Piled high with mustard, onions, relish, peppers, a slice of tomato, a spear of pickle and, of course, celery salt, there’s no mistaking one of Chicago’s iconic foods. Long ago the City of Big Shoulders created a hot dog to give us a waistline to match, and those who enjoy this Midwestern treat can be quite particular on the details of their dog.

All beef vs. whatever else goes into a hot dog? Boiled or steamed? Maybe you’d like that pickle on the side or a bun without the poppy seeds. The finer points are debatable when it comes to creating the perfect frank, but there’s one thing that’s absolutely set in stone-hold the ketchup.

The hungry now have three venues in Forest Park to choose from when ordering a Chicago-style hot dog:

Byron’s Hot Dogs opened in the 7200 block of Madison Street this summer.

Just around the corner on Harlem Avenue is Parky’s, a longtime fixture in the community known just as well for its greasy fries as for its signature take on the Chicago dog.

And on the south side of town at the corner of Roosevelt Road and Desplaines Avenue is Portillo’s, one of more than 30 Chicagoland hot dog stands under the franchise name.

From their ingredients to the size of their operation, each one offers customers a different experience and they all promise to deliver the best hot dog around.

“I feel confident that if you bought [a Parky’s] hot dog and my hot dog and put them next to each other, 100 people out of 100 people would choose my hot dog,” Byron’s owner Mike Payne said, stoking the competitive fire.

Payne’s new restaurant in Forest Park is the company’s first expansion outside the city where he has two other hot dog stands. The first opened on Irving Park Road in 1975, Payne said, and he worked with the original owner for years before buying the business.

A hot dog from Byron’s has been dragged through the garden, Payne said, and comes with lettuce, several slices of tomato, sliced pickles, green peppers and cucumbers, in addition to the usual trimmings. Arguably, it’s a little healthier but gluttons will be pleased to know that Byron’s is famous for the Dogzilla. This half-pound all-beef dog is grilled rather than steamed and should be enough to curb any appetite, Payne said.

“You eat a Dogzilla meal, and you can’t eat anything else, that’s for sure,” Payne said.

Since 1947 Parky’s has catered to a loyal following with its menu of hot dogs, malts and French fries. Manager Sonya Flores is a 15-year veteran at Parky’s where the signature frankfurter isn’t an all-beef Vienna, and it comes on a plain bun. Sticklers can buy a jumbo beef hot dog, but customers are loyal to Parky’s take on the Chicago dog, Flores said.

Of course, there are limits and Flores simply will not serve a hot dog without celery salt.

“You cannot get a Parky’s hot dog without celery salt,” Flores said. “And no ketchup or you will get yelled at.”

As for the competition that Payne is bringing to the neighborhood, Flores grinned and said she has “no comment” on their hot dogs and no worries about her business.

With nearly 50 restaurants in three states, meanwhile, Portillo’s is able to command a little extra attention from its suppliers and gets its hot dogs specially made. Portillo’s Marketing Coordinator Patty Sullivan said Vienna Beef-the company that supplies many of the city’s eateries-uses a hot dog recipe that’s unique to Portillo’s.

“They do make them for us according to our specifications, so it’s a little different from a hot dog you would find in the grocery store,” Sullivan said. “We put special ingredients in our hot dogs that are more expensive than what you would find in the hot dogs in the store.”

Celery salt, which Payne credited with enhancing the flavors of the vegetables, is only one of several ingredients used in Portillo’s hot dog seasoning, Sullivan said.

“There’s no comparison; I was a Portillo’s customer long before I began working for them,” Sullivan said.

Eat like the pros

  • Mike Payne: Owner of Byron's Hot Dogs with three locations in Chicago and Forest Park. Dog topped with relish, tomato and celery salt with a pickle on the side.
    "[Celery salt] enhances the flavor of the vegetables that are on the hot dog."
  • Sonya Flores: Manager of Parky's, located in Forest Park since 1947. Dog topped with mustard, onion, relish, tomato, sport peppers.
    "These hot dogs are awesome. When I first came here, I gained about 7 pounds."
  • Patty Sullivan: Marketing Coordinator for The Portillo Restaurant Group.Dog topped with mustard, relish, onions, tomato, pickle and sport peppers on poppy seed bun.
    "There's no comparison."