Southern California is the land of the hamburger, an American foodstuff that has seen gourmet and street versions battle it out for decades and left the equally as all-American hot dog to wallow in its bacon-wrapped solitude.
Forgetting the L.A.-reclaimed Sonora dog or the recent attempts to overstuff buns with off ingredients until they achieve knife-and-fork status (see: the Dogzilla truck), there is little regional identity when it comes to these classic phallic meat vessels. So it's nice when a place just throws its hands up and dedicates an entire little snack stop to Chicago's hot dog culture, an elevated street food scene we can only hope to glean insight from.
Mustard's in Long Beach is the city's only homegrown hot dog purveyor and despite its distance from downtown (you can find it just over the 405 on Atlantic), it sticks to its Chi-town guns pretty staunchly with a Vienna Beef account that has no competition for miles.
The menu inside the strip-mall spot is littered with familiar classics, each accompanied by a Vienna Beef marketing photo of a perfectly crafted dog. Though I can attest to the authenticity of Mustard's Chicago Dog glory, I often find myself skipping out on the cacophonous tradition of tomatoes, pickles, onions, peppers and mustard in lieu of the restaurant's more creative takes on the Chicago style red hot.
One of my favorites is the all too simple Comisky Park Pole, a grilled semi-spicy Polish sausage covered in mustard and grilled onions and topped with celery salt. The sausage is nearly twice as big around as the regular hot dog size and takes up most of the space between the traditional poppy seed buns with juicy meat that is far more hot dog than the curved kielbasa found in Krakow.
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As one of only two toppings on the Comisky, the grilled onions are definitely a show piece. Golden-brown translucent and with a slight crisp that fools you into thinking they might be deep fried, all I can ever think when staring into the eyes of Mustard's grilled onions is, "How did they get each thin layer of the onion to sweat itself individually without losing its shape?" Only the Chinese owner of Mustard's may ever know the answer.
Other creations from Mustard's include the Mayor Daley Big Cheese Dog (yes the cheese is inside of the hot dog), Wrigley Field Firedog (spicy hot dog with spicy mustard) and a basic chili-cheese dog called the Windy City. The Obama Dog seems to be a newer addition as it only appears on a side specials board, but it combines the Comisky and the Windy City for a polish sausage with chili and cheese that fills up for only $4.
Sure, you could stray from the hot dog menu and find plenty of good burgers and sandwiches (most stick to the Chicago theme and come on rye bread), but with nearly a dozen hot dogs and at least two different specials every day taking influence from the Mid West's most formidable city, Mustard's makes it hard to ditch the chance to taste what a real hot dog scene is like.
Mustard's, 3387 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, (562) 427-6435