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Mar 15, 2010 02:40 PM

Al's #1 Italian Beef

Popped by Al's in Scottsdale for opening day today and had a pretty damn good Italian Beef. The place was a zoo with a line of close to 50 people out the door at one point and it took close to half an hour to get a sandwich in hand, but considering the crush they got on day one, I'm impressed by how well they handled it.

There's no mistaking the fact that this is a franchise operation. They have about as much authentic charm as a Disney attraction, the logo is plastered everywhere and every IB is weighed out on a digital scale. But I guess every crusty old beef stand in Chicago was clean and new at one point, right?

For those unawares, when folks talk about the best Italian Beef places in Chicago, Al's is always on the very, very short list of top contenders. It's a little polarizing due to an unusually heavy spice/herb blend, but is generally regarded as one of the city's finest even among those for whom it isn't their cup of tea (my preferences tend towards the naturally sweeter end of the spectrum). Of course, all of this applies to the original Al's on Taylor street, and not to the numerous Chicago area franchises, which aren't very highly regarded by those who care about such things.

As for Scottsdale, there are nits to pick for hardcore beef nerds, but there's a whole lot more right than wrong going on here. Admittedly, it's been a couple of years since I've hit Al's on Taylor, but a few differences stuck out to me. The spice blend didn't seem quite as aggressive here, while the chile heat was actually stronger. Consistency and flavor of the beef was great -- a lot better than my last (admittedly substandard) visit to the Taylor Al's, actually. There's a whole lot less of it, but I believe it's a significantly cheaper sandwich. I also got a lot more sweetness, perhaps owing to the fact that the place was a madhouse and the beef was turning over very, very quickly rather than sitting for a long time in the juice (this is a good thing). The bread is baked on the premises, and gets a touch gummy when saturated but they've done a mighty fine job of preparing the kind of bread in-house that I imagine is rather difficult to source outside of Chicago. Peppers were sweet and juicy, and the giardiniera was the signature shredded Al's style, celery and fennel swimming in hot red oil. Mine wasn't quite as oily as I typically expect in Chicago, but a side of it one table over looked about right, so I might've just gotten a dry scoop.

Bottom line, while it generally isn't quite Al's on Taylor, this particular IB-obsessed Chicagoan would proudly put forth today's sandwich as a fine example of his fair city's most notable contribution to the pantheon of world sandwiches. Great job, fellas.

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    1. re: Phoenix99

      14740 N. Northsight Blvd. Scottsdale, AZ 480-443-1200

    2. thanks for the heads up...looks like lunch manana

      1. Adding map link for a planned visit this week:

        Al's Beef
        14740 N Northsight Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85260

        1. Just returned this afternoon for lunch with Rubee and her fella to introduce them to the joys of Italian Beef. Sadly, while decent, the sandwich wasn't up to my previous visit's level. Flavor was nice, but the beef was a little tough and dry this time around.

          We went for a very late lunch... didn't sit down until almost 2:30... so this was not entirely unexpected to me. Off-peak at an Italian Beef place is always dangerous. Oftentimes, the beef ends up sitting in the hot juice for a very long time, which is a common cause of the tough and dry beef. It's a common pitfall, and the best beef places are careful to avoid this. I don't know for a fact that this accounted for the difference, but I'd bet on it.

          In any case, you could do a lot worse than today's offering for a first time beef, but it would appear that they're not careful not to let the beef simmer for too long. As such, I'd strongly encourage anybody who goes to try to hit them during the peak lunch rush. You might wait a bit, but I suspect you'll have a much better sandwich for it.

          Great to meet Rubee and her husband, and hope to meet more of you folks before long!

          3 Replies
          1. re: Dmnkly

            First off, I probably have eaten 100's of Al's Italian beefs in my life and even in Chicago there is great variation between the different Al's locations with the original on Taylor Street being the best by far. I don't want to measure it against a Chicago location as I think that is unfair but I made it over this week during the lunch rush and the sandwich was probably the best Italian Beef that I have had in Phoenix...and most of the Beef that I have out here has been pretty weak. I also think that the sandwich that I had was better than some of the Al's locations in Chicago so that works for me. I was always a Mr. Beef and Johnnie's fan back home but when I want a beef out here then I would happily go over to Al's. An Italian Beef must be dipped that is the essence of the sandwich otherwise it is basically a French preferred order is a Beef wet which is double dipped. The version that Crsin talks about at Andreoli is a great sandwich and it is Gianni's interpretation of the sandwich but that is not a true Italian Beef...that being said if I go there for lunch that sandwich is part of my order 75% of the time and Gianni's giardiniera is killer.

            1. re: Molto E

              Don't want to drift too far, but I'm curious, Molto, what do you think of Luke's on Indian School and 16th? It's obviously not like the top-flight places in Chicago, and it isn't as good as the new Al's, but I've had a couple there and thought they were quite good. Al's raises the bar for Phoenix, but I was pretty thrilled to find one that solid out here.

            2. re: Dmnkly

              Thanks for inviting us for an Italian Beef Dmnkly! For a novice, I was quite happy with my sandwich, and would order it the same way again - dipped, with both sweet and hot peppers. E didn't have his dipped, and I much preferred mine. I can see why Chicago natives crave this institution.

              Al's Beef
              14740 N Northsight Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85260

            3. I've never even been to Chicago, and have very limited experience with the italian beef (so excuse my IB ignorance), but I did enjoy the sandwich. Neither the beef nor the giardiniera were as flavorful as I was hoping for (both were still tasty), and the sandwich was surprisingly greasy (I expected some oil from the giardiniera, but not like this), but I did like the bread, particularly once down to the--excuse my revolting phrasing here--"nether regions" which had absorbed all the juice; I should've ordered it dipped. Overall, though, it came together to make a pretty good, substantial sandwich.

              I have to mention, though, that the day before I had scarfed down an Al Capone from Andreoli. Although some of the basic ingredients were there--roast beef, giardiniera--I would venture to guess that this is not what Chicagoans would necessarily recognize as a standard IB. That said, it was a damn fine sandwich that, while somewhat anemic looking relative to Al's, packed a far more flavorful punch in all of its components.

              2 Replies
              1. re: crsin

                The dip is absolutely key. Totally critical, if you ask me. Without it, they're kind of flat. One man's opinion.

                Do report back if you return and get a wet one. I'd be curious to hear if it alters your assessment.

                1. re: Dmnkly

                  Okay, okay, it's sounding like I made the cardinal amateur mistake forgetting to ask for it dipped. "Flat" is an apt way of describing what I ate, but it sounds like you and Molto believe the dip will remedy this, which makes sense. I'll give Al's another, proper shot and reserve my opinion 'til then.