The answer may depend on which opinionated Chicagoan you ask.
While most authorities (read: hungry Chicagoans) agree that a Chicago-style hot dog involves a dog and a bun (some contend that it must be of the poppy seed variety, and some creative chefs are trying alternate "delivery systems" for their dogs), the array of potential toppings is vast, but also often quite specific: It can include yellow mustard, chopped white onions, pickled relish (often of the glow-in-the-dark, nuclear green, variety), a dill pickle spear, sliced tomato, pickled sport pepper, and a dash or more of celery salt (though some Windy City eateries enhance their dogs with everything from kimchi to caviar). Most agree that a Chicago-style hot dog comes with fries. Beyond that, the culinary delight is really open to interpretation. Below, and in my video (above), are some of the city’s finest purveyors.
Bakery at Fat Rice
Bakery at Fat Rice takes the Chicago-style hot dog and puts it through some sort of deconstruction filter that spits it out in the form of a tasty flower-shaped poppy seed-covered pastry with the hot dog cut up and baked into it. If you look closely, all the parts are there: cherry tomatoes, chopped onions, bits of neon green relish, the tail of a pickled sport pepper sticking out of the middle with an elegant drizzle of mustard over the top. The ambience at Fat Rice is also a departure from your average hot dog joint. You are greeted by a bright-pink door and giant flowers drawn over many of the windows, and the interior is delightfully sprinkled with stuffed-animal wontons, porcelain pigs, and uninhabited birdcages. (eatfatrice.com)
Chef Kevin Hickey, formerly of the Four Seasons Hotel in Gold Coast, has riffed on the Chicago dog by creating a unusual gourmet hot dog seasoned with duck fat. Hickey has come up with five different versions of his dog, from the original to the corn dog. All are exceptionally delicious, though my standalone favorite is the K-Pop, which is topped with kimchi, caviar, and rice crunchies. (theduckinnchicago.com)
Fatso’s Last Stand
Located in Ukranian Village, Fatsos is a neighborhood favorite. It sets itself apart from most other Chicago hot dogs by offering a charred dog, not boiled or steamed like many of the dogs you’ll find around town. Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward, and their fries and strawberry milkshake are to die for. (fatsoslaststand.com)
Jimmy’s Red Hots
I’ll be honest, I went to this place because I was told that the cashier would be visibly packing heat. I was pleasantly disappointed to find this to be untrue (at least the visible part) but while I was there, I spoke to an older gentleman who said he’d been going there since he was a boy. The reason? Fries cooked in lard. And you really can taste the difference. This place has been open since 1954 and has never offered ketchup on the side (don’t even ask). (jimmysredhots.com)
Family-owned since 1948, Superdawg offers an authentic drive-in experience. Popping a crinkle-style fry in your mouth, you really feel like you could be an extra in American Graffiti. Superdawg offers the most traditional Chicago dog around: yummy dog in a natural casing, boiled to perfection and placed with care into a pillowy soft bun, then topped with the works: pickled sliced tomato, chopped onions, bright green relish, mustard, and yes, a generous shake of celery salt. (superdawg.com)
The Wiener’s Circle
People mostly head to Wiener's Circle for the entertainment, which, be forewarned, can get a bit raunchy, and the convenient hours (it’s open 11 a.m. to 4 a.m., and who wants a hot dog between 4 a.m. and 11 a.m. anyway?). The staff is notoriously surly, but in a friendly way. Yes, the cashier did give me the finger - but he was smiling warmly as he did it. A sign out front always offers a perfect, sometimes snarky, summary of the day’s current events. But most importantly, this place dishes up excellent fresh ingredients sprinkled over a char-grilled dog. (773-477-7444)