Chicago Shoot Out: Luke's vs. Lobby's


Editor's Note: We stand corrected -- by Vienna Beef, which reports that its hot dogs are kosher-style, not kosher. And "premium beef," rather than "all beef." Chow Bella regrets the error.

In order for a hot dog to be called a Chicago Style Hot Dog, the purveyor must adhere to a very specific, very detailed list of toppings and preparations. 

The first rule: No Ketchup. The second: all-beef kosher dogs, usually Vienna Beef ( first sold at the Chicago World Expo in 1863). The hot dog can either be steamed or boiled, and must be served on a poppy seed bun. 

A true Chicago Dog is smeared with yellow mustard, then "dragged through the garden". These garden toppings include bright green relish, chopped white onions, pickle spear, tomato slices, sport peppers and a generous dash of celery dash.

To find out who has the most authentic Chicago Dog around we visited Luke's of Chicago in Chandler and Lobby's Beef, Burgers, and Dogs in Tempe.

See which dog gets its day after the jump

In One Corner: Luke's of Chicago, 2855 West Ray Road, Chandler.

Before you enter, you are greeted by Luke's logo, a cartoon-style mini-gangster holding a "sub" machine gun. There is a mix of wood and leather stools at high-top tables and wooden booths in the dining area. Despite the fact the place was empty except for one other table, each booth and high-top needed a good wipe down. 

We ordered at the counter and asked about the dogs: Vienna all-beef, steamed in water, not boiled. Okay. That counts. In a few minutes, we had our dog wrapped in deli paper on a bed of crinkle cut French Fries. We checked for all of the necessary components to qualify as "dragged through the garden". It passed. 

Now the taste: On the first bite, everything slid out. The pickle and tomatoes were cut thick, thick enough that they helped push everything else out of the tasteless bun, which was fast turning into mush. My teeth ached a little from the thick burst of cold pickle. Since everything fell apart on the first bite, it was hard to get the complete Chicago bite, one with a little of everything in it. The fries, however, were warm and crispy and perfectly salted. At Luke's a Chicago Dog with fries is $4.35.

In the other corner: Lobby's Beef, Burgers, and Dogs 3141 S. McClintock, Tempe.

Walking into Lobby's it is hard to miss the giant photo decals of beef, burgers, and Chicago style dogs on the windows. The interior has serious clean gleam with polished metal and white tables. The color scheme of red, green, and blue and the indie rock playing not-to-loud, was current, not dated. 

We ordered at the counter and asked about the Chicago dog: Vienna beef, boiled. In a few minutes we received our neatly wrapped dog and checked for all of the necessary ingredients. Yes, it was appropriately "dragged through the garden". Before we bit in, my dining companion made an observation, "This is the first place I have been where the product looks like the picture." I turned to look at the picture and sure enough, she was right. 

But how did it taste? The first bite came off with a "pop" as my teeth bite through the casing, exactly it should AND the whole thing held together. The tomato and pickle spear was sliced thin enough to stay in place. The bun has a sweetness that held its own with all of the other flavors. This dog comes a la carte for $3.49.

The Winner: Lobby's.
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If you haven't gone to Lobby's GO. OMG, everything is SO freaking gooooood. I salivate just thinking about it. I drive 45 minutes every Saturday to eat there. You can taste the quality. Lobby has amazing taste and THANK YOU for keeping with the Chicago Style!


Gotta love Lobbys and his burger challenge too.

Dominic Armato
Dominic Armato


Though the list of ingredients laid out by Vienna and, famously, Mike Royko is most widely recognized (in large part due to Vienna's marketing) as what constitutes a Chicago style dog, the reality on the ground, as they say, is significantly more nuanced.

Though Chicago style dogs predate the depression, the current "standard" has only been around since the '70s. The remaining stands that have been around since before the 50s almost without exception top their dogs with no more than mustard, relish, onion and/or sport peppers. In fact, even Vienna's own signage from the '60s and earlier never shows anything more than the same.

What's more, an informal (though large) survey (mine) of more than 50 Chicago hot dog stands showed that very few -- less than a fifth -- were serving the Vienna/Royko standard. Which would mean that, by definition, "true" Chicago style dogs are nowhere to be found in a vast majority of Chicago's hot dog stands... which seems to be putting the definition ahead of the reality, don't you think?

To wit, the "standard" is partly a matter of a famous column by Mike Royko (, and mostly a matter of Vienna Beef marketing. And it has justly become a point of civic pride. But its current popular status as "the one and only true way to make a Chicago style hot dog" simply ignores this glorious foodstuff's long and storied history, as well as its current reality. The Chicago style dog deserves better.

Michelle Martinez
Michelle Martinez

Wow Dominic,

Thanks for the info! I agree "this glorious foodstuff's long and storied history" needs more research and definitely more taste tests!!


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