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Review: Chicago Joe’s comes to Lynden

From hot dogs to sandwiches, expectations are both met and missed

At Chicago Joe's in Lynden
At Chicago Joe's in Lynden
By Mark Saleeb CDN Contributor

Hot on the heels of season two of the hit Showtime TV series, “The Bear” — about a hole-in-the-wall Chicago restaurant — comes the full opening of an entirely unique restaurant here in Whatcom County: Chicago Joe’s, a Lynden-based Chicago-style hot dog and Italian beef joint.

It’s an interesting move for traditionally unadventurous Lynden, but one that I think could pay off — that is, if they can pull it off correctly.

The Chicago dog is something of a hill upon which Windy City residents will die in droves. There is only one way to prepare a Chicago dog, whereas the Italian beef or the sausage sandwich can have some variability.

The only way to have a Chicago dog is as follows: Into a poppy seed hot dog bun goes a Vienna beef hot dog, sliced tomatoes, chopped white onion, pickled sport peppers, neon green relish, an entire dill pickle spear, yellow mustard, and a dusting of celery salt. If you ask for ketchup, you are likely to be asked to leave, if lucky, and beaten about the head and shoulders with a tube sock full of quarters if not.

An Italian beef sandwich, however, is fundamentally a hot roast beef sandwich served “au jus.” Ordered “hot” gets you spicy giardiniera, while “sweet” gets it with Italian sweet peppers. Ordered dipped, wet or baptized will see the entire sandwich dunked in the hot pot of gravy. Got it? Good. 

photo  The Chicago dog lived up to its reputation. From the pickle spear to the neon relish, Chicago Joe’s got it all right. (Photo by Mark Saleeb)  

To add authenticity to my review, I brought along a dyed-in-the-wool Chicagoan to serve as a sounding board for my virgin palate. We ordered, well … everything, actually, sans the kids dog, the plain or double burgers, and a couple sides. Set to this Herculean task, we sat down in the minimal dining room, festooned with flags of Chicago sports teams — something the Chicagoan stated is accurate to the real thing. 

The food came out impressively fast, sandwiches securely wrapped in paper. We started with the chili dog ($7.99) — the same poppy seed bun and Vienna beef hot dog, topped with onions, chili and cheddar cheese. A positive explosion of flavor, the chili not so wet as to sog the bun, fresh onions giving some crunch. All around, a very good chili dog. 

We moved on to the Italian beef (ordered with mild giardiniera, $13.99) and the Italian sausage (with hot giardiniera, $12.99). Peeling back the wrappers revealed … no giardiniera. A slight annoyance, given Chicago Joe’s charges $1 extra for a topping that should be included, but one I’d have forgiven as a slight mistake if that was the only misstep. Alas, it was not. 

On both sandwiches, the meat was excellent. The beef was paper-thin and deliciously umami, while the sausage was spicy and juicy with an excellent snap upon being bitten. Where they fell apart was actually where they didn’t — the bread. On both sandwiches, including the dipped Italian beef, the roll was stale to the point of nearly being crunchy in places. With such wet fillings, a spongy and soft roll is necessary. 

photo  The underground burger is fantastic. The bun is springy and flavorful, the toppings all fresh and the proportions are a thing of beauty. (Photo by Mark Saleeb)  

On both the beef and the sausage, the energy imparted by our teeth to penetrate the bread transferred through the overly firm bread, ejecting the fillings directly out the back of the roll. On the beef, a longer soak may have rectified this. After all, the Italian beef sandwich was originally concocted as a way to use up cheap, tough cuts of beef, and the dunk helped to prevent the waste of discarding stale rolls in a community of working poor. 

My Chicagoan cultural ambassador was, at this point, in great distress, akin to a resident of New York City when you tell them you don’t want three-fourths of a pound of cream cheese on a bagel. We hastened on to the underground burger ($8.99) in an attempt to arrest his rapid descent into madness. 

First impressions: This burger is picture-perfect. Second impressions? This burger is fantastic. The bun was springy and flavorful, the toppings all fresh and the proportions were a thing of beauty. Served with the well-seasoned and crispy crinkle cut fries ($3.99) and the waffle fries ($3.99) — better than Boomer’s Drive-In, believe it or not — made for a great reprieve from the disappointment of the Italian beef and sausage.

photo  The meat was excellent on the Italian beef sandwich, but the roll was stale to the point of nearly being crunchy in places. With such wet fillings, a spongy and soft roll is necessary. (Photo by Mark Saleeb)  

And finally, saving the most important, iconic, difficult-to-replicate sandwich of all — the Chicago dog ($6.99). Praise him with great praise, hail to the king, bend the knee, etc. I am happy to report the Chicago dog hit every mark perfectly. From the pickle spear to the neon relish, they got it all right. Properly assembled, I definitely understand why this is ranked among the best ways to enjoy a hot dog. 

While I wish the Italian beef and the sausage had better rolls, those were really the only missteps Chicago Joe’s had, minus my forgotten giardiniera (a problem I could have easily solved had I cared to). While some may balk at the price, remember that this is, at the end of the day, a menu composed of highly specialized and imported foods. I’ll give the Italian beef another try, but the burgers and dogs are excellent as is. 

And, the most important review, the opinion of a son of Chicago? “I’d come back!”

Chicago Joe’s is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 8082 Guide Meridian, Lynden. Info:

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