Portillo’s Hot Dogs & Barnelli’s Salad Bowl

*** (3 stars)

I’ll start by confessing I’m not a huge fan of Chicago-style hot dogs or Italian beef sandwiches. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

That said, there’s a lot to like about Portillo’s. Foremost, it’s not a hot dog stand or a dumpy diner, it’s a stylish, themed, village-like food court with several counters: one for their specialties, a separate operation for Italian food, and a hamburger counter. The interior ambiance is great.

The main attractions are hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, so that’s what I tried.

The Chicago dog was pretty much like all the others I’ve had: very soft roll with poppy seeds, very tender dog, green relish, large pickle, and a couple of sport peppers. Nothing really distinguished it, except that the sport peppers were a bit tamer than some I’ve had, making it easier to taste the rest.

The Italian beef was less interesting. The very tender shaved beef had little flavor, and the very soft, soggy roll didn’t thrill me. I’m not sure what would have fixed this, but no condiments were available. I wouldn’t order it again.

The vanilla shake was good, a bit frothy compared to some.

Overall Portillo’s was fine, but I see no compelling reason to return.

Portillo’s Hot Dogs & Barnelli’s Salad Bowl
100 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 587-8910

Pincho Factory

**** (4 stars)

Twenty minutes is too long to stand in a ten-person line at a counter service restaurant. Yet although that was the consistent wait time throughout lunch hour, the manager never saw fit to open the second of two registers. Perhaps the kitchen couldn’t have kept up, but if so, then there are some serious design flaws, because it wasn’t for lack of staff.

That said, it only took about ten minutes for them to make the food, once it was ordered, and what we were served was quite good. The pitas were hot from the grill, and the lettuce and tomatoes were fresh and tasty. We liked both the traditional cilantro sauce and also the tropical preparation.

A side order of Cajun tostones was crispy and flavorful.

There’s a nice offering of beers on tap and in bottle, as well as soft drinks, although some were out of syrup and no one seemed concerned.

So overall, an A for food and a C for service, but they’ve only been open a few days, so perhaps things will get worked out.

Pincho Factory
7600 Doctor Phillips Blvd
Ste 102
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 745-4462

Hot “G” Dog

**** (4 stars)

This place is the heir to the Hot Doug’s legacy, and they’re doing a good job of making creative gourmet dogs, without the block-long line.

I tried the New York, which included bacon and spicy mustard and ketchup, and the duck, which reproduced the famous foie gras dog, complete with truffle aioli. Both were quite good. The accompanying “small” fries was bountiful, but nothing special.

Hot “G” Dog
5009 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 209-3360

Ivy’s Burgers, Hot Dogs and Fries

***** (5 stars)

I’ve been looking all over Chicago (literally) for a place with great gourmet hotdogs and hamburgers. Well, this is it.

The dogs include the usual Chicago and chili varieties, plus others named after cities and countries. I tried the most unusual, the Japanese Dog, and wow, was it good. Yes, the seaweed salad and pickled ginger go well on a dog, but the superb flavors of the dog itself really shone through. Best hot dog meat I’ve had, for sure.

But the burger was actually better. A think, juicy patty with a crisp, seared crust, piled high with all my favorite toppings, plus cheddar cheese and (of course) bacon. That bacon really made it a home run, with its smoky flavor, and the bun had enough integrity to hold the whole handful together. Just describing it has made me want another one.

I also tried the garlic fries, which are hand cut and tossed with fresh Gilroy garlic, herbs and olive oil. If that sounds good, you’re right. The owner made sure I knew they were unsalted, and pointed out a whole rack of seasoning salt shakers to choose from. His recommended smoked salt was terrific on them.

It’s easy to see that the owner’s hands-on approach makes this place special, and I can imagine it’s often hard to get a seat, as there are only a few tables, but I was served quickly, and the wait time for everything to be prepared fresh was definitely worth it. I’m all ready to go back and try some other gourmet combinations and maybe a shake, too.

Ivy’s Burgers, Hot Dogs and Fries
5419 W Devon Ave
Chicago, IL 60646
(773) 775-2545

Superdawg Drive-In

*** (3 stars)

This is a really neat 50s style drive-in with amusing hotdog characters on the roof, and a great history. Service is fast and friendly. The food is fine, but it’s not going to change your life. You’ll get the same Chicago dog available all over town. The hamburger is actually a bit more interesting, because although it’s a fairly typical fast food burger, it’s dressed like a Chicago dog. The fries are fairly crisp if you open the box as soon as they arrive. A good place to take a car full of kids, I guess.

Superdawg Drive-In
6363 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60646
(773) 763-0660

Wiener & Still Champion

*** (3 stars)

Definitely a hole in the wall, this microscopic grill has about five tables. Service is quick and friendly. The corndog breading was fairly thick, but nicely crisp. Fries were plentiful. I was a bit put off by the slightly clotted cheddar sauce used on the cheeseburger in place of actual cheese. All in all fine, but unremarkable.

Wiener & Still Champion
802 Dempster St
Evanston, IL 60202
(847) 869-0100

Franks ‘N’ Dawgs

**** (4 stars)

So if you’re in the mood for a hotdog, this might not be the best choice, since there’s even a sign saying they don’t do Chicago dogs. They also don’t do anything else recognizable as a conventional hotdog. But they do make some interesting gourmet dogs.

We tried three that were somewhat similar: Banh Mi, Tur-Doggin and (the day’s special) Quiche Dawg. All were based upon interesting sausages with a number of savory toppings, and all tasted somewhat similar. Interesting, but perhaps not gourmet.

We also tried the mystery corn dog platter. To me, the mystery was how anyone could mistake these for corn dogs! There isn’t a conventional cornbread coating, just a thing slurry of paste that has been deep fried to a crunchy consistency. There were several different sausages involved; the only clearly identifiable one was lamb.

The best dog was actually not a dog, it was the Slammin’ Salmon, which was sort of like lox on a bagel but in a bun.

Speaking of buns, that’s probably the best thing about the place. Rather than conventional hotdog buns, they use squared off chunks of bread that are grilled with butter to a nice golden brown.

If you’re looking for something different–and by that I mean different from a hotdog–it’s worth a try.

Franks ‘N’ Dawgs
1863 N Clybourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 281-5187

Burger 21

**** (4 stars)

Had the 4.5 oz BBQ Bacon burger. Perfectly cooked burger with plenty of accompaniments. I also liked the condiment bar. Fries are thin, served very hot, and have a good flavor. A large was enough for six of us. Lots of interesting choices.

Service here was very friendly, from the greeter at the front door to the person who delivered the food. One of our party claimed the wrong burger when they were delivered (his error) and they wasted no time in making another one for the person who ordered it. Definitely a candidate for top burger in Orlando.

Burger 21
4192 Conroy Rd
Orlando, FL 32839
(407) 203-2848