QUESTION: As a recent Chicago émigré of unusual taste and refinement, I cannot help but notice that your fair city is entirely bereft of establishments in which to purchase a decent Chicago-style hot dog, surely the primary test of civilization in any American metropolis. It amuses me when the Cubs’ own star pitcher, Kerry Woods, manages to shut out your vaunted Dodgers, and I am filled with glee when your overrated pit band slogs through Mahler like a mercenary pushing through a bad neighborhood in Najaf; but I need my hot dogs, damn it, and I need them now. Please don’t try to send me to Pink’s. I hate sauerkraut.
—Mr. Barnes, Encino
ANSWER: I admit a fondness for the blackened “cremator” dogs found at roadside stands in New Jersey, the grilled dogs with quarts of ketchup you find in Pittsburgh, the garlic-laced bombs at Katz’s in New York City and the weirdly sauced coneys native to Michigan. I admire white-hots and red-hots, street dogs and garbage plates, and the custom-smoked, lardon-festooned wiener that is the specialty of the most famous bistro in Vancouver. But the Chicago dog, a Vienna-brand hot dog served on a steamed bun with yellow mustard, chopped onions, tomato wedges, pickle spears, a peculiar fluorescent-green relish, and a severe lashing of celery salt is probably the most magnificent hot dog of them all. I have routed flights through Chicago in order to get a crack at the dogs served at a Gold Coast concession in O’Hare. I have eaten at Fluky’s, Poochie’s, Superdawg and Byron’s in a single afternoon, then headed back to Fluky’s for a nightcap. I used to drive 20 miles out of my way in order to grab a dog at the old Patio in West Los Angeles, a Mexican takeout place that unaccountably served amazing Chicago hot dogs, and I have never felt more like a preservationist than the day that the Patio was shuttered to make way for a mini-mall.
QT Chicago Dogs, next to the Carnival Lebanese restaurant on Woodman in Sherman Oaks, among other places, serves a fairly orthodox example of the breed, with all the condiments in place, a nicely steamed bun, and a natural-casing Vienna dog (if you spring for it) that snaps like an overstressed inner tube. Nice stuff, really, although the ambiance of the place is pretty close to that of a busy interstate rest stop in rural Ohio. Usually I’m pretty indifferent to the surroundings if the food is any good, but something about QT makes me want to buy a fistful of beef jerky and flee back into the car.
Lately, I’ve been going to the Stand, a friendly patio restaurant tacked onto an Encino office building, with excellent, crunchy fries, a subspecialty of chili-cheese knishes, and a hot-dog menu that includes Boston dogs, Jersey dogs, New York–style street dogs with those tomatoey onions, and something called the Big Blue Dog, the name of which probably refers to the handful of crumbled blue cheese that serves as garnish rather than the conservative Democratic caucus, Paul Bunyan’s pooch or the playful mystery-solving canine beloved of 3-year-olds. There is also a Chicago dog, with the wrong kind of hot dog, the wrong relish and the wrong kind of peppers (if plenty of celery salt), that manages to be perfectly pleasant to eat. Cub fans, I am sure, hate the thing. The Stand, 17000 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 788-2700.
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