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Battle Beef on Ontario-- Al"s vs. Portillo's

An LA hound was in the mood for scarfing down some good Ital beef this weekend and wanted to compare the two restaurants. Reviews on the Chowhound Chicago board are heavily weighted on Al's and Johnnie's. So in the comfort of time near me, I duked out Al's vs. Portillo's. Went to Al's first for the double dip beef sandwich with fries, and I hate to say this but the quality of the meat was poor. Seemed that the beef was sitting around for a while and was a little stringy. Fries I thought were good with a very nutty flavor due to the type of oil they use, which I believe must be peanut with some type of lard. The meat quality could be due to the fact that I arrived there around 3pm. Portillo's beef sandwich, or big beef was a wonderful mound of soft supple meat with just the right mount of jus. Unlike the Al's jus, it seemed less salty, and the quality of the bread sopped up just the right amount of jus. Al's was very wet due to the double dipping, and was quite messy for a sanwich.... which I did not mind. The fries were crinkle cut, and tasted like they were fried out of an Ore Ida bag. I cannot recommend the fries. I ate at Portillo's on Saturday night around 10pm, and the quality was excellent, and service seemed on top of it. Overall I am surprised how good the Portillo's beef sandwich is, especially coming from a Chicago chain. I will be back to Portillo's in regards to a beef sandwich and I am lucky that they opened one up near me in Buena Park, CA. I was too full to try the dogs and ribs, and please let me know if there is something that I should try there next time.

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  1. In my opinion, (I eat 2-3 Italian Beef sandwiches a week)

    I think Al's is the worst of the most mentioned Beef sites on this board. Flavorless, fatty beef, not very good at all.

    Portillos, there beef is good, and probably the most consistant, but nowhere near my favorite

    My top 2:

    #1: Paul's in Westchester, $4.50 for a sandwich bigger than the Portillos Big Beef, tons of hot peppers, I have never had a bad one here.

    #2: Johnnies on North Avenue, Small sandwich, and the quality is hit an miss.

    1. I was beginning to think I was the only one who found the Portillo's beef sandwich to be the best of the bunch. My singular experiences with Al's and Mr. Beef were both sub-par, whereas Portillo's seems to taste just as good every time I've ever had it.

      I think the bias against chains is real and, in some cases, unjust. Having just come back from San Diego, I draw a parallel between Portillo's and Rubio's (fish tacos). The simple fact that there's a lot of them doesn't necessarily make them inferior. I'm all for Portillo's.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jlynch9

        As they say in socal, DUDE!!!, you are absolutely right about this. I love Rubio's and I think it is a great place for good food. I am impartial to mom and pop's but comparing food quality, Portillo's rocks. As a side note, I also saw a ton of CPD at the restaurant and to me that is a good sign....

      2. My favorite Italian Beef is from Johnny's on North Avenue or Carms on the Southwest side. Torre's at Elston, Diversey, and
        Western is pretty good as well.

        I have to admit, the Portillo's chain of restaurants is fantastic. I love this place. The food is consistently great and service excellent. This place would thrive anywhere. It's way underrated. Next time have a slice of chocolate cake...unbelievable!

        1. Agreed, I would rate Portillo's over Al's.

          Plus add in the fact that Al's fares even worse on its satellites stores (with Gurnee Mills being outright bad) in comparison to ANY Portillo's location, and you end up with a no-brainer of a comparison.

          1. Roma's on Cicero has a great beef sandwich. The fresh cut fries are killer.