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Looking For A True Midwestern Italian Beef Sandwich...Sweet , Or Hot????

I grew up in the Chicago area and miss, oh my God do I miss, a true, really..really GOOD Italian Beef sandwich. I live in the Rancho Bernardo area and have tried so called Italian beefs from so called Chicago owned take-outs. So far...Nothing!!! I know Portillos opened up a place near Disneyland, but that is a bit of a drive. I also know they ship, and I have done that several times. What i want is a place I can go to when the Italian beef hunger hits. Good, and I mean good bread, and that savory beef in the juice...YUM. Then I want to hear, SWEET OR HOT?? I then know I have found the right place. Help Me!!!!!

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  1. An acquaintance of mine has a place doing authentic Chicago dogs up in Mira Mesa. He grew up in Chicago and was a chef for many, many years before moving out here. Let me ask him if he does an Italian Beef Sandwich or not, and if not if he knows anyone locally who does. Give me a couple of days to get hold of him.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Sonrisa

      I would love to know the address and name of his place. A chicago dog sounds pretty good also! Thanks, I wait for your future info!

      1. re: CaliforniaCooker

        Well, turns out it's Buster's Windy City in Sorrento Valley. You probably already read the comment below. His wife is now running the joint and he's selling flounder (to the trade, not at the resto) because he got bored selling beef sandwiches and dogs.

        Interesting little tidbit, one of the best selling items at Buster's is actually a tamal smoother in chili and cheese for about $5. I can't speak to his Italian Beef Sandwich, but I can guarantee you that his hot dogs are the real deal, honest to god Vienna Hot Dogs and that the rest of what he puts on it is either flown in from Chicago or brought in especially for him by his vendors. He was a chef, he has connections ;-)

        1. re: Sonrisa

          I will try the dogs, they sound great! Thanks for taking the time to track down all the info!

    2. I took a Chicago transplant with me to Lefty's in North Park. He thought it was pretty legit.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Josh

        Thanks for the info, I will try it!

      2. I saw a place today called Windy City Beef in what I guess is considered La Mesa or San Carlos. It's in the Vons shopping center on Fletcher and Navajo, right nextdoor to a Carvel. I stopped in to get a take out menu and scope the joint. It smelled great, and is a family owned place, run by real transplants. While I was grabbing the menu the lady at the counter asked the gentleman ordering if he wanted hot or sweet peppers. I haven't had an italian beef sandwich since I last visited my family out there in '97, so just the thought was enough to make me stop and go in. If I hadn't already eaten lunch I would have not been able to resist trying it. I am also wanting to try to Lefty's, I keep hearing good things about it.

        Windy City Beef
        2872 Fletcher Pkwy
        El Cajon, CA 92020
        (619) 465-2333

        Let us know what you think if you try it, and I will do the same.

        1 Reply
        1. re: soulshine

          I will try Windy City Beef and Lefty's, and let you know. Thanks for the info.

        2. Pete's Meats in Little Italy (right across the street from the Filippis) makes home made Italian sausages and sandwiches.

          There is a Chicago Dogs place in the Renaissance Center, just one block SE of UTC.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Cathy

            Yum, all the choices! Love Little Italy.

          2. We're going home to Chicago for a wedding this weekend and they are catering Portillo's for the rehearsal dinner. I'm so excited about sinking my teeth into a good Italian Beef.

            I'll tell you what I've tried.
            Chicago on a Bun (UTC) = Beef was dry and not thin enough. Flavor was very mild. They use Gonella Bread. Chicago style hot dog and Polish was good though.

            Buster’s Windy City (Sorrento Valley) = Beef was thick but the flavor was good. Got it wet with hot peppers. They use Gonella Bread also. Overall, it was tasty but not the same.

            Lefty's (North Park)= Again, Beef flavor was weak but the beef itself was slighty thinner. Good peppers. Their Stuffed pizza it really good though, as good as home.

            I've heard that Mama Colletti's is worth trying but who has time to drive to Temecula for Italian Beef, well, actually, I do.

            1 Reply
            1. re: rolandyung

              I am going to spend several day's driving from one place to another trying all the Italian Beef's! What a way to spend your summer vacation! YUM. Thank you. Have a great time at your wedding, enjoy the food. We just got back from a family wedding, and the rehearsal dinner was catered by some wonderful pizza place. It was outside with a band and what a great time! The food was the best. Stop by on your way to Temecula, we can swap Chicago stories over a Italian beef!

            2. I'm assuming you've tried DiCrescenzo's (11625 Duenda Rd. Rancho Bernardo, 858.487.2776) and didn't like it. It's been a few years, but I thought it was quite good--better than Portillo's in OC or Chicago On a Bun. Can't wait to hear the results of your tasting!

              1 Reply
              1. re: petradish

                I have tried DiCrescenzo's, I live very near it.The sandwich is not that good. Very small, and the bread is not Gonella's, which is something it needs. I eat it because it was the only spot I knew of to get a IB, The place sold about two years ago to a family from Prospect Hts; Illinois. Now you would think they would get it right, but it actually seems to get worse everytime I buy one!!! I will try all the others to see who has the best! Thanks for the info.

              2. There is also Viva Chicago at 6780 Miramar Rd. But I don't know how good their Italian Beef Sandwich is.

                1 Reply
                1. re: honkman

                  Thanks, I will start with Viva Chicago first, since it is close, then spread out to try the others! With so many Chicago people living here, I knew i would get some good advice!

                2. Windy City Beef is tops. There Italian beef, sausage, hot dogs and fries are the closest things to home I have ever had out here. I tried Busters, and it only comes in second. I started going there when they were in Alpine, and there flavors have not changed. Now,if only we had a White Castle, and a Palarmos pizza (chgo. South Side, Oak Lawn). What I would give for a good Pizza!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: pdcarver

                    To the OP: At Windy City, they *always ask "sweet or hot?"

                    The pizza at WCB is from the owner's grandmother's recipe...lets the dough rise twice in the pan...its a sort of spaghetti sauce...not too overwhelming in flavor. Its home made Italian pizza...and clsoe to Chicago style, not Uno-ish. All of the food there is *excellent* (they use angus beef for the burgers...and the chili is made with the trimmings from the Italian beef sandwich). Its family owned and operated. They even have "pop" on the menu. It is as authentic as you can get out here. You can see the story on their website

                  2. I'm pretty sure you'll like Gumbah's in Vallejo. Not quite your neighborhood, but if you're up that way...
                    They've got an Italian Beef that's as good as any I've had. "Sweet or Hot?" when you order. The combo adds a house-made Italian sausage to the beef.


                    138 Tennessee St. Vallejo
                    Mon-Sat 11:00-2:30

                    1. Chicago's Best in Irvine is the real deal. Great fresh cut fries, great Italian beef, everything authentic.

                      1. Hello all Chicagoans,
                        News info on the San Diego (Chicago Food Tip)

                        Well a few weeks ago my family and I went back to Windy City Beefs in El Cajon, and they changed the bread on the beefs. (It makes a difference) So needless to say we let the workers know. (Owner was not there) but hes a great guy. Good homie atomsphere.

                        But until they get the it right, we will be going to Viva Chicago Hot Dogs. We found this place in the San Diego Entertainment book. So, my family and I thought we would give it a go…….. (yeah!!!) the dogs were on the money, (even had celery salt) the beefs were good, even dipped them, if you’re a Chicagoan, you know what this means. (they make them Juicy) (Bread nice an soggy). The even had the right bread. Oh, and here is the kicker they have (Rib Tips). I don’t know about you all, but I have not been able to find any Rib Tips out here in San Diego. And they were good. Not super, but good they just needed to sit in the BBQ Sauce longer.

                        This place is located on Miramar Road and Commerce, behind I think it was Carl’s Jr. Great hot dog stand ambiance. Just like back in Chicago. FYI…. The owner of this Hot dog stand is the is the original Manager/Cook from Chicago on a Bun in La Jolla, before the owner sold. I guess they changed cooks when the new owner bought it.

                        We went back to Chicago on a Bun, once and it was different not the same bread was different, and the beef was chewy, didn’t’ taste right and they had changed the menu and who puts grilled onions on a beef it’s not a Philly steak sandwich, it’s an Italian Beef!!! Moz Cheese, giardiniera, or sweet peppers. (Get it right) Onions on a polish. And the prices were crazy.

                        If I was a food critic – Viva Chicago Hot Dogs would get a four (4) stars out of five (5). If that’s how they rate it. Oh, and a clean establishment too. (Makes a difference) and he was thinking about getting pizza pockets. (Remind you of Scooby's)

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: chitowngirl1

                          I don't know about the beefs at Windy City Beefs in El Cajon, but I LOVE, LoVE, LOve the Polish Sausage! It is on a French bun with a crispy crust, grilled onions and mustard. Yum! I love it! They also make their own potato chips...hot and crispy. Expect a little wait when you order one...it's worth the wait!

                          1. re: chitowngirl1

                            The bread change did not make that much difference at Windy City- it is the smell of Chicago when you walk in...and the beef still has the right flavor. I get mine dipped...

                            1. re: chitowngirl1

                              Rib Tips - this may not be exactly what you are looking for but Bully's East in Mission Valley has rib tips on their appetizer menu and they often put them out as free happy hour nibbles.

                            2. Well, if Windy City Beef has FIRE Polish now, my husband will be happy! He is a FireDog lover, that's for sure! Yeah, the bread and those wonderful grilled onions, caramelized just right, are what really makes it as delicious as it is!

                              1. Did you find the Best Chicago Italian Beef sandwich in San Diego? I am looking for one myself... would be nice to know where I can find one ... Sweet or Hot? Portillos is too far a drive from Poway, need to find one close by. Thanks!!!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: craveaholic

                                  You do know that Portillo's now has a location in Moreno Valley -- right? Not exactly next door to Poway but a little closer than the one in Buena Park. Count yourself lucky that you live so close to an Original Pancake House, another Chicagoland favorite.

                                  Portillo's is OK -- better than any Italian Beef I've had away from Chicago. But it's a far cry from the best of the Windy City. The gravy and giardiniera are very good, and the meat is fine but doesn't taste quite right to my Chicago tongue. The bread I don't like at all. It has a reasonably good texture for a dipped sandwich but carries an off-taste that I find unappealing.

                                  Over all my years away from Chicago, I've learned two important things: (1) You're much more likely to find a good Chicago-style hot dog (from Vienna Beef, natch) than a decent Italian Beef sandwich, even if your only criterion is edibility. (2) When you reach that point of obsessive need, just call Al's #1 on Taylor St., and have them ship you a big load -- great beef, gravy, and giardiniera and perfectly acceptable bread, which, of course, will have spent a couple of days getting stale in transit. My brothers and I do this several times a year, and it keeps us going.