Leftovers: Mustard’s

Downing dogs for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

It’s the first taste of tubed meat that’s often the best—the snap of charred skin, the unearthing of a dozen dead memories. The hot dog isn’t just a signal of summer, but of an American childhood spent at the beach, or the fair, or the ballpark. And although the Southland isn’t without its own famous dog dealers—Pink’s, Tail o’ the Pup, the surreptitious street chefs grilling bacon-wrapped Sonora dogs—it’s common knowledge that this is the taco truck’s domain. Mustard’s knows this and has always known this. That’s why the restaurant smartly subscribes to the Chicago school of hot dogs.

Chicago may have unwillingly ceded pizza supremacy to New York, but the hot dog is definitely at its apex in the Windy City. From my own 2,000-mile distance, that pinnacle seems to be Hot Doug’s, an emporium of all kinds of dogs and sausages that surely shames even our most forward-thinking linkeries. Mustard’s pays homage to this tradition most obviously in its style—both its Atlantic Avenue outpost and its bigger, boozier, sports bar-like location in Los Alamitos are repositories of all kinds of Chicago artifacts. There are Blackhawks jerseys, faded posters celebrating Comiskey Park and even the yellowing Chicago Tribune front page from the day of JFK’s assassination. More importantly, there’s a menu defined entirely in Chicagoan terms.

The Chicago Dog at Mustard’s is about as close as you can come to the real thing around here. Stuffed in a poppy-seed bun is a Vienna Beef link—“Chicago’s Hot Dog . . . and a Whole Lot More!”—a pickle spear, a couple slices of tomato, a sprinkling of onions, a scoop of sweet, neon-green relish, mustard, a sport pepper and a relatively unnoticeable dash of celery salt. The combination obviously can’t be credited to Mustard’s, but it’s a complete dog, one so well rounded in its flavor that it almost outweighs all the others.

There are other homages to Chicago’s many dogs, as well. There’s the Windy City chili dog, a basic dog slathered in slightly salty chili, onions and cheese. It’s much heavier than the Chicago, but sometimes you can’t help but be drawn to that kind of belly buster. Those with only slightly heavier tastes should consider the Mayor Daley dog, a Chicago Dog altered only by a bit of cheese stuffed into its center.

Mustard’s isn’t your source for five-alarm meals (there are relatively spicy chili options), but it has plenty of solid alternatives. Try the Portuguese linguica sausage for a sweeter link, or the Italian beef sandwich for as pure a pile of meat as you can find anywhere.

The restaurant has also diversified itself a bit with the continued addition of non-hot dog dishes. As a result, you can find ribs, chicken dinners and a number of basic American staples here, all of which are of varying quality but also uniformly filling. And it’s not surprising that there’s plenty of food for the kids, like chicken tenders, burgers and, of course, all those hot dogs.

Given the restaurant’s penchant for Second City nostalgia, there’s no question that Mustard’s has built a reliable fan base over the years. (Mustard’s is, in fact, a multigenerational kind of place that draws just as many grandparents as it does children.) And because of this, it’s not a restaurant that requires any advanced planning; rather, Mustard’s is a place of impulse, one that fulfills those base, unknown urges that occasionally overwhelm even those with disciplined stomachs.

MUSTARD’S 3387 ATLANTIC AVE | LONG BEACH 90807 | 562.427.6435 AND 3630 KATELLA AVE | LOS ALAMITOS 90720 | 562.598.1662 | CALL FOR HOURS | FOOD FOR TWO $8-15 | BEER

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