Important Update: Hot Doug’s has permanently closed.
Hot Doug’s is closing!
That was the news we heard a couple of months ago – like a venerable torpedo across the bow of the tube meat world. The Chicago institution, which made its name by elevating the pedestrian hot dog, would be shutting its doors for good on October 4th.
In a marvelous coincidence, we had an opportunity to be in Chicago in early June. In light of the news, a visit to Chef Doug Sohn’s hot dog temple became mandatory.
How We Got to Hot Doug’s
To get to Hot Doug’s, we hopped on the CTA blue line and rode past Wicker Park to the Belmont station on the edge of Logan Square. After a short bus ride, we then walked four long blocks to brave the line of food fans for a chance to sample Sohn’s eclectic, even somewhat eccentric, sausage creations.
As we stepped off the bus to begin the walking leg of our trip, there they were – a group of twelve young foodies directly ahead, striding casually in the same direction.
“Hurry up!” exclaimed Daryl, taking no chances that the group was headed elsewhere.
On cue, Mindi switched on the accelerator in her feet, and the 2foodtrippers jammed on the gas, performing a turbo-powered pass around the group of fledgling foodies. It reminded us of the kind of crowd dodging we did on the streets of Hong Kong when we made a mad dash for dim sum.
Passing the fanboys was a good thing too. The line was epic, and we beat them to “The Sausage Superstore” with minutes to spare.
Once we finally entered Hot Doug’s, we were welcomed by a colorful array of choices displayed on different menu boards.
The first board displays a relatively standard menu with Chicago style hot dog and their many variations. The second board features gourmet style dogs. The third board lists the special ‘Game of the Week” – a one-time-only sausage special.
We were intrigued by the many delicious options, and our excitement built as we approached the front of the line.
After the 75 minute (we did mention that it was epic) wait, Sohn greeted us to take our order and carefully guided us through the menu. Sohn’s presence at the counter made the visit extra special, especially since he was in no rush as he helped us make our menu choices.
Despite the seemingly never-ending line, he displayed an amazing sense of hospitality, courtesy and enthusiasm. We could sense that Sohn truly cares about his guests, and his conviviality transformed the wait into a distant memory.
What We Ate at Hot Doug’s
Daryl made no bones about his choice of dog – Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel. What could have been a clumsy upscale mashup of ‘street food meets fine dining’ proved to be a magnificent combination of juicy, dessert wine-injected duck sausage topped with generous slices of creamy, decadent foie gras. The delicious dog’s $10 dollar price was a bargain in our book.
Capsaicin-crazed Mindi opted for the Atomic Bomb – a Spicy Cheese-Stuffed Pork Sausage with Sweet Devil’s Mustard and Cheese-Stuffed Hot Peppers. This gourmet dog did not disappoint, as each bite delivered a scorchingly spicy burst of flavor. Normally $8 for a hot dog would be expensive, but not for this complex, savory sandwich.
We also ordered a small order of fries ($2) and a charred chi dog ($2.50) to share and round out our Hot Doug’s experience, plus some soda to wash it all down.
Was ordering three monstrous dogs gluttonous? Not really.
Many people sitting near us were eating two or three dogs each. Some were clearly tourists, but most appeared to be regulars satisfying their Hot Doug’s fix and the opportunity to eat as much as possible before the end of the Hot Doug’s era.
Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch at Hot Doug’s. It was so good that we now have a new barometer for judging hot dogs and sausage sandwiches. In the future, we will likely say “yeah, but is it as good as Hot Doug’s?” after we bite into a frank that we like.
Final Thoughts on Hot Doug’s
When we left Hot Doug’s at almost 4:00 (a/k/a closing time), there was still a long line of people waiting their turn at the ultimate hot dog. Our leaving was bittersweet, as it’s not likely that we’ll be back in Chicago before October 4th.
During the 2.7 mile walk to Wicker Park, we chose to focus on the positive – it is better to have eaten the best hot dogs once than to have never eaten them at all.
Hot Doug’s was located at 3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618, United States. The iconic hot dog restaurant is now permanently closed.
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.