When we think of Chicago hot dogs we think of Vienna Beef, the Chicago company that produces the snapping-good garlicky franks used all over the city. Wouldn’t it be something if you could actually visit the factory and get a Chicago dog right there? Well, it turns out you can!
Vienna Beef operates a workers’ cafeteria that’s open to the public. The brightly lit space looks very much like a company lunch room, albeit one done up in bright hot-dog-joint colors; and while many employees do lunch here, more than a few folks wander in from nearby businesses. The cafeteria also serves as a factory store, where you can purchase pretty much everything that Vienna Beef makes, like cold cuts, whole corned beefs, and big bags of smoked meat snacks. Many customers come to pick up 10 pound boxes of dogs or corned beef for a few dozen people.
The room is decorated with autographed jerseys of Chicago sports stars and Vienna Beef ads (these unsigned). There’s a serve-yourself soft drink dispenser and a serve-yourself soup counter, but the real draws are the series of hot food counters, one for sandwiches, one for grilled foods like burgers, and one dedicated to dogs. Some of the people manning the counters hawk their wares; the woman at the hot sandwich stand lets all passersby know that her corned beef sandwiches are the best in Chicago.
If Chicago dogs are new to you, there’s an excellent diagram of their construction on the Vienna Beef website. The Vienna Beef store’s dogs are notable for the absolute sparkling freshness of the toppings (yellow mustard, chopped onion, green relish, tomato wedges, pickle spear, celery salt, sport peppers, and… no ketchup); everything is in perfect, crisp condition; the poppy seed roll is soft and fresh; and the franks themselves are, of course, at their best here at the factory. Fries are hot and crisp. Corned beef sandwiches come piled high with steaming meat.
The factory is located in an area that out-of-town travelers are not likely to find themselves in. You can’t take more than ten steps in any direction in Chicago without encountering a Chicago dog, but we think it’s worth the short drive in order to try a Chicago dog at its best, at its source.