Monday, December 21, 2009

Chicago's Chili Cheese Dogs

-The Chase for Chicago's Finest Chili Cheese Dog

Welcome to the first ever installment in the chase for Chicago's finest chili cheese dog. Its been a two month long trek to ten places that I had heard, read or was told had good chili cheese dogs in Chicago. Some places won best of lists, others were told to me by friends and some came from the internet. All I know is I will be taking an indefinite break from chili cheese dogs for the next few months. Much like Eldrick Woods I need to recognize my transgressions and realize that Chicago style minimalist hot dogs are my true love and I need to remain in a monogamous relationship with them. However every winter I have this problem that's hard to control and I just need me some chili cheese dogs with onions on top and fries on the side to feel good. Here is the list of my ten mistresses (these are all of 'em, I swear) which will be graded accordingly. Some of them have already been featured here on chibbqking and are linked up to the previous post about that place.

Note: This is just my first installment. If I missed a place or you have a spot that you love for chili cheese dogs in Chicagoland then please post about it in the comments section and let us know. Good Looks.

Index (abc order)

Branko's
Chickie's
Franksville
Huey's
Lulu's
Mr. D's
Pop's Beef
Portillo's
Tore's
Whats the Beef?

So I visited all the places listed above and scored them below. In the last two months I have tried a chili cheese dog from each one. It was my hope to find a replacement for my first chili cheese dog love from Demon Dog's (RIP). I graded the CCDs in four categories. Here is how it was setup.

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog:
chili:
cheese:
fries:

best score: 20

How the Scoring was Judged

So as far as the hot dog went, as long as you weren't using Oscar Mayer or some other childish brand you would score a 3 or 4. Almost all these places used Vienna Beef (this is a good thing) if not all of them. However different scores were given because there are different styles of tubes from Vienna Beef (all HDs from VB are all beef) and each place used different ones. My favorite CCD from the extinct Demon Dog's used a 8 to a pound natural casing wiener. I think these are the best way to go for them. The chili used didn't need to be an award winning secret recipe from Texas but it did need to blend well with the rest of the elements. Too much beans is still a no no for a good CCD as is a soupy-runny brew. I decided I like slices of melted American cheese best for a CCD. The melted nacho cheese wasn't nearly as good and made them too sloppy when used freely. If a place used too much cheese that wasn't a good thing. There needs to be a balance. The fries were easy, if they were fresh cut and fried up nice you did well, if they were frozen you got a three if not lower. Consider a score of three to be average. Anything below is not so good and anything above was one of the better batches of fries from anywhere in the city. Now onto to the food.

2009's Contenders (abc order)
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Branko's


In Chicago's Lincoln Park/Depaul neighborhood

Its funny that I found Branko's when doing a little websearch on the city's best CCDs. Its funny because this is a place I grew up right near and I've been in there an insane amount of times since the early 90's. However my whole reason for this chase is because Demon Dog's, formerly under the Fullerton El stop, is no more. I used to go to DD's whenever I wanted a CCD and they were my favorite. So I had never had a CCD from Branko's that I can remember until I found a nomination for it from a very credible source. It turned out to be a contender from the get go.

Branko's is in the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame and deservedly so. You have the option of a jumbo Vienna dog or a regular for your CCD. I went regular which is my preference. It was at Branko's I realized I like slices of melted American cheese used for CCD. Not as sloppy and works better for me. They also use a pretty good homemade chili but it all comes together really well. I've never liked the fries at Branko's but you cant complain when they come with all dogs and sandwiches.


chili cheese dog from Branko's

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog: 4
chili: 4
cheese: 5
fries: 2

Score:
15/20

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Chickie's


In Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood

Next up was a spot who's Italian beef I love. I also had a hankering that since they use the natural casing wieners and are a first rate grease shack that maybe they did up a good CCD. Well guess what? I was right. In fact this was the closest thing I have found to Demon Dogs as far as taste. I thought it was from there. The only difference was the poppy seed bun and the fries. At Chickie's the fries are more like another long gone favorite of mine for beef and fries-Fazzio's which was at 2801 N Lincoln. The fries at Demon Dog's are your standard Chicago style fries like those found at 35th street, Gene & Jude's, Jimmy's.

Chickie's scored perfect on the hot dog since they used my favorite kind, the NC 8-10 a pound from Vienna Beef. As far as the cheese goes this was also the closest thing to Demon Dogs I had. Yes it is processed nacho cheese but as you can see in the picture its a certain type. Its different then your typical baseball stadium nacho cheese which many places use. I thought the chili was good and went great with the dog and cheese. The fries at Chickie's always deserve mention when the best in city are discussed.


chili cheese dog from Chickie's

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog: 5
chili: 4
cheese: 4
fries: 5

Score:
18/20

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Franksville


In Chicago's Portage Park/Dunning neighborhood

I hadn't been to Franksville since my days of summer work with the sheriff's department. We used to go there every now and then when we were patrolling Portage Park but I don't remember anything too special about it. However I saw somewhere that they were on a best chili cheese dog in Chicago list. The people mentioned they have a good spicy chili sauce they use and included a few spots I knew about and thought were good so I decided to try.

I saw Fransville's banner for induction into the Vienna Beef HOF so I know they use Vienna hot dogs. However as you can see from the photo this is a different dog than many others used. I'm not sure which type of tube this is but its not a natural casing. The chili was pretty good, actually some of the better chili topping I remember but as you can see in the pic its baseball stadium nacho cheese and they used alot of it. Nothing to say about the fries which were average.


chili cheese dog from Franksville

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog: 3
chili: 4
cheese: 2 (too much)
fries: 3

Score:
12/20

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Huey's Hot Dogs



In Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood

Huey's is another spot where I had seen on a best of list. I believe it was in Newcity's best of Chicago list which it was listed as having Chicago's best CCD. I had heard about this somewhat new hot dog stand here and there but never made the trek north up Clark to try the place out. Its your typical ever increasing in popularity "Gourmet Fast food" shack. Meaning to compare the places like this to your regular old dog and burger shacks is a disservice. In a city like Chicago you have to do the bare essentials really good or step it up a notch. They take hot dogs and hamburgers up another level. Nothing too fancy just attention to detail and good ingredients. They have a nice looking menu but I was there for the CCD.

The first question asked when you order a CCD is if you want it charred or steamed? Well interesting because when I make CCD at home I like to grill the dogs but I also know that most places don't grill them up like I do. As you can see from HERE, I like to slit them up. I ordered mine charred and surely they didn't cut it up. Nonetheless it was still good but what was lacking in this CCD was the chili. It was rather soupy and I really didn't get much flavor from it. The cheese was nacho like but they added a good amount and the fries were home cut and pretty damn good.


chili cheese dog from Huey's

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog: 4
chili: 2
cheese: 3
fries: 4

Score:
13/20

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Lulu's


In Chicago's University Village neighborhood

Lulu's got the call due to a tipper from a sheriff I know. Although it wasn't for their CCD but just as his favorite lunchtime joint. I have been to Lulu's a few times but not recently and I never had a CCD from there. However I always see the homemade chili sign when driving by and it got the call in the 1st installment in the quest for the CCD here. Its a very popular lunch spot with the UIC medical crowd and Cook County Sheriff's department and correctional officers and has been around for a while now.

Well this ones on me. You don't have to get a CCD should you visit Lulu or you do but always get something else. I like the regular dogs at Lulu's just fine. Its not the city's best hot dog but if I was working near Id have one now and then. But for whatever reason the hot dog I got in my CCD was damn near decomposed. It looked like a convenience store hot dog after a 3 day crack binge. They have the signs from Vienna Beef everywhere and I'm guessing this was a VB dog but it had been around a little too long I think. Its skin was wrinklier than your Grandma Bessie's. It didn't get much better with the chili which was more like beans. I count over 15 in this picture. They did get the cheese right with it being slices of American but the fries were your average frozen brand.


chili cheese dog from Lulu's

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog: 2
chili: 2
cheese: 5
fries: 2

Score:
11/20

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Mr. D's


In Chicago's Montclare neighborhood

Mr. D's was a spot I had wanted to try a CCD from on many occasions. I'm already a big fan of this as you already know from HERE. When I was talking to a buddy from CPD at a bar one night we were talking about Mr. D's and he mentioned he always gets a cheeseburger in summer and CCD over winter. It was all I needed to give trying one a go since I had already known they make their own chili and everything is pretty much good if not great here. Its one of Chicago's best "Chicago Style fast food" joints. What does that mean? they do what they do, really good. Lots of other places have the same things but most of them don't do it like Mr. D's. Which is the right way.

Mr. D's comes thru again and at this point I'm used too it. Its easy to see why this place has constant traffic and gets busy at lunchtime. The hot dog was a perfectly steamed Vienna that went great with Mr. D's homemade chili. Ok so there were a few beans in it but not too many and they also use the slices of American cheese melted down real well. You already know about the fries right? Well in case you missed it, these are some of if not the best fries in the city. Done to perfection each and every visit I've had and that's turning into quite a few. I'm betting Mr. D's does a mean chili cheese fries. Even though this turned out as one of the better CCDs, It's hard to ever pass on that shish kebab sandwich.


chili cheese dog from Mr. D's

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog: 4
chili: 4
cheese: 5
fries: 5

Score:
18/20

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Pop's Beef


In Chicago's Mt. Greenwood neighborhood

Next stop is Pop's which has a few locations on the southside which are all very consistent. I have also been to Pop's countless amount of times and love their Italian beef. They got one of the better beefs in the city and my favorite hot peppers. I was also tipped off by a friend when talking about their IB that they also have a really good CCD and I needed to try that one day too. So it was only a matter of time before I tried one and its time came for this chase.

Another useful tip from a legit source. The hot dog was just fine and your normal above average dog your going to get in Chicago. The chili was also pretty good and I had no complaints about it but also nothing that made we say WOW! More places used American slices on this chase than I thought and Pop's is included in that list. While Pop's does use frozen fries they are also my favorite frozen fries from anywhere that uses them. They are the thinner McDonald's size variety and are much like Mickey D's and they fry them up nicely at Pop's.


chili cheese dog from Pop's

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog: 4
chili: 3
cheese: 5
fries: 3

Score:
15/20

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Portillo's


Locations throughout Chicagoland and California

Next up is the popular Chicago fast food place Portillo's. Its the type of place where you can see the American dream. What started out as a tiny hot dog shack on North ave in Villa Park has grown into a full blown restaurant group with Portillo's being the driver. Although they are technically a fast food place and have all the usual's like a drive thru, large menu etc...This is why there's fast food and "Chicago style fast food" Portillo's has it down to an art. It might not be the best for everything hut its perfectly acceptable and better than average with all of its menu items. Its also been my go to spot for a CCD since Demon Dog's closed. Portillo's has locations throughout Chicagoland and a couple in California. I always go to the near downtown location on Clark and parking is hard but they have a drive-thru.

I knew the CCDs were good at Portillo's but I wasn't sure if they are Chicago's best. I'm still not going to say they are the very best but as I already knew they are one of the city's best. Its always been one of their most popular items right after the Chicago style dogs, Italian beef and hamburgers. The hot dogs are very nice and I think they now have their own recipe made and I think its still from Vienna. The chili at Portillo's is also one of the restaurants popular items and it works really good on a chili cheese dog. Its better on the dog than it is in a cup or bowl. They don't use melted American slices but they like Chickie's above use a decent melted brand. The fries at Portillo's while unique to the restaurant are still frozen and just ok. I always get onion rings.


chili cheese dog from Portillo's

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog: 4
chili: 5
cheese: 4
fries: 3

Score:
16/20

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Tore's


In Chicago's neighborhood

Tore's was the wild card in this years bunch. I never had one from here but have heard a few people ordering them when I was stopping in for a meatball or Italian beef. I haven't gotten around to it yet over at "beef with hot" but Tore's does both the beef and meatball sandwiches pretty well. They also have good hot dogs and great fries. I figured why not a good CCD?

Well it wasn't one of the best but again not one of the worst. It was a middle of the pack runner. The hot dog was good but the chili had a few too many beans although it also had an alright taste and so it wasn't the worst just not the best. The cheese was nacho like and they piled both it and the chili on top. The dog fell apart about the second bite in and if I wanted to finish eating the thing it was get dirty or get nothing. Everything blended together made for an ok CCD despite the mess. I did very much enjoy mopping the leftovers that fell thru with their top notch french fries. They made for some good chili cheese fries.


chili cheese dog from Tore's

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog: 4
chili: 3
cheese: 2
(too much)
fries: 5

Score:
14/20

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Whats the Beef


In Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood

Another spot I've been to a few times, not too many, but never had a chili cheese dog at is Whats the. I decided to add this to the list when I saw they made their own homemade chili and knew they did a few other things well, even if Italian beef isn't one of them. Its one of those rare places where I would take a pass on the namesake menu item and order something else like a char chicken or burger or charred Polish sausage or something like that.

Well they shouldn't call it "Chilly's Cheese Dog's" or anything like that either. Just like Tore's above they loaded everything onto this CCD and it became damn near impossible to pick up. The dog was good and the chili was ok but not bad for a CCD but the cheese was baseball nacho and they poured it on. The fries at WTB are some of the better fries in the city and again the fall thru chili and cheese mess made for a good batch of chili cheese fries.


chili cheese dog from Whats the Beef

Rating Scale 5/5

hot dog: 4
chili: 3
cheese: 2 (too much)
fries: 5

Score:
14/20

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So there you have it folks, the first lap is over. That there is ten different chili cheese dogs from spots located around the city. Here is how Group A finished when everything was ate and done and the Rolaid's were popping.

Best Chili Cheese Dog w/ fries

Tie-Chickie's and Mr. D's (18/20)

Best Chili Cheese Dog's (fries not scored)

Branko's (13/15)
Chickie's (13/15)
Mr. D's (13/15)
Portillo's (13/15)

Pop's (12/15)
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Branko's Sandwich Shop
1118 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 472-4873

Chickie's
2839 S Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 277-2333

Franksville
3550 N Harlem Avenue
Chicago, IL 60634-3629
(773) 237-5848

Huey's
1507 W Balmoral Avenue
Chicago, IL 60640-1207
(773) 293-4800


Lulu's Hot Dogs
1000 S Leavitt St
Chicago, IL 60612-4214
(312) 243-3444

Mr. D's Shish Kebob's
6656 W Diversey Ave
Chicago, IL 60707
773-637-0042

Pop's Italian Beef and Sausage
10337 S Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60655
(773) 239-1243
Website

Portillo's
100 W Ontario
Chicago, IL
(312) 587-8910
locations throughout Chicagoland
Website

Tore's Beef & Pizza
2804 N Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 486-2600

Whats the Beef
1863 N Clybourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 477-7200

2 comments:

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alex said...

Thanks for the post! I like the kebab sandwich the most! Well, if you were to compare all of the hot dogs by the presentation, probably i go for the kebab sandwich. I will go to that place in our Chicago dating getaway. Need to try the food!

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