Standing Room Only: Murphy's Red Hots

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[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Murphy's Red Hots

1211 West Belmont Avenue, Chicago, IL 60657 (map); 773-935-2882; murphysredhots.com
The Short Order:Top notch Chicago stand with a focus on quality.
Want Fries with That?Absolutely
Seats?A few high-tops inside, and, when the weather is nice, a narrow patio outside.

Whenever I'm feeling down about life or the prospects of the Cubs, I visit Murphy's Red Hots. I mean, isn't your heart swelling with patriotic pride at this very moment? Just look at those American flags flapping in the wind right above all the cheery hot dog paraphernalia. What more could one want? (Vegetarians don't need to answer this question.) And that's before you even walk into the Lakeview shop, which, I might add, is where all the sausage awaits.

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Most of the time I'm after one thing and one thing only: a red hot($3.49). Here that entails a natural casing hot dog from Vienna Beef, either steamed or charred, stuffed into a fluffy poppy-seed bun, and loaded with all the Chicago-style essentials (click here if you need the run down). Besides the presence of the thick-cut cucumber slices that you can easily flick off, this is a flawless Chicago Dog, made all the more wonderful by an extra pillowy bun.

The hot dog alone guarantees Murphy's status as one of the premier stands in the city, which explains why I've never tried anything else. This, I just learned, is a shame. Because while you could live your life happily only ordering the red hot at Murphy's, the other sausages shouldn't be ignored.

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Though it can't compete with Hot Doug's inventive options, Murphy's sources quality sausages, treats them with care, and serves them up with fresh toppings and buns. Take the bratwurst ($5.29), a sausage too often neglected around most Chicago stands. Murphy's sources the brat from Usinger's in Milwaukee—one of the most respected sausage shops in Wisconsin. Even after a good char on the grill, which crisps up the casing, the interior still bursts with juices. I almost felt bad adding any toppings. Sure, sautéed onions and brown mustard never disappoint, but I wish I would have passed on the giardiniera, which didn't quite work with the delicately spiced sausage. My mistake.

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As befits the best Chicago stands, the fries are hand-cut, fried twice, and come out crispy. Mine could have used a little more salt, but that can be easily corrected.

I've been to Murphy's many times, but after tasting the bratwurst, I now wonder if every other item on Murphy's menu is as excellent. In particular, I have my eye on the Italian sausage. If you have any favorites, please let me know. I'll definitely be back; the Cubs almost guarantee it.