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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

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

        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.

              2. elmomonster, the shredded beef part sounds unusual. it should be thinly sliced meat folded into the roll.

                when i lived in chicago, i usually opted for the limp, bittersweet bell peppers over the hot and i love the mushy bread thing that happens. it is kind of like bread pudding.

                i'll have to check out chicago's best soon & eagerly await portillo's opening.

                1 Reply
                1. re: petradish

                  After becoming addicted to the Italian beef sandwiches at Portillo's both in the Chicago area and in Buena Park, I decided to try Chicago's Best in Irvine. My $.02 is, stick with Portillo's. Better bread and tastier beef!

                2. Ok, since I jumped the gun a bit in announcing the opening of Chicago's Best, I'll chime in here with thoughts of my first 2 visits.

                  The location is a lunch rush strip mall. They are open until 6 M-F for those who want to grab dinner there or some stuff to go for home and they have a half day on Saturdays (10-3 I think), mainly to accommodate "Chicagoans" who can't get there on a weekday.

                  I went with my family for dinner Tuesday night and got a bulk order for a church function tonight. My kids have had the burger (huge 1/2 lb Angus) and Hot Dog (classic Chicago-style Vienna complete w/poppy seed bun) while I had a combo (beef and sausage) and got beef and sausage (along with bread, peppers and giardinera) for our church function (annual Men's Group Poker Night). On future visits I will try the ribs and other goodies.

                  Ok, as for the beef and sausage, it looks like the beef has gotten some interesting comments so far. There's even some good info on what italian beef is here on other threads. As noted, no "sauce" or anything, but the "italian" comes from the spices it's soaked in. One of the other keys is that it is sliced extremely thin, giving it an almost shredded texture. Depending on how messy you want it, you can specify it dry or wet or dipped. An earlier comment compared it to the french dip at Philippe's, one of my fav places in LA. In my opinion, the italian beef is MORE flavorful, more heavily spiced, and that's what sets it apart. How does it compare to other italian beefs here in SoCal and in and around Chicago. I've tried IB at about half a dozen places here in SoCal...and this blows them away in terms of flavor and texture. I've had IBs at some very well know places in the Chicago area...and this matches up pretty darn well. In fact, on the Chicago Chowhound board and its offshoot, LTHforum, they've had 3 or 4 "Beefathon"'s, and think Chicago's Best would compete well. So, with the "wetness" as well as the optional addition of peppers and/or giardinera, the IB is an individual thing. As for the sausage, there are SO many varieties out there...Chicago's Best uses a medium hot link, and it is flame grilled. Very nice flavor, much more so than your SoCal Costco/Sam's or grocery store brands. Same options for the Sausage as for the beef. Now, combine the beef and sausage and you've got a combo...my favorite. The beef and pork complement each other and the texture and bite just do it right for me..I'll take mine "wet" with no peppers or giardinera. The final piece of the puzzle is the bread...it's got to be soft and absorbing inside but still have a thin crisp crust to hold together somewhat. Gonella and Turano are 2 leading Chicago brands, although generally unavailable here, but CB's imports Gonella (I think).

                  Like I said I haven't tried much of the rest of the menu (and I miss the pizza that Giorgio's had), but Chicago's Best does have superb fresh cut fries...I'll take them over In N Out Burger's any day.

                  As for service, I can't say much yet...they've only been open a week and run a very light crew except for the lunch rush, so they are still getting their feet wet. Remember the "Soup Nazi" from Seinfeld? Well, some italian beef places in Chicago have much the same reputation (have your order ready, no questions, and get out of the way)...and I know the owners here aren't like that! As mentioned previously, the place is run by the son of the former Giorgio's owner, and dad is around to help out on occasion as well.

                  Ok, as for the bulk order last night...the food was a MAJOR hit. They had everything bagged and ready for me when I got there, and I converted about 25 Californians to the goodness of Chicago food. And 4 hours of poker night raised $1000 for our church...not a bad night at all.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: RSMBob

                    I've been raving about and recommending Chicago's Best, as I've become a regular, going at least 2-3 times a month for the past year, and silly me, I've never noticed that they have BBQ ribs on the menu, as I love me some great BBQ and have written mostly BBQ reviews on Chowhound as I've tried out different places in SoCal. Most reviews about them are usually about their Italian beef sandwiches, or Italian sausage sandwich or beef/sausage sandwich combo, and I'm always raving about their excellent fries. I've ordered their Maxwell Street Polish sausage and Chicago dogs in recent trips, and only on my visit last week did my eyes wander to the other part of their menu and spot the BBQ ribs.

                    I decided to try the BBQ ribs today (they only have baby back pork ribs, no pork spareribs or beef ribs), which comes with a side order of their fabulous fries, for a wonderfully cheap $7.75, which is almost unheard of in OC, but in line with some of the great BBQ shacks in LA.

                    I'm normally a beef rib eater, as I've usually found the best beef ribs to be far better than the best pork ribs, but today, these baby backs at Chicago's Best may have been some of the best I've eaten. The meat was so fall-of-the-bone tender that the plastic knife had no problems separating the meat from the bone. Not sure what style of BBQ it was, but the light amount of BBQ sauce was slightly sweet, and had a slight amount of kick to it, probably in line with mild-to-medium spicy BBQ sauce.

                    I don't proclaim to be a baby back ribs expert, as I favor beef ribs, but comparing it to OC places that others have raved about recently, like Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach, and Tulsa Rib in Orange, I thought these baby backs were far superior to those. In my visit to Beachwood BBQ, I found their ribs to be overcooked and dry, requiring BBQ sauce to make the ribs edible, and my last Tulsa Rib visit when ordering their pork ribs turned out to be decent ribs, but not spectacular.

                    I will definitely order the ribs again to see if they are consistently good, or if I just got lucky today. But given my experience in how consistent their other items are, like their fries and Italian beef sandwiches, I think their BBQ is consistently spectacular.

                    For OC BBQ lovers who are looking for another place to get great baby backs, I think Chicago's Best should be added to the top of your lists.

                    I'm eager to hear if others have tried the ribs here and feel the same as I do, or maybe my taste buds are just out of whack. :-)

                    On just a side note, Chicago's Best seems to have stopped offering their daily specials, at least on the days when I visited. I had noted previously that they seemed to offer specials on Tuesdays thru Thursdays, but on my last couple of visits on Thursdays, no specials were offered. That's OK, because I'll be getting their BBQ ribs often on my future visits.

                    There are also a Steak sandwich on the menu that I haven't tried yet, and some chicken items also. It does become hard to steer away from ordering favorites to try something new, but I'll see if I have enough willpower to order something other than the ribs on my next visit. :-)

                    Chicago's Best
                    2540 Main St, Irvine, CA 92614

                    1. re: Wonginator

                      Thanks for the info about the ribs. I'll have to try them sometime. I already love their italian beef (similar to Portillo's!)

                      I noticed on the website for Chicago's Best that they have a Gyros platter available on their catering menu. Has anyone tried this? I love Gyros and would love to get this for a party sometime.


                      1. re: Wonginator

                        I'll be honest...I haven't had the ribs at CB -- as rarely as I can get there it's pretty much a combo (beef/sausage) every time. However, I HAVE had the ribs at their former place, Giorgio's of Chicago (owned by CB's owner's father) and they were unexpectedly good (of course at Giorgio's I had to juggle in the pizza as well!). As for "style" they are obviously pre-cooked and then just grilled at the end, but if taste is more importnat to you than the true def of "BBQ", then these likely rank up there pretty highly.

                        If it's ribs I want in OC, I'm going straight to Tulsa Rib Company in Orange, but next time I'm at CB, an order of ribs (at a great price) might just be the ticket.

                        1. re: Wonginator

                          Another follow-up post, as I visited Chicago's Best for lunch today. No daily special listed again on a Thursday visit, so I may have to make a Tuesday or Wednesday visit next time to see if they're still offering them.

                          But no big loss today, as I decided to try something else new on the menu. Just did 3 BBQ meals in 3 days in Vegas over the weekend, so I wasn't craving BBQ ribs just yet, and just had a French Dip a couple of days ago, so I wasn't craving a similar Italian beef sandwich. I decided to opt for their 1/2 lb burger, which I haven't tried here yet.

                          Nice fat juicy burger. I didn't ask to have it cooked a certain way, but they cooked it about medium, with a slight hint of pink in the burger. 3 slices of tomatoes, lots of chopped lettuce, and I think some mustard. They didn't have a cheeseburger option, so I'll have to ask them about it next time, if they can add a slice of cheese. But for the price of $4.25, it seemed like a fabulous deal for a 1/2 lb. burger. Most places usually charge $8-10 for a 1/2 lb. Even a 4x4 at In N Out would cost about $5-7.

                          And this was a good burger. Wow. One of the better ones I've had in recent memory, especially in OC. Better than Fuddruckers. Better than Knowlwood. Better than TK Burger. Better than Red Robin or the Islands chain. Better than the short-lived Hamburger Mary's nearby. Flavorful, juicy tasty burger. The burger had grill marks on it, so they probably cooked it over the same grill as their BBQ.

                          Just like the ribs: if I had noticed it on the menu and knew it was this good, I would've ordered it a long time ago.

                          OC burger lovers need to add Chicago's Best to their burger list. Again, I'm curious to know if anyone else has tried the burger here and feel the same way. If you had a different or negative experience, I'd be curious to hear about that too.

                          I'm wondering what else is really good on the menu that I haven't tried. Can't wait to go back next week. :-)

                      2. If you're ever in Florence, Italy, you have to try Nerbone which is a stand in the central market. The boiled beef sandwiches are sandwiched between a very crusty roll which is dipped in an au jus of some type to soften it. You can opt to have this spicy sauce or pesto sauce added. It's very yummy!

                        1. Well I'm sitting here at CBs after just finishing an Italian Beef and Sausage Combo. It was tasty enough, but the beef and sausage were both exceptionally dry. I arrived a little after 1:00 so it was the tail end of the lunch rush. I would expect everything to be pretty fresh at this time of day.

                          The fries were good and they were well done although I'm not sure if that was just a side effect of my timing.

                          Next time I'm in this area I'll have to try the burger and report back.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: MacGuy

                            Most of the stuff is usually made fresh as ordered, with the exception of the ribs, which have to be made well in advance. If they didn't dip your sandwich enough, that could be why the sandwich tasted dry. The Italian beef sandwiches do make a difference when you get the sweet pepper served with it. I always try to get the sweet pepper from now on. It does add some moistness if the beef seems too dry.

                            I've not been a big fan of the beef and sausage combo. I like them both separately, but it doesn't quite taste right combined together. It's just like a burger topped with pastrami. They both taste great separately, but they sometimes don't go well together.

                            The fries are fried as you order them, so they're never already made ahead of time. You can see them drop the fries into the fryer after you order them.

                            And on a side note, I had previously mentioned that Chicago's Best had stopped doing their daily specials. In my last few visits, they have had the daily specials going again, like their pastrami sandwich, and their 2 Chicago dogs with fries and drink for only $5.99. But I haven't noticed what their new pattern is for deciding which days to have the specials.

                            Got the ribs again on my most recent visit, and it was just as good as the first time I got them. To me, these are the best baby backs in OC, and at a fantastic price of under $8, which includes a plate of their fabulous fries.

                            And my brother ordered the burger here for the first time. He thought it was one of the better burgers he's had recently, so it was nice to have him confirm my opinion of their 1/2 lb. burger. He ordered it as a cheeseburger, so you can order it that way. You just have to ask them to do so, since it's not listed on the menu.

                            1. re: Wonginator

                              I'd have to agree with your comment on the Beef and Sausage Combo. I basically ate it like two separate sandwiches. I had to keep eating the beef because it was all threatening to dive off of the roll. ;-)

                              Like I said, I will give it another chance the next time I'm over there. Now, do I get the burger, the ribs or the Dogs. . . .

                              1. re: MacGuy

                                Depending on what you prefer, it's a toss-up between the ribs and the burger. I haven't had good baby backs in such a long time that beef ribs became my preference for ribs. The baby backs here are excellent and have reminded me how great these can be when done right.

                                Not a big fan of the Chicago Dog, as it's "busy" for a hot dog, with lots of different toppings, maybe too many. Relish and onions are fine, but I could do without the tomato, sport peppers, and pickle. I prefer the Italian sausage and Polish sausage.

                                1. re: Wonginator

                                  Just tried this place, and the Italian Beef sandwich came across as a French Dip. But, now, after reading this thread, I understand why as they didn't include the peppers or any of the other stuff even though I asked for everything. Is there some type of extra surcharge for the peppers, where its not necessairly included if you ask for everything?

                                  On one hand, I thought it was okay and not something that I need to try again soon. But, now, I'm wondering if the peppers would have made a difference and maybe I need to give it another shot. Are there any other places nearby that also serve Italian Beef sandwiches?

                                  1. re: hobbess

                                    It is an extra $0.35 for the peppers. The experienced cashiers will usually ask if you want the hot or sweet peppers, while the new cashiers might forget to ask. It's like asking for cheese on your hamburger, just tell them you want the hot or sweet peppers.

                                    It is a bit like a French Dip being pre-dipped, like they do at Philippe's. The peppers will make a difference if you think the meat is a bit dry. The sweet pepper (my preference) will give a bit of sweetness and moistness that might counter the dryness of the beef.

                                    Not many other places have Italian beef sandwiches. Next closest one might be Portillo's in Buena Park, which is pretty good, too.

                                    1. re: hobbess

                                      Chicago's Best and Portillo's are the 2 most authentic IB's I have had in SoCal.

                                      It cetainly does have characteristics of a french dip, but the bread is a litlle different, the "gravy" is more seasoned, and the beef is much thinner. I usually get a combo (beef with an italian sausage), dipped with no peppers or giardinera, and that with an order of their great fries can keep me full for a long time.

                                      Hmm, now thinking about possibly making a road trip there for lunch tomorrow.