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Dog Days

How to find a real Chicago hot dog without flying to O'Hare


Since 1957, July has been National Hot Dog Month. But per-capita consumption of hot dogs has fallen since then. Hot dogs aren't as common in restaurants as they used to be. And while you still find them in ballparks, you find sushi, sandwiches and burgers there, too.

I asked Vienna Beef's Schwartz about hot dog sales trends. "We're eating a tad less nationally than we used to, but the quality is improving," he says. "It's just like ice cream. I don't eat as much ice cream as I used to, but when I do, I buy a pint of the good stuff, like Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia. It's the same with hot dogs. The category is flat nationwide, but Vienna Beef is doing well."

Make me one with everything: The Chicago-style dog comes with tomatoes, pickles, peppers, onions and a Vienna Beef frank.
Monica Fuentes
Make me one with everything: The Chicago-style dog comes with tomatoes, pickles, peppers, onions and a Vienna Beef frank.

Location Info

Map

James Coney Island

5745 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77057

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Galleria

James Coney Island

701 Town and Country
Houston, TX 77027

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Greenway Plaza

James Coney Island

12500 E. Freeway
Houston, TX 77015

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Outer Loop - SE

James Coney Island

3607 S. Shepherd Drive
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Details

713-785-9333. Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Original coney: $1.29
Cheese coney: $1.49
Vienna Beef dog: $1.99
Vienna Beef jumbo dog: $2.99
Vienna Beef Polish or jalapeño: $2.79
Fit Frank (Healthy Choice low-fat): $2.19

5745 Westheimer (and 22 other Houston locations)

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Vienna Beef franks, the Ben & Jerry's of hot dogs, were first added to the menu at James Coney Island in November 1995. You can choose between a regular and jumbo dog, a Polish sausage and a jumbo jalapeño dog (known in Chicago as a Firedog). JCI's original coney, the only hot dog on the menu during the chain's first 71 years, is custom-manufactured for James Coney Island by Kent Foods. JCI also carries a Healthy Choice low-fat hot dog made by ConAgra.

In an unscientific blind tasting, my daughter Julia preferred the Healthy Choice hot dog to the original coney, both of which were served on a bun with mustard and onions. She said the low-fat dog tasted juicier, but she quickly added that neither was as good as the Vienna Beef dog.

We also sampled the Vienna Beef jumbo, Polish and jalapeño dogs -- all Chicago-style. The higher meat-to- condiment ratio balanced out the sandwich better in these jumbo versions, but none of them had quite as satisfying a natural-casing explosion as the regular-size Vienna Beef hot dogs -- which we tried Chicago-, New York- and Texas-style. The New York-style dog came with mustard and sauerkraut. Though my daughter and I both worship sauerkraut, there was too much of a good thing in this case; you could barely find the hot dog. Likewise, the Texas-style dog was lost in the chili, cheese and onions. Both tasted good. But neither was any competition for the Chicago dog crowned with tomatoes, pickles, peppers and onions.

If you grew up on cheese coneys at James Coney Island, the Chicago-style hot dog looks a little weird, no doubt. But if you've never had one, you owe it to yourself to try this American classic -- especially now that you don't have to fly to O'Hare to get one.

But don't be tempted to alter the recipe. When they ask you what you want on it, just remember what the Zen Buddhist said to the hot dog vendor: "Make me one with everything."

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