclosure: unless you live in the area or are curious about the burgers, Red Hot Ranch at the Bunny Hutch is not yet destination-worthy: the original RHR will more than scratch that itch. That being said, "worthy" is merely sprinkle of salt and a few pickle slices away.