I walked up to Johnny O's with the intent to fall in love. I have a serious weakness for old school Chicago stands, especially ones with faded signs and walkup windows. Added to this, Johnny O's specializes in two hard to find Chicago classics: the breaded steak sandwich and the mother-in-law. Very few places serve either, and I've never been anywhere that served both.
In a city where most stands serve the exact same brands in exactly the same way, Parse's deserves a visit. The northwestern stand serves an incredible Polish sausage from nearby Harczak's Sausage shop.
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.
Instead of aiming for a classic Chicago hot dog stand, The Haute & the Dog seems to be aiming for a total sausage experience like Hot Doug's. Much to my surprise, it is pulling it off.
Oh, Snarf's. What a silly name you have. As is the standard these days, the sandwiches are toasted. But, wait! Hasn't a massive local chain already cornered the toasted sandwich scene in the Loop?
Like many of my favorite stands in Chicago, Mr. Spanky's makes little sense and is all the better for it. For example, here you can procure house-made bacon and sausage, freshly prepared salads, and, just to throw the whole thing off, meaty mini-sandwiches served on a "custom made Chinese baked bun."
Drive west on Grand Ave. far enough and eventually you'll find Ody's Drive Inn. Doesn't matter if you're looking for it, it'll make itself known. Painted bright red and yellow, it calls out, beckoning hungry travelers to pull in. Perhaps that's just me.
Though it stuns me to say so, L' Patron's carne asada tops the very good offerings of nearby Las Asadas by a wide margin.
Will Chicago ever run out of stands to visit? I doubt it. Just when I think I've uncovered every walkup window in the metropolitan area, I come across an unsuspecting option hidden in plain sight. Check out the most popular stands of 2012.
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.
Mustard's Last Stand is one of a number of hot dog joints in Chicago with a questionably funny name. Though this time it also functions as a fair warning. Sure, it proudly announces our city's love of the yellow condiment over its more famous tomato-based cousin. But more importantly, this is also your last chance to fill up before catching a football or basketball game at Northwestern University in Evanston.
Mr. Beef sometimes disappoints, but it never completely lets you down. And when it's on, the black pepper-laced Italian beef is one of the best around.
Though it just opened up in Lincoln Park, Polka's is not new. In fact, the deli relocated from a storefront on the South Side, where it had been operating since 1945. While the pierogis are good, the real news here is the excellent house-made sausage.
Though the Arami Go initially looks like a Japanese version of Chipotle, I can't imagine the burrito chain cooking a piece of salmon as expertly as this place does.
Fat Johnnie's is mostly known as the home of the mother-in-law, a strange South Side original, where a hot dog's right and natural place on a bun is replaced by a cornmeal tamale. In theory, this should not work. And yet, miraculously, somehow the mother-in-law does.
The Dog Joint likes to play with fire. Just about everything here touches the gas grill, lending each item a distinct smoky flavor. But with the grill comes great responsibility.
I almost cried with joy when I unwrapped the cheeseburger at Hamburger Heaven Express and gazed upon the patty's gorgeous blackened crust—clear evidence of a hot griddle. Look at it! I legitimately thought I had found paradise.
Unlike most barbecue joints using aquarium-style smokers, Mary Lee's location in the South Loop near Chinatown and McCormick Place is downright convenient. But how does it hold up to the Uncle John's of the world?
BQ2GO, Bill Kim's to go operation, almost seems like the opposite of BellyQ. Instead of a celebration of fire and meat in all its smoky, fatty glory, BQ2GO favors fresh vegetables and salads.
For the unacquainted, this is what the pastrami from Fumare Meats looks like. Who do we have to thank for importing this fine delicacy to our city? Not New York. Heck, not even Los Angeles. As advertised proudly, this is Montreal-style smoked meat. Thank you, Canada.