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Chicago Style Italian Beef

A friend of mine had a "Chicago Style Dinner" at his house last night, and he served us awesome food that he had shipped over from Lou Malnati's. The Italian Beef was sooo good and now I need to have more!!

I searched through the existing postings and didn't find any current postings about where to find good Italian Beef sandwiches in our area... so hopefully there are some places in DC/MD/VA so I can feed this new addiction.

Please let me know! Appreciate your help! :)

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  1. What's Chicago style Italian beef like? If it's cooked and carved appropriately for a sandwich, perhaps the Italian Store in Arlington would know what you're looking for and might even have it. Give them a call.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MikeR

      I really don't think that exists outside of the Chicagoland area. It's a regional food. Like halfsmokes.

    2. Billy Goat Tavern has it on their menu, but I haven't tried it. I've pretty much only had burgers and breakfast sandwiches there.

      1. Port of Piraeus at 1225 I street has Italian Beef ("Hot roast beef au jus, grilled onions, and chopped pepperoncini, on French bread 6.49") on their menu. Never had it there though. I can't imagine they'd be able to duplicate the spices in the jus of a good Chicago Italian beef (primarily because there isn't much of an Italian community left in DC).

        I was going to suggest checking out the Italian American Festival July 8 downtown. It's at the church at 3rd and F NW in what's left of DC's Little Italy; basically, just the church. However, according to their website, no Italian beef.


        3 Replies
        1. re: monkeyrotica

          The Port of Piraeus Italian Beef sandwich is not worth crossing the street for. I've never been to Chicago, so I can't tell you how it compares, but even with my lack of standards it's just plain no good.

          1. re: Steve

            I believe you, but it would be more helpful if you could say what you mean by "no good" in this context.

            1. re: Hal Laurent

              They just take some strips of beef that have already been sliced and put them on some bread. Not really seasoned in any way and not particularly fresh. I guess what makes it 'Italian' is that they put on onions and peppers. They should call it a Room Temperature Meatwich.

        2. Thanks for giving me some places to get started. I'll post back if I find anything good.

          1. I'll add Chicago style hot dogs to the list. Anyone know where I can find these or any other good hot dogs around the DC/NOVA area? I always try to pick-up a Chicago dog when I fly through O'hare.

            3 Replies
            1. re: buckeye

              M'Haute Dawg in Adams Morgan claims to serve a Chicago dog, but a lot of people disagree on the quality/authenticity, particularly over the greenness of their relish and the absence of celery salt and sport peppers. Not cheap either, so why bother?

              The local dog is the halfsmoke. Avoid the dirty water halfsmokes from Mall vendors and go to either Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street or Weenie Beenie in Arlington. I prefer the latter.


              1. re: monkeyrotica

                Perfect. I didn't know a good hot dog/half smoke stand existed in the area. I'll try Weenie Beenie out over the course of the week.

                1. re: monkeyrotica

                  For those w/ cravings for good halfsmokes, if you find yourself in Foggy Bottom late at night, you can also check out Manouche, who has a hot dog cart that he sets up outside the old Tower Records at 2000 Penn; he's far from fast, both because he grills the dogs when they're ordered and because he seems to be in business as much to chat with people as to make money, but the dogs are good, and in that area they're among the only late-night eats available. (Be prepared to be talked to, though: I went to undergrad at GW, on whose campus 2000 Penn sits, and when some college friends were in town a year ago, we thought we'd get a Manouche Dog for old time's sake; even though it was at least a decade since I had been there, Manouche remembered me and spent a good 10 minutes talking before he gave me my dog, much to the consternation of the rest of the long line waiting for late-night processed meat products.)

              2. I think the Best Sandwich place in the building with Borders at 18th and L has an Italian beef on its menu. Never had it, but their sandwiches are all pretty good.

                1. The only way to find anything even close to Lou Malnati's Italian beef is to make it yourself which isn't difficult. It's the bread that's hard to find. Ditto on the Chicago-style hot dogs - Lou's can also mail you that - complete with the poppy seed buns.

                  Am an Illinois native here in DC since the early 80's. Go with mail order.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: RLHarrington322

                    The new menu at America has amazing Chicago Style Hot Dogs - I felt like I was back in Chicago - they're not cheap though - 2 for $9. Soooo good though. Stay away from Billy Goat Tavern if it is real chicago goodness you are looking for. And the only way to get pizza as good as lou's is to have it shipped. Even after a couple days in dry ice it's better than any so called "deep dish" in DC/Balt. area.

                  2. I've never been to Chicago, but I have had the Italian beef at Zack's hot dogs on Old Harford Road just north of Joppa, and theirs is delicious! However, an acquaintance from Chicago says it's good, but not "wet" enough...whatever that means!

                    1. Italian beef, that is a good sandwich. Haven't found anything close around here.

                      Didn't like Chicago much but miss certain foods. This being one. I love mine dipped and I always ask for a side of juice to drink. It is horrible for you but so good.

                      1. Oh, good god, I just had Zack's IB today. Please believe that I'm not generally inclined to negative hyperbole, but it's just godawful in every possible way. Bread's too wimpy and can't stand up to the juice. The juice is thin, overly salty, not the least bit beefy and tastes more like bottled Italian salad dressing than a broth that's been simmered with herbs and garlic. Beef is rubbery, weirdly squishy and has somehow had all of the beefy flavor sucked out of it. Giardiniera isn't hot, isn't oily, doesn't have any flavor and is nuked into mushy oblivion in the microwave before being added to the sandwich.

                        The Chicago-style hot dog is respectable, but please, please, please don't think their Italian beef is even remotely representative of what it can and should be.

                        1. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/619970 is a post of mine from May 14th, a month or so BEFORE the Washingtonian piece.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Joe H

                            OK, so Windy City Red Hots lists an Italian Beef sandwich on the menu also. Has anyone tried it?

                            I, too, have never had one of these in Chicago (have not been there for 20 years), but a small local place in Reston, Primo Italiano, used to have one that was quite tasty. Good beef, good beefy juice, and giardiniera that had some kick, but did not overpower the other flavors, served on the side for one to add to taste. They took it off of their menu several years ago, due to lack of demand (or maybe I was the only one that found it tasty?). I was served the last one that they ever sold, as I went in just before closing one evening, and was told that it was being discontinued, effective the next day.

                            1. re: SoxFan1

                              "A return visit this afternoon with confirmation for the Chicago dog: truly exceptional. I also had his Italian beef for the first time. I should note here that I make annual stops at Johnny's on West North Avenue every year for what I believe is the best Italian beef in all of Chicago. The Italian beef here was good but if I had this in Chicago I would pass it over in favor of another hot dog on a future trip."

                              1. re: Joe H

                                Sorry about missing that in the other thread, Joe. I thought I had checked each of the entries reasonably carefully, but must have been distracted. I am still willing to give it a try, seeing as how I have no idea when I will again be in Chicago, and know of no other place locally that even has this as a menu item (other than the ones mentioned and trashed here).

                          2. They have a Chicago style beef sandwich on the bar menu at Eventide. I have never had Chicago beef, but I thought this sandwich was great. Juicy tender meat that was certainly rather wet. But in a good way.

                            1. I know they sell Italian beef at Costco in Chicago. Mabey you can order it through Costco somehow.

                              1. I grew up on this stuff and the first place I stop whenever I go back to Chicago is Portillos. It's a local chain that has great Italian Beefs and Hot Dogs. You can order either from their website, www.portillos.com. They'll overnight it to you frozen, packed in ice.

                                I've never had it outside Chicago where it tastes anything like the original. Also, it's totally not Italian - just Chicagoan! Your best bet is to order it from Portillos.


                                1. There is a Windy City Eats in Ashburn va off RT 7...I know they have them.
                                  All an Italian beef sandwich is - beef that has been stewed for hours (Chip ribeye meat),Italian bread and giardiniera. You take the meat and stew it, then put it on the bread then dunk the sandwich into the jus, then top it with the peppers. What makes the Chicago ones so distinct, is the bread. Turano Bread company in Chicago makes the best rolls for this sandwich. Crispy on the outside, but light and fluffy in the middle.

                                  2 Replies
                                    1. re: themeatguy

                                      In my experience, if it's been stewed for hours, that's a very, very bad thing, though I won't deny that some do it.

                                      Generally speaking, at the good places they roast the meat, slice it thin, warm the juice and then let the beef go for a short swim before serving it. If it sits for too long in the juice, it get tough and stringy and nasty. Which is one of the reasons it's generally better to try to hit an IB place during peak hours, when there's a lot of turnover and the beef isn't bathing for too long. In some places, once the rush stops, they'll fill up the tub and let it sit while the beef toughens up and its flavor is ruined. The best places will make sure this doesn't happen, but you know, one guy who's feeling lazy and you have a tough, stringy beef.

                                      I've no doubt that some people somewhere use ribeye, but I'm trying to think if I've ever seen it. Typically it's the same kind of cheaper cuts you'd use for pit beef. Philly cheesesteaks, sure, you see a lot of ribeye. But while I'm open to the possibility that I could be mistaken, I don't think I've ever seen one made with ribeye in Chicago.

                                      Gonnella too, on the bread. Though I wouldn't use the words light or fluffy to describe Gonnella (or Turano, for that matter, though it's been a good long while since I've had Turano and I think it's less stiff than Gonnella). Gonnella's more stiff and dry (a bit of an exaggeration, but not that much), which seems terrible at first but works perfectly for IB. The juice softens it up, and you can saturate it without it completely disintegrating. Of course, I don't mean to put this style of bread forth as "the best". The Portillo's chain in Chicago, for instance, bakes their own bread, it's crusty enough on the outside to hold together, the inside is a lot softer than Gonnella or Turano, and it's one of the best features of their sandwich. So there's certainly some room for interpretation. Though I'd agree that the bread is probably the hardest thing to get right outside of the Chicago area (as it is with many local specialty sandwiches). Presuming you know what you're doing, of course. If you don't, IB is a touchy little beast that's very, very easy to screw up badly.