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Finance I tried one of the most famous hot dogs in Chicago and it was delicious — but I made one huge mistake while ordering

Chicago is famous for its hot dog, which is an all-beef Vienna dog topped with mustard, neon-green relish, tomatoes, white onions, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and a shake of celery salt. Portillo's is a restaurant chain that serves a classic Chicago-style hot dog. See what it's like.

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Chicago hot dogs are serious business. But bigger isn't always better. play

Chicago hot dogs are serious business. But bigger isn't always better.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)

  • Hot dogs in Chicago are a big deal.
  • Portillo's is a fast-casual restaurant that's located throughout Illinois and serves a classic Chicago-style hot dog.
  • Chicago is famous for its hot dog, which is an all-beef Vienna dog topped with mustard, neon-green relish, tomatoes, white onions, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and a shake of celery salt.
  • The perfect Chicago hot dog needs to have 'OBR' — the optimal bite ratio of toppings — according to Chicago food expert Steve Dolinksy.

The hot dog has historical significance in the city of Chicago. The all-beef Vienna dogs with the essential seven toppings nestled in a poppy-seed bun is a thing of culinary legend.

Even the award-winning, Michelin-star chef Grant Achez of Alenia — one of the best restaurants in America — tips his hat to his city's most classic food.

Portillo's, a chain resturant with a majority of its 53 locations scattered throughout Illinois, serves among other things, a classic Chicago-style dog.

Portillo's started as a simple hot dog stand in 1963. Known as "The Dog House," owner and founder Dick Portillo invested $1,100 into the business — only to grow his empire and reportedly sell it for nearly $1 billion in 2014 to Berkshire Partners.

While in town for the James Beard Awards this month, I stopped at Portillo's to see what all the fuss is about.

It's obvious the people of Chicago love Portillo's.

In 2014, right after the company was sold, The Chicago Tribune reported that the newer Portillo's locations brought in an average of $7 to $8 million annually. In 2018, at around 11:30am on a Monday, I expected the Portillo's on W. Taylor Street near down town Chicago to be mostly empty — but upon walking in, I found diners already wrapping up their finished meals and heading out for the rest of their work day.

I tried my first ever Chicago hot dog, and chatted about my experience with Chicago food expert and tour guide, Steve Dolinksy, whose insight into the city's favorite and most historic dish helped me appreciate it even more.

I went to the Portillo's located at 520 W. Taylor Street. Like their other locations, this Portillo's serves a variety of foods including ribs, burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, and more — but my plan was to eat the only menu item that matters: the hot dog.

I went to the Portillo's located at 520 W. Taylor Street. Like their other locations, this Portillo's serves a variety of foods including ribs, burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, and more — but my plan was to eat the only menu item that matters: the hot dog. play

I went to the Portillo's located at 520 W. Taylor Street. Like their other locations, this Portillo's serves a variety of foods including ribs, burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, and more — but my plan was to eat the only menu item that matters: the hot dog.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


Each Portillo's location is decked out in the theme of a different decade. This particular location is 1930s themed.

Each Portillo's location is decked out in the theme of a different decade. This particular location is 1930s themed. play

Each Portillo's location is decked out in the theme of a different decade. This particular location is 1930s themed.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


Portillo's hot dog menu options are straight forward. You're either ordering a classic Chicago style hot dog (regular or jumbo-sized), a chili cheese dog, or a Polish style dog.

Portillo's hot dog menu options are straight forward. You're either ordering a classic Chicago style hot dog (regular or jumbo-sized), a chili cheese dog, or a Polish style dog. play

Portillo's hot dog menu options are straight forward. You're either ordering a classic Chicago style hot dog (regular or jumbo-sized), a chili cheese dog, or a Polish style dog.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


Here's the only mistake I made: I ordered the jumbo-style Chicago hot dog. As a native Texan, I've been conditioned to think that everything that's bigger is better. But apparently in Chicago that's not the case.

Here's the only mistake I made: I ordered the jumbo-style Chicago hot dog. As a native Texan, I've been conditioned to think that everything that's bigger is better. But apparently in Chicago that's not the case. play

Here's the only mistake I made: I ordered the jumbo-style Chicago hot dog. As a native Texan, I've been conditioned to think that everything that's bigger is better. But apparently in Chicago that's not the case.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


As Dolinsky so eloquently put it, my "OBR," or optimal bite ratio, was messed up because I went with the larger dog.

As Dolinsky so eloquently put it, my "OBR," or optimal bite ratio, was messed up because I went with the larger dog. play

As Dolinsky so eloquently put it, my "OBR," or optimal bite ratio, was messed up because I went with the larger dog.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


As a less experienced hot dog consumer, I'm used to three condiments: ketchup, mustard, and relish. So, as I witnessed this Portillo hot dog master craft my Chicago style dog, my mind was blown.

As a less experienced hot dog consumer, I'm used to three condiments: ketchup, mustard, and relish. So, as I witnessed this Portillo hot dog master craft my Chicago style dog, my mind was blown. play

As a less experienced hot dog consumer, I'm used to three condiments: ketchup, mustard, and relish. So, as I witnessed this Portillo hot dog master craft my Chicago style dog, my mind was blown.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


Most importantly, there's no ketchup involved. "Ketchup never goes on a hot dog," said Dolinksy. "Because, first of all, it's crap. It's too sweet. You want that mustard to cut through that beefiness."

Most importantly, there's no ketchup involved. "Ketchup never goes on a hot dog," said Dolinksy. "Because, first of all, it's crap. It's too sweet. You want that mustard to cut through that beefiness." play

Most importantly, there's no ketchup involved. "Ketchup never goes on a hot dog," said Dolinksy. "Because, first of all, it's crap. It's too sweet. You want that mustard to cut through that beefiness."

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


The "seven holy condiments" as Dolinsky calls them are: yellow mustard, neon-green relish, sliced tomatoes, chopped white onions, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and a shake of celery salt. To make it a Chicago dog, these toppings along with an all-beef dog, must be served in a steamed poppy seed bun.

The "seven holy condiments" as Dolinsky calls them are: yellow mustard, neon-green relish, sliced tomatoes, chopped white onions, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and a shake of celery salt. To make it a Chicago dog, these toppings along with an all-beef dog, must be served in a steamed poppy seed bun. play

The "seven holy condiments" as Dolinsky calls them are: yellow mustard, neon-green relish, sliced tomatoes, chopped white onions, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and a shake of celery salt. To make it a Chicago dog, these toppings along with an all-beef dog, must be served in a steamed poppy seed bun.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


Down to the last shake of celery salt, Portillo's delivers on these tried and true ingredients.

Down to the last shake of celery salt, Portillo's delivers on these tried and true ingredients. play

Down to the last shake of celery salt, Portillo's delivers on these tried and true ingredients.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


My first bite into the dog was a spicy one — which was a confusing experience since I've never associated hot dogs with that kind of heat. The sport peppers gave it this kick.

My first bite into the dog was a spicy one — which was a confusing experience since I've never associated hot dogs with that kind of heat. The sport peppers gave it this kick. play

My first bite into the dog was a spicy one — which was a confusing experience since I've never associated hot dogs with that kind of heat. The sport peppers gave it this kick.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


Dolinksy was right — you can't order a jumbo style dog in Chicago. The size messed with the ratio between the hot dog and the dill pickle. The consistency was confusing because everything else was relatively easy to chew and soft, and then you had this pickle spear that was difficult to bite into.

Dolinksy was right — you can't order a jumbo style dog in Chicago. The size messed with the ratio between the hot dog and the dill pickle. The consistency was confusing because everything else was relatively easy to chew and soft, and then you had this pickle spear that was difficult to bite into. play

Dolinksy was right — you can't order a jumbo style dog in Chicago. The size messed with the ratio between the hot dog and the dill pickle. The consistency was confusing because everything else was relatively easy to chew and soft, and then you had this pickle spear that was difficult to bite into.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


The sesame seed bun was super soft and delicious, but didn't hold together too well. At this point in the meal I was glad the only liquid condiment on this hot dog was mustard — ketchup would have completely destroyed it.

The sesame seed bun was super soft and delicious, but didn't hold together too well. At this point in the meal I was glad the only liquid condiment on this hot dog was mustard — ketchup would have completely destroyed it. play

The sesame seed bun was super soft and delicious, but didn't hold together too well. At this point in the meal I was glad the only liquid condiment on this hot dog was mustard — ketchup would have completely destroyed it.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


Overall the amount of flavors within this one simple dish was overwhelming in a good way. The onion, sport peppers, and the pickle particularly stood out flavor-wise — and for someone who is used to relish being the only green condiment on a hot dog, this opened up my world to new and delightful possibilities.

Overall the amount of flavors within this one simple dish was overwhelming in a good way. The onion, sport peppers, and the pickle particularly stood out flavor-wise — and for someone who is used to relish being the only green condiment on a hot dog, this opened up my world to new and delightful possibilities. play

Overall the amount of flavors within this one simple dish was overwhelming in a good way. The onion, sport peppers, and the pickle particularly stood out flavor-wise — and for someone who is used to relish being the only green condiment on a hot dog, this opened up my world to new and delightful possibilities.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)


While Portillo's isn't Dolinksy's favorite hot dog spot (he prefers Super Dawg) he noted that they certainly make a "a pretty respectable Chicago dog." I agree.

While Portillo's isn't Dolinksy's favorite hot dog spot (he prefers Super Dawg) he noted that they certainly make a "a pretty respectable Chicago dog." I agree. play

While Portillo's isn't Dolinksy's favorite hot dog spot (he prefers Super Dawg) he noted that they certainly make a "a pretty respectable Chicago dog." I agree.

(Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider)