When I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2000, three things immediately impressed me about the city: the architecture, the phenomenon of 4 a.m. bars and the abundant access to greasy food.
My definition of quintessential Chicago cuisine depends on the French fry, and maybe even its whiz-slathered step-sister, the cheese fry.
The city is full of corner grub hubs where potatoes meet their fate in deep-fat fryers. What's more unusual are the restaurants and food stands that dare to dress up our beloved all-American standard food.
Cheese fries deliver big wows at Wiener's Circle
While many claim this Lincoln Park hotdog stand serves the city's best charbroiled red hots, it's the cheese fries that rule. While many restaurants fry up frozen potatoes and cover them with watery, flavorless whiz as an excuse for cheese fries, this place delivers the real deal: a massive portion of hand-cut potatoes, with each one slathered in thick, cheddar sauce. Open until 4 a.m., Wiener's Circle is probably most famous for employing a waitstaff that curses at its idiotic and drunken late-night patrons. But one bite of the fries (which you'll keep eating well into stomach ache-territory) will have keep your focus squarely on the food.
Feast on the city's fanciest fries at mk
Thank god for the waiter who urged my mother and I to try the pommes frites with truffle cream when I first dined at this class-A restaurant a few years back. Funny how I can barely remember what we ordered for entrees, fish I believe, and something chocolate for desert. But the taste of those delicate potatoes, fried to crispy perfection, dusted with sea salt crystals, and sprinkled with rosemary, has stayed with me like a dream. Dunking the spuds in the accompanying truffle cream, a buttery-earthy upgrade from regular aioli, was a divine taste experience. mk's menu offers extra truffle cream for two more dollars; take advantage.
Go Greek with your fries at George's Hot Dogs
Bucktown has become more avant-garde in recent years, but George's Hot Dogs lives on as a great find for simple, retro food. Owned by a Greek family since 1948, this fast food joint has hardly modified its decor or its menu, a collection of freshly made hamburgers, hot dogs, gyros and other Greek specialties. Its spin on cheese fries includes gobs of feta cheese, oregano and a squeeze of lemon, a departure from regular cheese fries that packs a big punch in the flavor department.
Hopelessly devote yourself to frites at Hopleaf
As one of the city's first gastro-pubs, it's hard to resist the Hopleaf homemade Belgian fare and specialty beers...and its take on the French fry is no exception. Served as a solo act or with the restaurant's specialty dish of steamed mussels in beer broth, the fries are cut in thin strips, wrapped in parchment paper and delivered in a silver holder. The frites look as elegant as they taste, which is light and delicate. While you may have thought it trashy to dip your fries in mayonnaise, the Europeans and Canadians have always done so, and a delightful aioli accompanies these fries, a refined mayonnaise sauce infused with garlic.
Viva veggie chili cheese fries at Huey's Hotdogs
This one's for the vegetarians! Non-meat eaters rarely get a choice of fast-food options—how often the naked French fry double as the vegetarian's diner. But spuds and ketchup doesn't seem like a meal...or didn't. Huey's, which offers up an exciting array of hot dogs in Andersonville, dishes out a rich meatless chili, full of beans, peppers and onions, over a massive bed of cheese-lathered fries. This is a dose of fries that is a meal in-and-of-itself.
Other unique fry finds
Susie's Drive-in Cheese fries tossed with your choice of meat (meatball, ground beef, bacon, gyro meat, steak, hot dog or chicken) and American cheese, served in an edible tortilla bowl.
Grafton Pub & Grill Guinness nicely pairs with the fries dressed in curry sauce, a truly British-inspired dish, or fries covered in bacon and cheese.
Hot Doug's Learn why the line wraps around the building on Fridays and Saturdays: it's the only days that this famed hot dog stand offers up duck-fat fries.
Kuma's Corner This Logan Square spot for comfort food's truly filling and inventive concoction is BBQ pork fries covered in jack cheese. Remember to ask for clean wipes.
Semiramis This Lebanese restaurant in Albany Park covers French fries with sumac, a Middle Eastern sour spice, and garlic mousse.
Max's Italian Beef Order the Ghetto Fries and get a basket of thick-cut fries covered with Merkt's cheddar cheese, Italian beef gravy, onion slivers, sweet BBQ sauce and giardinara.