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Chicago's Best - Irvine

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Another entry amongst the food court denizens of Irvine is Chicago's Best. Its counter has been scarcely open for more than a few weeks, yet it has garnered some pretty enthused posts here on Chowhound. And this was even before it officially opened.

I tried it today, for the first time. I ordered the first thing listed on the menu: The Italian Beef Sandwich, with both mild and hot peppers. The guy behind the counter, after handling my money, proceeded to assemble my sandwich. He first split open a six inch french roll, then with tongs, stuffed it full of what looked like shredded beef, which was pallid white. He then took the whole thing and dunked it into the "jus". After spooning some sliced pickled jalapenos and some brownish, cooked bell peppers, he double wrapped it in butcher paper. And there it was, my $6.63 "Italian Beef Sandwich".

Upon unwrapping and sinking my first bite into this thing, I was puzzled to why this was called an "Italian" beef sandwich. What makes it Italian? It certainly couldn't have been the hot pickled jalapenos and the cubes of tiny carrots. Those gave it a distinctly Mexican zing. It certainly couldn't have been the beef or the "jus" itself. It tasted similar to Philippe's french dip jus, but with less body and flavor. The beef itself was tender. These greyish white ribbons of meat quite easily fell apart in your mouth, but to me, had a "boiled" taste to them. I'm not saying that that's a bad thing, but if it's described as "roast beef", shouldn't it look and taste like roast beef? And Italian? I wouldn't have guessed it.

And the bread, being a soft roll to begin with, easily succumbed to the moisture after being completely submerged in the jus. It turned into a soft, mushy, salty bread pudding. The beef, dripping with broth, already soaked through the bread from the inside, but the dunk finished the job on the outer crust. The bread never had a chance!

Even before the first bite, the whole sandwich had already fallen apart, gobs of beef and jalapenos dropped onto the paper, like drunken sailors jumping off a sinking ship. After a short bit of time, the whole thing became a sopping wet mess. It was then I understood why some people were eating their sandwiches with a knife and fork.

You might think that from my review that I didn't like the sandwich, but I did (sort of). Although I did not care for the flavorless pieces of cooked bell peppers they put on it, it was a decent sandwich. I still think they should rethink the name though. How's "shredded beef with bread pudding" sound?

Admittedly, I'm not from Chicago. The closest I came to even visiting the city was a half hour stopover at O'Hare. I wonder though, is this a true Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich?

Chicago's Best
2540 Main St
Irvine, CA 92614
949-757-1802

Link: http://elmomonster.blogspot.com

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  1. I haven't been to Chicago's Best yet but I have eaten my share of Italian beef sandwiches having grown up in Chicago. It sounds like you are describing a typical Italian beef sandwich. I used to go to Georgio's in Laguna Niguel (same owner as Chicago's Best I believe RSMBob said) and what you describe is what they served there (much to my delight).

    It's called Italian because the beef is slow-cooked with Italian seasonings like garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper, etc. A true Italian beef sandwich will NEVER have red sauce, cheese (well sometimes cheese but not in Chicago), or any other topping other than giardiniera or sometimes fried peppers, but really giadiniara is most authentic.

    Giardiniera is a traditional Italian topping, the equivalent of the garlic chili sauce of Vietnamese cooking, or Chutney of Indian cooking. I guess Italians eat carrots as well as pepperoncini's and cherry peppers:-)

    Maybe you'd like it better if they didn't dip it. Ask for the au jus on the side and dunk it yourself, bite by bite. That's what I do at Phillipe's because I don't like it when the bread gets mushy and the whole thing disintegrates either.

    So to answer your question, yes, it sounds like you ate a traditional Italian beef sandwich.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Pate'

      Interesting! Thanks for the post. That explains pretty much all of my questions.

      But "giardiniera," that's a new word for me. Does it also normally include jalapenos?

      1. re: elmomonster

        Giardiniera means "pickled vegetables" so in a traditional sense I would imagine it has whatever grew in the garden that year. It often has cauliflower, carrots, pepperoncini's, olives, celery, onions, and if it's Sicilian-style, jalapenos!

        I guess it's a small world after all:-)

    2. The thread linked might shed a little light on how this Chicago specialty is supposed to be done.

      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chino Wayne

        I wish I read this before eating the sandwich I had.

        This article (referenced in Chino Wayne's link) sounds like it is the definitive essay on Chicago's Italian Beef Sandwich.

        Link: http://www.suntimes.com/output/bruno/...

      2. y
        yumyumgivemesome

        I've tried this place and I didn't like it. I also found the people working there the day I went to be rude.

        1. Is it in the same shopping center where there's a Baja Fresh and Wells Fargo? My husband and I wanted to eat there today, but didn't see a sign for it. Now I'm thinking it's in that little food court and they just don't have a sign up yet.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Samantha

            Yep, it's in there...the Pizza place moved to larger quarters where something else was in the food court and CHicago's Best moved in and opened last week.

          2. If Chicago's best isn't cutting it, their grub sounds like it might be bested by another place I've frequented over the years. Philly's Best, was a small chain that has apparently mushroomed all over the OC area in the past few years. I've been very happy with the chow there, though I have no reference to the real thing. It doesn't get play here (I think I saw a first mention a couple weeks ago), and I'm wondering if that's because hounds don't like it, or for other reasons.

            If nothing else, maybe this will start a discussion of Chicago beef/chicken sandwiches vs. Philly's version.

            Link: http://www.eatphillysbest.com/

            3 Replies
            1. re: Midlife

              You just reminded me how long its been since I've been to Philly's Best. This place is awesome and right across the street from my parents, and now my, home. Totally going to make a visit this week...hmm
              The fries and onion rings are solid too!

              1. re: Midlife

                Philly's Best is great, but isn't a Philly cheeseteak way different from the chicago italian beef sandwich being discussed here? For instance, never have I had any veggies other than grilled onions and maybe peppers on the cheesesteak. No dunking of bread either, unless I've totally lost it.

                Philly's best is a couple of doors down from Pho Bac. I haven't been here in a while, but IIRC, the owner used to import his bread from PA. He was a real stickler. Is this still true? To be honest, I didn't really get all the fuss about the bread, but I'm no judge of the authentic/good here.

                1. re: jschyun

                  Oh and uh the biggest diff, the meat for philly cheesesteak fried on griddle not cooked in the tomato water with italian spices.

                  I looked up philly cheesesteaks and looks like you can get other veggies like mushrooms on it, but not the pickled veggies with italian beef sandwich.

                  Actually, I had Italian Beef sandwiches that had been imported from Chicago, during Christmas. They were actually surprisingly good. And the Chicago dogs were great. FYI for the homesick.