Written by: Laurie Cairns
It's a Chicago thing...
If you put ketchup on your hot dog you're not a true Chicagoan. And the conversation is heating up as July 19 – National Hot Dog Day – approaches. Portillo's and Buona, two longtime Chicago-area purveyors of street food, are both celebrating the food holiday with dollar dogs. Portillo's came out first – offering $1 regular sized hot dogs on July 19th with the purchase of any sandwich, entrée salad, entrée pasta or ribs. Buona responded: they're offering $1 hot dogs the DAY BEFORE National Hot Dog Day (July 18) with the purchase of a drink and a side. The caveat? They're charging $1.50 if it's ordered with ketchup.
Forget about Chicago-style pizza – the Chicago hot dog is the stuff of street food legend. The Windy City classic includes yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. No ketchup. Ever. At least if you're over 18. This Chicago-centric viewpoint has the support of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council (the official trade association based in Washington, DC). The council published a paper on "Hot Dog Etiquette and Everyday Guidance for Eating America's Sacred Food" in which they stated "Don't use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18."
Chicagoans' obsession with assembling their hot dog by "dragging it through the garden" is something its residents take very seriously. The city's roots in hot dog love are deep – dating back to the late 1800s. With the introduction of steam-powered meat choppers, Chicago's famous Union Stock Yards plants began to churn out early versions of today's hot dog. Chicago's first hot dog brand was David Berg (founded in 1860). Many others followed, with Vienna Beef (founded in 1893) emerging as one of Chicago's most beloved hot dog brands.
National chain Portillo's started selling hot dogs in the western Chicago suburb of Villa Park in 1963, and has since become one of the city's most famous purveyors of dogs. In 2014, the company's Founder, Dick Portillo, sold the chain to Boston-based private-equity firm Berkshire Partners. The chain had grown to 38 restaurants, and the deal was rumored to be around $1 billion. Since the sale, Portillo's has expanded to 50 restaurants and counting – 40 of which are in Illinois.
Buona, on the other hand, is a family-owned business that's famous for Chicago's OTHER iconic sandwich – the Italian beef. Relatives of the Buonavolanto family – AKA Buona's owners – were among the group who first introduced Chicagoans to the sandwich. Like the hot dog, Italian beef was a product Chicago's Stockyards, with its invention dating back to the time of the Great Depression. Buona has 20 locations across Chicagoland today, and is expanding at a rapid rate. Buona opened its first beef stand in Berwyn, IL in 1981, and today it is the Official Italian Beef of Chicago's beloved baseball teams, the Cubs and White Sox. While Italian beef is their legacy and mainstay, they have been serving Chicago-style hot dogs since Day One. Notably, Portillo's also sells Italian beef sandwiches.
The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, publicizes, sponsors and supports events and activities that commemorate the day. The Council designates July as National Hot Dog Month, with the date for National Hot Dog Day varying from year to year. It usually falls on the day on which the North American Meat Institute hosts its annual Hot Dog Lunch on Capitol Hill.
Stay tuned to see how Portillo's and Buona duke it out next #NationalItalianBeefDay, which falls on the Saturday before Memorial Day – an official food holiday designation that the Buonavolanto family lobbied for and obtained in 2017.
See how they stack up. Visit the competition.
Portillo's | Beef. Burgers. Salads.
Portillo's is home to America's favorite Italian beef, burgers, salads,
Chicago-style hot dogs, and chocolate cake.
Buona | The Original Italian Beef ...
We've Got BBQ Ribs, Salads, Pizza, And Other Great Stuff, Too.
Laurie Cairns is a Chicagoan, food aficionado, writer, publicist and mother. I have worked with some of Chicago's leading chefs and restaurants, and have helped create editorial content on the history of iconic foods in Chicago, including Italian beef and the little-known story of Chicago-style BBQ.