The Run Down

We're hopping on the Brown line for this guide to see what we'll find if we take it all the way to the last stop (Kimball).  Once you get off the train, you'll find yourselves in Albany Park, a neighborhood on Chicago's Northwest side that's a huge melting pot of various communities. Walk the neighborhood and you'll hear conversations in Tagalog, Spanish, Hindi, English, Urdu, Korean, Spanish, Bosnian, and tons of others being spoken. This guide gives us a small sample of this wonderful melting pot of a community where we can find classic Chicago hot dogs, a late night Mexican pastry shop, and coffee and cocktails all within a few blocks of each other. Here are the highlights.

1. Chicago Dog @ Hot Dog Station

2. Coffee and Cocktails @ Nighthawk

3. Empanadas de Camote @ Markellos Baking Co.

1. Hot Dog Station

After a long journey on the Brown line, you’re probably hungry, but luckily for us, our first stop is right across the street from the Kimball station.

We’re walking over to Hot Dog Station, a locally owned eatery that has thrown its hat into the ring among some of the great hot dog places in Chicago.

The spot is a casual counter walk-up diner no bigger than your average apartment, but they do admirable work in that small space. And getting a hot dog, drink, and fries for around $9 is as cheap a deal as you can get.

In terms of food, their menu has all the Chicago classics, from hot dogs, to Italian beef sandwiches and burgers. For this visit, we stuck with their hot dog menu (however — we hear that their Italian beef sandwiches are also notable).

We started with their Chicago-style hot dog, and boy they make a mean one. The bun is warm and fluffy, they use Red Hot beef franks (which have a nice snap to them), and all the tomatoes, relish, peppers, and other condiments are placed onto the hot dog with a bit of care. It’s that extra bit of care that separates the good from the great.

Aside from the Chicago style, they have a whole variety of other types: the Atlanta dog, the New Orleans dog, the Milwaukee dog, the L.A. dog, and a whole bunch of others. We tried the Atlanta dog, which came with chili, onions, and coleslaw. Any sort of meat/coleslaw combinations tend to work out very well, and the Atlanta dog was no different.


2. Nighthawk

Right next door to Hot Dog Station is our next stop. We’re headed to Nighthawk, a coffee and cocktail bar all rolled into one. During the day, most patrons are sipping on Nighthawk’s nitro brew coffee and working on a laptop, but as the evening rolls around, those coffees turn into Irish coffees.

This place still maintains its coffee shop personality even at night, with folks sitting in their booths working late into the evening while others hang out at the bar slinging cocktails.

The place is open until 2 am every night and is the only establishment in Chicago we’re aware of where you can do some work late at night with a beer or cocktail in hand. Our kind of place.

3. Markellos Bakery

Let’s say it’s 11:00 pm at Nighthawk, and you decide you need something sweet with your coffee –well, I have a solution to this scenario we made up. A few blocks down the street is Markellos Bakery, a Mexican pastry shop open until midnight on the weekends.

They crank out thousands of different breads, sweets, doughnuts, and other baked goodness every day — so much so that a large chunk of their store is just stacks of giant metal baking trays with various pastries.

As you walk in, there are green baskets by the cash register. Pick up one of these baskets, which have tongs in them, and fill it up with whatever suits your mood.

There’s a huge variety of pastries — so much so that it can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily the person behind the register walked us through the store and pointed out some of their favorite items behind the cases.

On the top baking tray, the picture above is a freshly baked batch of empanada de camote. It’s an empanada with sweet potato filling. It’s sort of like sweet potato pie in empanada form, and it turned out to be a good coffee companion.