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Italian Beef - where to go (while visiting for short time)?

Basically I am struggling between Luke's and Portillos, and if you know a better choice please do tell!
The criteria:
1. I only have about 5 hours. So easy access via public transportation from Midway Airport.
2. My preferences are usually Asian food (but I want to try local street food as much as possible when I travel.)
3. Beer is a perfect companion with most of food to me.
4. Service is not the most important thing to me, as long as they are not rude ...
5. Price makes a psychological difference to me.

What would you recommend?


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  1. If this posts twice to you shengtang, I apologize! Please go to Portillos! I have been there at least 25 times and love it. I am at the point now (living in Columbus, Ohio!) where I may have to have their beef delivered to Ohio. You have to have the Italian beef sandwich, with the cheese and sweet peppers, also the chopped salad with their sweet and sour dressing, and finally their crinkle cut fries---amazing! Portillos has so many locations that it should not be a problem to visit one or two of them :) I always fly into Midway as well, and I go to the Niles location. I am sure there is one much closer to you, to fit into your 5 hour time period.

    They do have beer and after over 25 times, I can tell you that I have never had unfriendly service. You walk up, place your order, pay and pick up your food when your name is called. The price is great, especially in this economy, it can't be beat.

    Enjoy---take one for the flight home. You will never forget the taste :) Karen

    1. Portillos places near the middle of the pack of the Italian beef offerings in Chicago.

      Not bad for a regional chain but nowhere near as good as Johnnies in Elmwood Park, Carm's, etc. Lukes would be a good choice and more along the lines of what you would find at the best Italian Beef stands in Chicago. Portillo's might be a good choice due to your limited time in town, and the fact they serve beer. Other than that check out one of the many Italian Beef threads on the Chicago board for other rec's for better options.

      An Italian beef is typically not ordered with cheese, but with sweet or hot peppers. I go for extra hot peppers on mine. Another option would bee a beef and sausage combo, then I go for sweet and hot peppers

      The above coming from a lifelong Chicagoan, who eats at least one IB sandwich a week, and rarely goes to Portillo's for one.

      Enjoy your visit, and beef sandwich.

      1. Personally I forgo both Portillio's and Lukes and go to Al's on Taylor Street in Little Italy. It is a Chicago classic. Drippy, messy, and oh so good. No cheese on a IB. Get it dip with sweet and hot peppers. Pretty easy to get to from Midway.

        1079 W. Taylor St


        I hope that the hopstop directions show up but if not you can plug in Midway Airport and the 1079 W. Taylor Street and it will give you detailed directions via the el and bus.

        1. I live in L.A. but I'm from Chicago and when I come into town I always go to Al's. It is one of the best and plus Taylor Street has so many other places to check out while you are there. Just walk up and down the street for a taste of what is left of Chicago's Little Italy. Great cannoli's as well at the Grocer store with the Italian guys sitting out in front. Awesome!

          1 Reply
          1. re: juanitadiana

            I'd go to any non-chain Italian Beef place before Portillo's.

          2. I'd say Al's on Taylor or Chickie's on Pulaski. Chickie's would be a pair of bus rides, Al's would be a pair of train trips. Both are on the near south/southwest side, so wouldn't take too long to get to from Midway. You could always cab it, also.

            I'd give the nod to Al's for the atmosphere, but Chickie's has a great beef, too.

            Note that none of these places will cost you more than about $10 all told, neither has any service to speak of (counter service, eat standing up), and neither of them serves alcohol. But if you want good chow, this is where you go. Cash only. You want either a beef or a combo, juicy, with hot/sweet/both.

            1. Follow swsidejim's advice and order your beef without cheese. Also listen to the other posters on this one too. If you want the real-deal, you should order either a combo or beef with sweet peppers, and get an extra cup of hot on the side, that way you can drizzle the delicious hot and spicy oil (Gardiniere) onto your sandwich as you eat it, yum!

              While Portillos makes a fine Italian beef, Jim is correct in saying it's not a top 5 sandwich. And since you are on Southside there is no reason that you shouldn't get one from one of the best places.

              5 hrs is a good chunk of time to do what you want and to get aroung Chicago. I also suggest you try to go to Al's on Taylor st, it's easily one of the best.

              Here is one other great option; Ricobene's, they are almost a one stop shop for great Chicago style food. They offer a true Chicago experience on THREE of Chicago's most famous and delicious food items. The Beefs are excellent, the deep dish pizza is wonderful and available by the slice, and lastly the one of a kind Breaded Steak sandwich is not to be missed, in fact they are famous for it! There is a Ricobene's on 51st & Pulaski which is less than 2 miles from Midway.

              I know it sounds like alot of food, but you only live once and from the sounds of it you may only ever get 5 hours to do this great city so live it up and get back on the plane with several dogie bags!

              Take care.

              5160 S Pulaski Rd Ste 116, Chicago, IL 60632

              2 Replies
              1. re: abf005

                In regards to Al's, remember that for every fan, there is a detractor and in virtually every 'blind tasting', 'beef off' 'beefathon' it ranks near the bottom. I live walking distance and don't go. It's a real "love them or hate them" thing. That said, I'd never discourage an Al's virgin from trying one (you should) but you shouldn't judge all beefs by their product.

                Like swsidejim I eat a beef at least once a week (and drink tequila!! lol) and was born and raised in the city (46 years and counting as of last month).

                In regards to Portillo's. I had one of their beefs last month for the first time in ages (the Harlem Avenue location) and threw half of it away.

                I'd say Chickies, 2839 S Pulaski is the best closest to Midway.

                If you just want to "Orange Line" right into the Loop, I'd skip Luke's (though I like their skinny fries) and hit Max's on Adams and Wabash (bonus, it's an Orange line stop). It's hit or miss but when on, pretty damn good. (skip the fries, ugh) Grab it to go walk a few blocks to Millenium Park

                1. re: delk

                  oops... abf005, meant to reply to main thread.

              2. Interesting variey of replies here so far.

                Portillo's is very good for a chain and will provide a comfortable sit-down spot to enjoy your food. The IB at Portillo's is good though not at the top of most lists...there is other food there as well that is well worth eating.

                2 of the top 5's in most every list are Johnnie's in Elmwood Park (my personal favorite) and Chickie's on Pulaski. Chickie's is not far from Midway Airport and should be easily accesible by bus or cab.

                Another option would be Vito & Nick's for just about the best bar-style cracker thin crust pizza anywhere. Heck, you could probably do Chickie's AND V&N! And while you're at it, when you get back to Midway, there's always Superdawg for a great Chicago-style hot dog and fries!

                2 Replies
                1. re: RSMBob

                  while i love a superdawg, its not worth a 3+ hour round trip bus ride from midway IMHO.

                  being from the south side myself, id recommend dukes in oak lawn or Als on taylor or chickies as others have already mentioned

                  1. re: gershmoygan

                    fyi, there is a Superdawg outlet @ MIdway.