The crowning glory of outdoor snacks, the hot dog, is best consumed in its natural habitat--at baseball games, in parks, on crowded downtown sidewalks, by campfires. There is no denying the associative power of its musk-like, aphrodisiac odor on a sunny afternoon. For me, the seasonal hot-dog renaissance is almost as heady as the return of bared flesh on sidewalks.

Take, for instance, the magnificent Chicago-style dog--the tight baby T-shirt of tube steaks, if you will. This exquisite cultural icon brilliantly renders a predictable steamed finger food into an artful, sassy snack, sculpting mustard, onion, sweet (neon green) relish, diced tomatoes, dill pickles, sport peppers (peppercini), and celery salt over a real hot dog, nestled in a sturdy roll. The Chicago dog employs color and piquancy to satisfy the bun-snack desire in a deeper and more meaningful format.

Luckily for us sodden Seattleites, Matt's Famous Chili Dogs carries the sacred torch of staunchly genuine Chicago dogs right here on East Marginal Way.

The folks at Matt's fly their buns in from the only baker they trust in Chicago, and use natural-casing dogs from New York that, as Matt's staff viscerally describe it, "snap" when you bite into them. The chili dog ($2.29) sports a hefty, meaty chili sauce (the serious kind--no beans here) with an ample handful of cheddar; and I must say that the ground beef tamale ($3.69), slathered in chili and such, maintains a clear-eyed and ideal vision of a cheap and filling snack food. And although Matt's offers the perfect old-fashioned hot dog ($2.49), regular hot dog ($2.69), and Polish or fire sausage ($2.79), which all adhere to the strict form of "Chicago-style," the counter staff will kindly turn a blind eye if you must dump ketchup on your dog.

Besides its bounty of texture, flavor, and taste, another part of the Chicago dog's brilliance is its ability to maintain a compact neatness. I can walk around and eat a Chicago dog with one hand, usually without embarrassing myself with the inevitable chili-bosom stains, and yet feel remarkably satiated.

Matt's Famous Chili Dogs

6615 E Marginal Way S (at Fourth Ave), 768-0418. Mon-Fri 10 am-5:30 pm.

Also at 699 110th Ave NE (Bellevue), 425-637-2858. Mon-Fri 10 am-8 pm, Sat 11 am-8 pm.

Support The Stranger