Growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, just outside of Chicago’s western city limits, I ate my fair share of Chicago hot dogs. Whether from Gene and Jude’s, Johnnie’s Beef, Mickey’s Gyros and Ribs, Parky’s, Big Guys’ Sausage Stand or many others, I always loved the unlikely combination of a snappy and savory Vienna Beef hot dog with zingy mustard, relish, onions, pickles, tomatoes and spicy sport peppers, all on top of a poppy-seed hot dog bun. It was portable, cheap and comforting; a Chicago classic done right.

I’ve always wanted to explore the other hot dogs of the north side of Chicago and see if they stood up to my childhood favorites. So with the help of a couple friends, I spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon in February making a pilgrimage to twelve old-school and new-school Chicago hot dog stands across the north side with the hopes of finding my new favorite.

So, here are the 12 essential hot dogs on the north side of Chicago (in order of our visits). Whether you’re from Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola or visiting from out of town, one of these restaurants can always get you your Chicago fix.

1. Bill's Drive In

Bill’s Drive-In is an unassuming hamburger and hot dog restaurant on Asbury Avenue near Howard Street in Evanston, IL, just north of city limits. With old-school decor and no seating, the stop is perfect for commuters driving into the city. Fittingly enough, this restaurant wasn’t even on our original list, but we drove by it on our route and decided to give it a try. The hot dog, though missing the requisite pickle and sport peppers, was well-seasoned and constructed, a perfect portable package for the morning drive. Superlative: The Commuter Dog 

2. Wolfy's

Finding Wolfy’s wasn’t the hard part; the massive colorful sculpture and sign of a hot dog juts out into Peterson Avenue, where the restaurant has been whipping up hot dogs and other diner favorites since 1967. The interior hasn’t aged a day either, with an old-school disposition and infectious nostalgia that brought me right back to the golden age of diner fare. The hot dog itself was classic, with a good quality Vienna beef sausage and plenty of onions and mustard; though it is worth noting that Wolfy’s also serves plenty Chicago Greek diner classics like Greek fries, gyros, and Italian beef. If you want a trip down memory lane, Wofly’s is the place to go. Superlative: The Nostalgia Dog

3. Charcoal Delights

We decided to go through the drive-thru at Charcoal Delights, distinguished by its Culver’s-esque blue and white color palette and grilled hot dogs (!!!). The menu was expansive, with ample breakfast and sandwich options, but the Chicago hot dog delivered on all fronts. It had exceptionally balanced flavors and was architecturally sound, a hot dog as sturdy and reliable as the restaurant itself. A true charcoal delight (sorry). Superlative: The Prototype Dog

4. Byron's Hot Dogs

Back to the diner we go. Byron’s Hot Dogs is a neighborhood favorite on Lawrence Avenue, a counter-serve, no-frills restaurant with an eye-popping sign. It also advertised their use of buns from St. Rosen’s Bakery, a Chicago institution that supplies many of the burgers and hot dogs across the city with their trusty, carby companion. The Vienna beef hot dog had a great snappy casing and was griddled to savory perfection, with plenty of celery salt, pickles and tomato. I ate the dog under a signed portrait of the Obamas and next to a family with young kids coming back from a baseball game- about as wholesome as a Chicago diner can get. Superlative: The Neighborhood Dog

5. Wrigleyville Dogs

Just a couple hundred feet away from Wrigley Stadium in the heart of Wrigleyville, Wrigleyville Dogs has been a game-day vestige for generations of Chicago Cubs fans. And for good reason, too- the small restaurant serves classic Chicago fare at a great price, perfect for post-game celebrations and crying-into-your-fries alike. The hot dog had fresh toppings, a snappy casing and a warm bun, all coming with crinkle-cut fries. If you bring an out-of-towner and want to kill two birds with one stone, take them to a Cubs night game and Wrigleyville Dogs after- you won’t regret it. Superlative: The Marquee Dog

6. The Wiener's Circle

Famous for being rude to their customers, The Wiener’s Circle is another Wrigleyville standby on the busy Clark St. serving charred hot dogs with a chilly disposition. The interior is lined with photographs and different international currencies, contributing to an eclectic vibe that differentiates it from many of the diners and drive-ins we visited. I was happily scolded by the cashier and scarfed down the hot dog minutes later, topped with cold tomato and grilled to high heaven. The dog wasn’t anything to write home about, but the service and restaurant were unique enough to have me coming back for more. Superlative: The Meaner Dog

Jonathan Perkins

7. Chicago's Dog House

Chicago’s Dog House is anything but traditional. The new-school restaurant, which opened in 2009 in Logan Square, features colorful portraits of Chicago legends like Chance the Rapper, Harry Caray, and the Blues Brothers next to brewery stickers and graffiti. The chalkboard menu is even more eclectic than the interior, boasting alligator sausage, duck confit dogs, deep fried twinkies and even a rattlesnake/rabbit combo sausage. For the purposes of this article, I ordered a classic Chicago dog once again, which I could watch being meticulously constructed in the small open kitchen in the back. The sausage itself was clearly homemade and the best we tried all day- larger than normal with a deeper savory flavor and well complemented by the toppings. While I tend to be skeptical of teaching an old dog new tricks, Chicago’s Dog House brings new life to a classic. Superlative: The Millennial Dog

8. Devil Dawgs Rush St.

Devil Dawgs matches the hip, rock-n-roll vibe of the surrounding neighborhood, Bucktown. With the largest indoor space and most comfortable booths we visited, the expansive menu features plenty of options to get your late-night fix (open til 2 a.m. on weekends!) The Chicago hot dog was excellent: compact construction, fresh toppings, warm bun and a classic Vienna beef hot dog. Perfect for a group, Devil Dawgs brings big-time flavor and vibes in the heart of one of Chicago’s most unique areas. Superlative: The “Rock On!” Dog

9. Fatso's Last Stand

Another new kid on the block! Fatso’s Last Stand on Chicago Avenue blends the party feel of Chicago Bears tailgate with a no-frills attitude and flavorful food. We took in the late afternoon sun on bright red picnic tables next to the parking lot, the perfect venue for a meal that reminded me of backyard summertime barbecues. The grilled hot dog was smoky and savory with plenty of pickle, onions and relish. And, the fresh fries were superb: crispy and well seasoned without feeling greasy. While you can’t go wrong with the Chicago dog, don’t be afraid to branch out and try their cheeseburger, fried shrimp, mac and cheese, or milkshakes! Superlative: The Backyard Dog

Jonathan Perkins

10. Redhot Ranch

Redhot Ranch in Bucktown may be more notorious for their crispy-edged cheeseburger and unique location directly under a rumbling CTA train, but their Chicago hot dog is a true unsung hero. The cash-only restaurant itself is pleasantly simple, boasting a small menu of classics and a few red picnic tables in the parking lot beneath colorful murals. Simplicity rings true in their hot dog, with a snappy casing and thinly sliced pickles- nothing fancy. Elegant, cosmopolitan, a tried-and-true-classic, Redhot Ranch is no frills, and that’s what makes it great. Superlative: The Little-Black-Dress Dog

11. Superdawg Drive-In

Superdawg Drive-In is a family-run flash from the past, emulating the classic '50s drive-up fast food joint. Customers stay in their car to order and soon receive it in an old-school cardboard box that doubled down on the nostalgic charm. The Chicago dog was the first one without tomatoes, but the sausage was thicker with a snappier casing and well-balanced by onions, mustard and sport peppers. The house-made fries, with a crispy exterior and fluffy, roasted interior, were also a winner. Superdawg Drive-In reminded me of an essential lesson for the Chicago hot dog: the classics are the classics for a reasonSuperlative: The “First-Kiss-at-a-Drive-In-Movie-Theater” Dog

12. Mustard's Last Stand

Home at last, our final spot was maybe the most familiar. Just next to Ryan Field, Mustard’s Last Stand has been a staple for hungry Wildcats for every home game since 1971. Adorned with Northwestern University merchandise, photographs of famous alumni, and their own t-shirts and memorabilia, Mustard’s is a time capsule through Northwestern’s storied history. And you can taste it all in the hot dog: savory, salty and acidic elements come together for a great rendition of a hometown classic. Even though it was my 12th hot dog of the day, I finished the whole thing before riding off into the sunset. Superlative: The Hometown Hero Dog

Jonathan Perkins