Tanara McCauley

Culturally Imagined Stories

Race for the Chicago Hot Dog…A Food Tour Tragedy

On my way to the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference in St. Louis, I made a two-day pit stop in Chicago to visit a dear friend who’d just moved from my town to that town. My sister, who lives in Boston, jumped at the chance to join us, and we spent days before our little gathering emailing back and forth about how we’d spend our time.

Oddly enough, the conversation turned to hot dogs, and went something like this:

Sis: Carissa do you know a good hot dog place?

Me: Hot dogs?!? I call foul. FOUL I say!

Sis: Hey, Tanara, it’s not all about you, lol. I heard Chicago style dogs are good!!!

Carissa: True, true! I asked Chris & he said Chicago hot dogs are famous & good! We will have a hot dog stop!

Sis: Thank you so much. You don’t have to try one, Tanara!

Me: Hot dogs. We talkin’ bout hot dogs (in my Allen Iverson “talkin’ about practice” voice). Fine, being the good follower that I am ;-), if everyone else is having hot dogs I’ll have one too. Hot dogs. smh.

And so the race for the famous Chicago hot dog began. I arrived in Chicago before my sister Makena.


Being hungry, and not wanting to eat her precious hot dog without her, I lunched with Carissa at Mezcalina. I ate the pollo almendrado (chicken in almond mole) and we shared two guacamoles (traditional and del dia).



We’re beating hot dogs by a mile straight out the gate.

My sis arrived at dinner time. We met her at an Orange Line exit, then hoofed it the rest of the way to Roka Akor Chicago, where we had dinner reservations with Carissa and her husband Chris. We ate Omakase style, which allows the chef to pick your food for you.

IMG_8222 IMG_8217

The experience was Ah-mazing. I’ll admit, though, not being a lover of food that hasn’t gone through a trial by fire of sorts (ahem…cooking), I struggled through the raw fish course. Hot dogs sounded pretty good in that moment. Then the next course came…what’s a hot dog?

Dessert made me want to run a good two miles, circle back to the restaurant and have another…to myself. It was that good. No, really, it was THAT good.


Next day we hopped on city bikes and cruised the streets like we owned them. Carissa in the lead, dinging her bell at every poor soul unfortunate enough to share the trail. Makena brought up the rear, her legs working overtime to compensate for her too-short bike. Between her and Carissa we had our own theme song going. It went something like, “Ding, ding! Wait for me, guys!”

We spotted a couple of hot dog stands along the way. They looked a little shady, so on we went…


For lunch, Makena had a place on her list considered a must dine.


The Purple Pig, voted one of the ten best new restaurants of 2010, had some of the best calamari I’ve ever tasted, served cold like a salad. That I enjoyed it says a lot, because the only cold food I’m really fond of comes out of the freezer and is eaten by spoon.

Next we ate at this little joint:


The Billy Goat Tavern happened to be featured in a book I read recently, Katherine Reay’s Dear Mr. Knightley (great book), so I saved my appetite for one of their cheezborgers (that’s how they spell it, don’t ask me why). I know what you’re thinking: I complained about hot dogs and scarfed down a cheezborger.

Yes. I did.

Mr. Goat’s was a homey place, the walls plastered with pictures of famous people who’d dined there over the years. Munching on my borger, I leaned over the table and fixed my attention on the Jeopardy episode playing behind the bar. I celebrated every question I answered correctly. Nobody minded. It’s that kind of establishment.

Next was Eataly. An Italian market/restaurant/gelato/winery/coffee, etc., etc., place.


Since “life is too short not to drink well,” I ordered an expensive espresso. It was so strong I forget which exotic country produced it.

Evening arrived and still no hot dogs. Surely the Navy Pier would have a stand we could patronize. We set off on foot. The shadows of dusk gave way to an over-dark nightfall, and we soon questioned the wisdom of our choice. We passed under a bridge and up a flight of concrete stairs, heads turning to and fro in search of rats and ruffians. Made it to the pier just in time to watch them locking up.

Legs tired, bellies grumbling, we piled into a cab. It took us to Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder. This place was also featured in Dear Mr. Knightley (seriously, great book). We split a Mediterranean bread. Then the pizza pot pie and oven grinders arrived.


The sight of that huge sandwich shut me down. I took a couple bites of delicious sausage blanketed with melted cheese and killer sauce, then raised the white flag.

One look at my girls and I knew my flag had company. Two days of walking, biking, eating, and exploring caught up with us. We boxed up the food, cabbed it back to Carissa’s place and stuffed our boxes in the fridge, pleased to know Chris would enjoy the fruits of our surrender.

Not until Makena and I boarded separate planes the next day did we realize her tragedy. We’d raced through the city of Chicago in search of a great hot dog, and ducked off the trail before crossing the finish line.

It’s a problem in need of remedy.

Your turn: If you live in Chicago, or have been to Chicago, do you know a hot dog spot worth recommending? Or better yet, one worth an extra trip? I might be inclined to say, “We talkin’ bout hot dogs.” But then again, it’s not about me :-).

2 responses to “Race for the Chicago Hot Dog…A Food Tour Tragedy”

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