Editor's Note: Standing Room Only explores the best places to eat in the city while standing up. If you have a stand that you think is worthy, please let us know!
185 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60606 (map)
The Short Order: Great Italian beefs and solid natural casing hot dogs.
Want Fries with That? Absolutely.
How many seats? Counters line the windows, and two small tables are set up and almost never available.
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While working in the Loop in the winter of 2009, I discovered Harry's Hot Dogs and fell in love. Thanks to the natural casing hot dogs and a room that probably hadn't been decorated in years, it felt like a time capsule back to the 1950s. (The owner, Harry, still worked four days a week even though he was 100 years old!) To me, Harry's symbolized everything I loved about Chicago stands. Of course, a week later it closed, and a few months later the building was razed to the ground to make way for a corporate plaza. (Assholes.)
I was heartbroken. And the Loop, which didn't have many good hot dog options, lost one of its best. I worried that the Chicago hot dog would never recover from this crime.
And yet, since that time a new generation of stands have continued to open up, even if they've been all out of the Loop (Redhot Ranch and Devil Dawgs are just two examples). The trend finally reached downtown last summer, when U.B. Dogs opened less than a block away from the spot where Harry's once stood. And damn, does U.B. Dogs try hard. Besides the hot dog, polish, and the bread, just about everything is made in house, right down to the condiments.
That includes the Italian Beef ($5.45), which uses freshly roasted beef—an all too rare sight these days. The slices are thicker than at a place like Al's #1 Italian Beef, but each piece is also juicer and more substantial. I would have liked a little more gravy, but I am nit picking here. When loaded with giardiniera, this Italian beef could stand up to most in the city, making it easily the best version of the overloaded sandwich in the Loop.
The fully loaded Chicago Hot Dog ($2.79) uses a natural casing Vienna Beef hot dog, and comes housed in a beautiful poppy-seed bun. Text-book and tasty, this is a serious boon to the downtown hot dog scene.
The Char Burger ($3.25) is a whole different story. While most burger blends aim to have about 25 percent fat, U.B. Dogs proudly claims that it only uses 10 percent. Good for the heart it may be, but that seemed like a criminally low number, but there's only one way to find out.
Each char burger starts with fresh meat that is smashed on a griddle, and then finished off on the grill. The process leaves the meat with crisp caramelized corners and a distinct smoky char. When topped with Merkt's sharp cheddar cheese and grilled onions, it's impossible deny that this is one satisfying burger, even if it could be juicier. I am not the burger critic, so I am going to punt on this one. Daniel Zemans, you're up.
I can vouch for the fries ($1.75), which are freshly cut every morning and fried twice. With a creamy potato interior and mostly crisp edges, these are definitely worth ordering.
My two visits to U.B. Dogs have given me new faith that a stand can crack it in the Loop, even if it does require some intense passion to get it done. It'll take a few years before it can achieve the same kind of status as Harry's, but it's off to a particularly strong start.