Chicago’s premier street food is the hot dog, known as a red hot. No ordinary frank, the Chicago red hot’s claims to glory are myriad and magnificent, starting with the meat itself: all-beef, long and slim, dense-textured and with a garlic kick. It is steamed until taut enough that a first bite erupts with savory juices on the tongue. Of paramount importance to its goodness is the bun. Expect a Windy City red hot to be nestled in a steamy-soft, gentle-flavored pocket of fleecy bread, preferably one from Rosen’s bakery spangled with poppy seeds across its tan outsides. The bun serves as a handy mitt and naturally plays a secondary note beneath the meat within, but it does provide a soft-flavor environment that is absolutely necessary for full appreciation of the spicy red hot and its condiments.
Fine as the bun and hot dog are, it is those condiments that elevate Chicago wiener culture to a higher plane. Bright yellow mustard and dark-green piccalilli are the basics; but every good dog house offers plenty more, including yellow mustard, green relish, sport peppers, raw onions, full slices of tomato, a bun-length pickle spear, and a dusting of celery salt. When you ask for a dog with the works, only the sport peppers are considered “optional”, and don’t dare ask for ketchup -- on a Chicago hot dog, it is taboo.
If you suddenly crave a true Chicago hot dog while in the northern suburb of Evanston, Mustard’s Last Stand is an adorable little shop near Northwestern's stadium that has just the ticket: an all-beef, Vienna-brand red hot steamed to plumpness and cushioned inside a soft, poppy-seed roll. All the usual Chi-town condiments are available, even ketchup.
In fact, the house catchphrase is “Catch-up to Mustard’s.” As a test – and only as a test – we requested some on a frank. “Really?” asked the counterman. “Are you sure?” When we told him we were only kidding, and wanted the ketchup for dipping French fries (a proper use for it in Chicago), he beamed with relief and took extra care arranging the condiments on our red hot like a horn of plenty.
Connoisseurs of cheap-eats interior décor will admire the counter stools at Mustard's, each of which is topped with a lovely portrait of a full-dressed hot dog.