Hot Doug's (Chicago)
Hot Doug's, the self-described encased meats emporium and sausage superstore, will likely have a line snaking down the block when you arrive, especially on Fridays and Saturdays when Doug Sohn serves his duck fat fries. Why? Because these are some of the best, if not the best, hot dogs you'll ever eat. The Foie Gras Dog, for example, has creamy chunks of foie gras strewn on top. It's actually a well thought-out and constructed (and obscenely rich) dish that happens to be in hot dog form. Then you have the regular Chicago dogs, which are really good Chicago hot dogs augmented by caramelized onions. And the duck fat fries? Sublime. Plus you'll see Doug behind the counter taking orders.
Hot Doug's: 3324 N. California Avenue, Chicago IL 60618 (map); 773-279-9550
Gene's & Jude's: River Grove, IL
This old-school stand outside of Chicago is as minimalist as Chicago Dogs get. Steamed natural casing Vienna beef franks are served Depression-Dog style, dressed in mustard, onion, relish and sport peppers, then wrapped to steam in foil with a pile of fresh cut fries. Ketchup is banned from the premises; they didn't even offer napkins until the 1970s.
Gene's & Jude's
2720 River Road, River Grove IL 60171
Skyline: Cincinnati, OH
In Cincinnati a "Coney" is a tiny grilled three-inch hot dog buried under insane amounts of spicy Greek Cincinnati Chili (the same found served over spaghetti) and a neon orange crown of shredded cheese.
We tried them all over the city and found the Coney at Skyline's oldest standing location to be the best.
Skyline Chili: 290 Ludlow Avenue, Cincinnati OH 45220; skylinechili.com
Lafayette Coney Island: Detroit, MI
Detroit's grilled, ultra juicy natural casing dogs are strikingly different from any other "Coney" in the country. The chili at Lafayette Coney Island was unlike any I've ever had—a deep, rich sauce made with beef hearts and kidneys that you can really taste.
Generously ladled over the dogs with a bit of mustard and chopped onion, you'll definitely need the knife and fork next to your plate.
Lafayette Coney Island: 118 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit MI 48226
Angelo's Coney Island: Flint, MI
Coneys here start with the same delicious snappy Koegel's franks that you find in Detroit, but Flint's is a much dryer sauce, more of a loose meat situation. Angelo's is one of Flint's best—a brightly colored diner that serves them 24 hours a day.
Angelo's Coney Island: 1807 N Franklin Ave # 101, Flint MI 48506; angelosconeyisland.com
Dirty Frank's: Columbus, OH
Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace is an awesome eclectic hot dog joint that opened in 2009. Vienna beef franks, veggie dogs, and Polish sausages are served in classic combinations like the Chicago Dog. But Dirty Frank's is really known for their wild concoctions wrapped in bacon or covered in brisket and topped with homemade corn relish, mango chutney or Sriracha cream cheese.
Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace: 248 South 4th Street Columbus, OH 43215; dirtyfrankscolumbus.com
Senate Pub: Cincinnati, OH
Senate's Croque Madame—an all-beef frank on a brioche roll, wrapped in black forest ham, covered in bechamel and topped with a poached egg—is probably the most intense hot dog I have ever eaten.
Other options range from the kimchi and short rib topped "Koreana" to crazy specials involving bacon relish and deep-fried cheese curds, or go for a classic Chicago style dog. These are "haute dogs" taken to the next level and done right. Even more delicious with a side of truffle fries and local beer.
1212 Vine Street, Cincinnati OH 45202; senatepub.com
Milwaukee Wiener House No. 1: Sioux City, IA
Classic "Coney Islands" buried in meat sauce, onions and mustard at one of the coolest looking old hot dog joints I've ever seen.
A local favorite that's been around for 80 years, the unlikely location of Iowa and inexplicable "Milwaukee" (not a hot dog town) theme makes this place an awesome wild card contender.
Milwaukee Wiener House: 309 Pearl Street, Sioux City IA 51101; Milwaukee Wiener House at Iowabackroads.com
Magic Bus Cafe: Minneapolis, MN
This crazy giant purple hippie bus has been serving hot dogs at festivals and farmers' markets since 2009. The dogs are your choice of veggie or Boar's Head natural casing beef franks, "split and fried" on the grill and topped with bright purple beet sauerkraut and psychedelic mango curry relish.
Coney I-Lander: Tulsa, OK
Another obscure, far off "Coney" dog, these grilled mini-wieners, topped with Greek meat sauce, started appearing in Tulsa in the mid 1920s, and have a huge following in the area.
Served on steamed buns and covered with shredded cheese, they're very similar to Cincinnati Coneys, and strangely enough you can also find chili parlors in Tulsa serving chili in "ways" on top of spaghetti, the same way they do it in Ohio.
Coney I-Lander: 2838 E 11th Street, Tulsa OK 74104; Facebook page
The Wienery: Minneapolis, MN
The Wienery is a tiny hole-in-the-wall diner serving over the top dogs and sausages covered in homemade toppings. The wieners are natural casing Vienna beef, available Chicago style or wrapped in bacon and topped with baked beans, chili, cole slaw, and/or fried eggs. Veggie versions of every dog are available, and orders of hand-cut fries are only $1.50.
The Wienery: 414 Cedar Avenue South, Minneapolis MN 55454; wienery.com
Coney Island Wiener Stand: Fort Wayne, IN
An old school cafeteria-style hot dog joint, Coney Island Wiener Stand has been around for almost 100 years. Grilled dogs on steamed buns with chili and onions ordered three or four at a time. At one point every small town had a place like this and Coney Island Wiener Stand is still going strong.
Coney Island Wiener Stand: 131 West Main Street, Fort Wayne IN 46802
Superdawg: Chicago, IL
Maybe the most controversial of all Chicago hot dogs, Superdawg commits various sins against the holy Chicago red hot, including skinless non-Vienna brand wieners, crinkle cut fries, and pickled green tomato.
But plenty of folks love the smoked jumbo dogs and hot dog statues on the roof—Superdawg has been one of the most popular hot dog stands in the Chicago Area for years.
Superdawg Drive-In: 333 S Milwauke Avenue, Wheeling IL 60090; superdawg.com
Yesterdog: Grand Rapids, MI
A crazy no-frills bohemian hot dog joint filled with antique signs, which sort of looks like a dive bar but doesn't serve beer. Yesterdog has been going strong since 1976, known for the Ultradog covered in delicious chili, finely chopped pickles, shredded cheese and mustard on a soft white bun.
Very different from the standard Michigan "Coney," Yesterdog is in a category all its own.
Yesterdog: 1505 Wealthy Street, Grand Rapids MI 49523; yesterdog.com
Seti's Polish Boys: Cleveland, OH
The "Polish Boy" is an insane sandwich found only in Cleveland, consisting of a kielbasa covered in fries, slaw, and super sweet barbecue sauce. Seti's is a truck that serves up some of the best along with chili dogs.
Seti's Polish Boys: E. 34th and Woodland Avenue, Cleveland OH 44115; setispolishboys.com
Steve's Lunch: Cleveland, OH
A tiny counter joint popular with cops, vagrants, and drunk college kids, Steve's Lunch serves up delicious chili dogs grilled in the front window and covered with cheese as well a polish boys and crazy specials 24 hours a day.
Steve's Lunch: 5004 Lorain Avenue, Cleveland OH 44102