Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chicago: Hot Doug's Encased Meats Emporium

Hot Doug's is more then a Chicago landmark.  It has become an institution, one of the places that food lovers incorporate into roadtrips or make pilgrimages to.  Doug Sohn's restaurant has received national coverage and has grown so popular that the wait to order is usually more than an hour around peak lunch time.  Opened in 2001 and reopened in 2005 following a devastating fire in 2004, Hot Doug's specializes in a variety of exotic and unusual sausages and hot dogs, some involving game meat.

Cognac-Infused Pheasant Sausage
The selection of sausages available is like no other hot dog stand in the universe.  The Cognac-Infused Pheasant Sausage with Chive-Dijon Goat Butter and Duck Rillettes ($7) was one of the daily specials on a recent visit.  The Pheasant Sausage paired remarkably well with the duck rillettes.  Pheasant and rillettes in a hot dog bun?  This is no ordinary Chicago hot dog joint.

Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel ($8) was another special.  Incredibly rich and decadent, this was delicious but not something to be eaten every day, unless you are a contestant in an artery-hardening contest.

Not every hot dog at Hot Doug's involves game meats or unusual ingredients; Sohn has also sought to perfect the classic hot dog.  The Dog comes with "all the trimmings" and is a bargain at only $1.75.  It comes with mustard, relish, caramelized onions, tomatoes, pickle and celery salt.  There is no comparison with "regular hot dogs".  Game over.

The Dave Kingman is a classic Italian-style chicken sausage, which was ordered with a whole pickle and celery salt.  The sausage had a pleasant spicy kick to it.

The lines at Hot Doug's are especially long on Friday and Saturdays, the days which Duck Fat Fries are served.  The fries ($3.50) are served in a generous portion large enough for a party of four and are fragrant with the smell of duck fat.  I found them to have more duck smell than taste.  I am in the minority, but I would actually recommend getting regular french fries, which appear light in contrast to the rich sausages.  Plus if you go on a non-Friday/Saturday, the line will be shorter.

Sohn is a pleasant and gracious host.  By the time you reach the register (after an hour and twenty minutes in my case), Sohn will likely be manning the register.  Be ready with your order and bring some green, as Hot Doug's is cash only.  Customers can only sit in tables once they have ordered, which works remarkably well.  The "saving" of tables is not tolerated and the system works efficiently - there appeared to continuously be tables available once customers had ordered.  The food also arrived quite rapidly at our table.  As we were eating in, Sohn advised us to order the small size soda as he offers free refills.  This may the first time I have seen a restaurant owner encourage patrons to order the smaller size and pay less money.  Remarkable.  Behavior like this, in addition to the quality of the cuisine, has engendered a strong and loyal following.

Hot Doug's: 3324 N. California, Chicago.  Neighborhood is Avondale. It is approximately a $20 cab ride from downtown Chicago.  Phone: (773) 279-9550.

Open Monday - Saturday: 10:30 AM - 4:00 PM.  Cash only.

The line

The menu



  1. That is one giant pickle on that "regular hot dog" :P
    Hmm I hope I'll have time to come here and wait in line while I'm in CHI!

  2. I know, the pickle is perhaps larger than the sausage. The celery salt was something new to me and it tasted very celery-like but intense.