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Italian Beef

I'll be in chicago at the end of June and I want a good beef sandwich. Where should I go? We have Lukes of Chicago here in Arizona and I've never had a better beef. They used to be in the greater Chicago land area but sold the business but not the recipe. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. If you're looking for a chain restaurant, Portillo's has a very good beef. If you're looking for a small hole in the wall, then try Paradise Pup in Des Plaines. Not only is their beef very good but they might possibly have the best cheddar burger around.

    2 Replies
    1. re: HungryZ

      Never mind the suburban wannabes or the spiffied up chains. The best here is going to be a hole-in-the-wall. Mr. Beef on Orleans is the best in the city. For the original, you'll wanna go out to Johnny's Beef on North Avenue in Elmwood Park. Get the hot peppers.

      1. re: chicgail

        I agree that Mr. Beef CAN be one of the best (though it still falls short of Johnnie's, Pop's and Chickies before the sale, to my tastes), but I wouldn't recommend it to somebody who's visiting (unless IAMMAC is planning on going to a few different places). Mr. Beef is great when they're on, but they've become horribly inconsistent in recent years. Inconsistency is an issue at just about any beef stand, but Mr. Beef has really taken it to new levels. I've had stupendous sandwiches and flat-out awful sandwiches in the same week... to say nothing of their practice of sometimes serving premade sandwiches that have been sitting on the counter wrapped up for who knows how long. If I'm in the heart of the city, I do Tore's or Boston's instead (I'm not an Al's guy, but I realize they're a love it or hate it place).

    2. ahhh, johnny's beef......i grew up so close to that one.

      i used to order it "wet." definitely hot peppers....definitely.

      1. One of my favorites is at Tore's on the corner of Western, Diversey and Elston. Although it's alluring to get a 1/2 price slice woith your beef, don't do it. Their pizza is not very good. They use scala beef, shaved, not too salty, and SIZZLIN hot giardiniera. Fries are the frozen, thinly cut mcdonalds type, but I still like em enough. I like the fact that the beef and "gravy" isn't overly salty, so the saltiness of the peppers + the beef doesn't result in one giant sodium bomb. For me, Tore's has a darn near perfect flavor profile. Not too salty, tender, beefy beef, and HOT giardiniera. (Forehead sweat giardiniera.) I think Johnnie's beef is just ok, but their combos are more special than their beefs. I'm not even much of an Italian sausage lover, but Johnnie's char-grilled sausage is something special.

        2 Replies
        1. re: gordeaux

          I'll try them all and give a report of my findings! Thanks to all.

          1. re: IAMMAC

            Max's on Western Ave it the best beef by far

        2. Nobody's mentioned Al's yet, so I will. Mario's Italian Ice will be right across the street and open by June:


          1. I grew up a block behind Chickies, on harding street, we used to get the gravies for $0.79 at the time man where they good, I am biased so I'll say Chickies is the best, but you can also try Jackies on 55th and Pulaski it grew on me when I moved out of "la villita", "la veinteseis", or the 26th st. neighborhood. Get it dipped, its the best!!!!


            1. I grew up in Elmwood Park, Johnnies is the best, good seasoning. I order mine as a Combo, juicy with sweet peppers and a large italian ice. I am also now in AZ and Luke's is good too. For hot dog's you have to go to Gene & Judes in River Grove.

              My pizza ia Armands...

              1. As a non-native Chicagoan, even though I've lived here for 8 years, I don't know what the difference in all the beefs are. To my uneducated beef pallate, so long as the Gonella bread is used, i couldn't pick out a difference. To me, it all tastes like overcooked brisket with very a slighlty flavorful jus that really is unexciting without some sweet peppers.

                I am not being snide, I am asking for real, what is the difference?

                Why do Chicagoans go so crazy over their favorites, other than "I grew up there"?

                I am a betting man, so I would bet that if we did a Pepsi Challenge and did blind tastings most would never be able to pick out his/her favorite.

                So, start the discussion, but pleae give me objective reasons why one is better.

                I live around the corner from Mr. Beef, Al's, and Portillos and other than a difference in fries, I have never thought one was any better than the other.

                7 Replies
                1. re: jbontario

                  Ok Mr. Pepsi, I can definately tell differences in beef (italian). Johnnies Beef is not that thick dried out leather that you might get at the ball game. Its very thin, very well spiced, I believe thereis oregano in the gravy and slightly oily. Portillos is good and you can get a cheesy beef there which is a good change. I believe every geographical area has "their" foods. People here in AZ go nuts over Fry Bread or tamales. It's all what you grew up with, I don't see anything wrong with that....

                  1. re: krugs84

                    Yuck, fry bread. I guess it's all about what you grew up with but yuck.

                  2. re: jbontario


                    As somebody who has participated in multiple blind beef tastings -- and I don't say this to be mean, though I don't know if there's any other way to say it -- I think the issue is with your palate rather than the sandwiches :-)

                    Those three examples you give there -- huge differences between them. I assume you're referring to the Ontario Al's location (which isn't a very good sandwich, IMHO), but it's an unusually spicy seasoning, heavy on dried herbs and short on the sweetness that you get with sandwiches like Johnnie's and Chickie's. Mr. Beef has some of that sweetness when it's on, the garlic is more pronounced, it doesn't have that overpowering dried herb flavor that characterizes Al's, and I think it's extremely good when it's on -- too bad it isn't, a lot of the time. Their beef usually arrives more intact, but they have problems with dryness at times. One of the things that differentiates Portillo's, aside from unusually tender and moist beef, is an exceptional roll that they source themselves (not Gonnella) that's moister in the middle and crisper on the outside. And theirs has a tart character that you don't get in the others.

                    Boston's is usually very heavy on the Oregano with a robust beef flavor. Uncle Johnny's has a very strong peppery flavor that's light on the traditional Italian seasonings and comes across like an Italian Beef / French Dip hybrid. They also eschew Gonnella in favor of a moister, crustier French bread. Max's is spicy but tough, IMHO. Tore's is balanced and sweet but more subtly flavored than some of the others, and their beef is always beautifully sliced and tender. Johnnie's is straight-up traditional Italian herbs and garlic, not overpowering but not subtle, tender and sweet. Chickie's also has a peppery, slightly less Italian style that I think works in some paprika, and their is another exceptionally sweet beef.

                    And we're not even getting into differences with peppers and giardiniera.

                    I'm in the camp that thinks "better" is kind of a narrow way to view it... all of the good ones have their charms... but man, they're COMPLETELY different.

                    1. re: Dmnkly

                      I'm taking the challenge. With this much info I will now embark on the tastings. At the end of the summer, my report.

                      1. re: jbontario

                        One question...

                        Are you, by any chance, ordering them dry? There's still plenty of variation in the meat alone, but if they aren't wet, I imagine those differences are a lot less pronounced.

                        Of course, if you aren't ordering them wet, why bother, right? :-)

                        (With apologies to dry beef devotees)

                        Also, while I heartily endorse the grand tour de boeuf (there are plenty of other great spots -- I just highlighed a few that spring to mind), you don't need to leave your hood to make the point. Either grab a couple of friends or build up a huge appetite, and walk from Ontario Al's to Mr. Beef to Portillos and have a beef at each stop. If you taste them back to back to back, I'd be very surprised, indeed, if you still felt they were all the same.

                    2. re: jbontario

                      big difference in Italian beef from Al's, Mr. Beef, Portillos, and Johnnies. Many Italian beef crawls have been had, and the results posted on other web sites. Different seasonings, thickness/quality of meat, giardinara peppers, etc.

                      For me Johnnies in Elmwood Park is the best I have had.

                      Portillos, and Buona Beef are some of the most average, although they are consistant.
                      Al's was one of the worst Italian Beef's I have had, and Mr. Beef is just ok.

                      1. re: jbontario

                        I'll take that bet. Johnnies has a unique flavor that I'd spot in a blind tasting of any beef-off.

                      2. try whats the beef! its small, family run, and really really tasty. i always get wet with hot peppers and it is always fantastic. its in kind of a fun neighborhood, too.

                        What's The Beef
                        1863 N Clybourn Ave
                        Chicago, IL 60614
                        (773) 477-7200

                        1. I like Michael's on North Avenue at Oak Park Avenue more than I like Johnnies. What you get at Johnnie's today is not much of a comparison with the excellent product the place served under it's original - before the sale - ownership. Mr. Beef is just "okay" for me, I like the sausage there better. Al's, too, has changed over the years and I don't think the sandwiches there are any better than the rest of the places being talked about. Yes, I think that the bread roll is important - as are whatever toppings you have added..

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: gomexico

                            I grew up on Michael's Beefs!! I haven't been back for a BEEF in a long time. Last I heard (from someone else, mind you) was that the product was a shell of its former self. The fries, however, are still the best around in my book.

                            Uh-oh, you're making me crave nostalgic for a beef/fries, and a grand slam butter crust pan pizza followed byu something from al gelato.

                            anyway, I've posted this before on chowhound - although I don't find the BEEF at Johnnie's anything special, if you make it a combo with their giardiniera, then it's special. Skip the fries from Johnnie's and drive west to Michael's for an order of fries "well done." it's EASILY worth the effort.

                            My favorite beef right now is Tore's on Western/Elston/Diversey. If you don't like hot giardiniera, then this might not be the best beef spot for you. The beef is a little underseasoned (but shaved, and tender, mind you) so it needs the salty flavor of the peppers to make it pop out. I think they have a stellar product because it's not OVER salty which is my problem with most beef joints.

                            Also, to the OP -
                            Although I love beef sammiches, it just might not be your "thing"
                            There are foods I certainly don't "get:"

                            Roasted red peppers. who cares?
                            Truffles. Sorry. Just not for me. Especially for the price.
                            Gyros. Maybe twice a year for me. I can take em or leave em.
                            Polish Sausage. A waste of caloric intake if you ask me.
                            Most ham. I'd rather just have plain smoked pork.

                            Not trying to derail off on a tangent, but just saying that maybe it's just not your "thing."

                            1. re: gordeaux

                              Al`s Italian beef is simply the best. Now, many locations and they are all very good. Get a beef-sausage combo with cheese and have it dipped. Delicious!

                              1. re: gordeaux

                                I have to agree with you about Torre's, darn good!!! Glad to see that they've made it through a couple of suspicious sudden closings.

                                Remember when the pipes burst under the parking lot in middle of a FRIDGED winter morning? Man, they had a huge back hoe digging for hours, that must have been seriously costly, the staff and owner looked pretty stressed.

                            2. I am no expert -- but after making the 45-minute drive to Johnnie's and standing in line outside during a thunderstorm, it really does live up to all the hype. Hot, sweet, and dipped plus and an Italian ice.

                              1. I LOVE my Italian beefs! And up until a few weeks ago I would make my pilgrimage from Gurnee to Taylor Street Al's Beef so I could enjoy what I consider to the best in town.

                                Three weeks ago I literally "stumbled" on a new hot dog joint that opened up last year in Round Lake Park; just off of Washington & Hainesville Road, it's called Big Jack's.

                                The owners are all from the city, so they know what great beef should taste like. And I have to say this is about the best beef I've had in Chicago! The beef is cooked fresh daily on site (a family recipe) with homemade sausage too! The gravy & giardinare are dynamite, and everything is done to perfection. They also make fresh hand cut fries when you order!

                                If any serious beef lover is ever up this way looking for one of the best beefs anywhere, I strongly suggest you do yourself a favor and check out these guys.

                                Ohh yeah, they also have a great Italian ice to complete the experience!

                                1. Portillo's is definitely known for their Italian Beef, and even though it's chain, it's family owned and only in Chicago! I know people that come in just for the Portillo's Italian Beef....don't miss it!