Fat Johnnie’s

Fat Johnnie’s
7242 S. Western Ave.
Chicago, IL 60636
(773) 737-6294

When you’re in Chicago, you’ve got to make a stop for a hot dog. Or a Mother-in-Law. Chicago native John Pawlikowski has been serving both from his stand on Western Avenue since 1972. John grew up eating hot dogs from pushcarts in his neighborhood. As a teenager, he was first introduced the Mother-in-Law: a tamale in a bun, topped with chili, onions, sport peppers, tomato and a pickle. When John and his brother opened Fat Johnnie’s, Mother-in-Laws went on the menu. The centerpiece of this crazy concoction is, of course, the tamale. Tamales are ubiquitous in the Mississippi Delta, so it has long been thought that Delta tamales traveled to Chicago during the Great Migration and ended up in hot dog buns. But the story isn’t that simple. John is Polish-American, the vendor he bought from as a kid was Lithuanian, and the tamale factory that supplied tamales to both is owned by Greeks. So, while there are certainly Delta-style hot tamales to be found in the Windy City, Fat Johnnie’s works with a completely different style. Still, the story of Chicago red hots (hot dogs) maintain a curious tie to Delta red hots (tamales), if only in nickname alone.

Visit the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail for more on Delta tamales.

Date of interview:

March 25, 2008


Amy C. Evans


Amy C. Evans

[When I was in eighth grade, a guy] sold a tamale on a bun off a push-chart and put it on a bun and called it a Mother-in-Law, and he charged a nickel for that with ketchup on it. [He] was a Lithuanian American. His name was Pete, if I remember right, but that’s going back fifty years, so I don’t know for sure. And that’s where I got the idea of the Mother-in-Law.

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