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Nov 15, 2013 07:26 AM

Italian Beef for Chicago natives who know...

I'm from SoCal, but been to & thru Chicagoland many times on business and "love me some Italian beef".

Been to Portillos, Al's, & Joe Bostons. If we had a choice other than Portillos, which is already out here. What other beef joint would you like to see in SoCal? For me it would be Al's.

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  1. Al's will be coming to Alhambra soon

    7 Replies
      1. re: A5 KOBE

        So is it open, or soon? Either location?

        1. re: Ollie

          It is not open yet, but the Chino Hills location is very small so it should not take too much longer.

          1. re: A5 KOBE

            Dec 14th, antcipating major let down

            1. re: A5 KOBE

              thanks for the update. also expecting major let down.

              1. re: TonyC

                Okay so I went here the other day. I have to say it was better than expected but still just average. I mean the taste of the food was fine, nothing spectacular but not horrible either. The fried we're decent, not my style though. I got the Italian beef sandwich and I have to say the beef flavor was pretty good. I had to get the gardinera on the side after because of their fucked up ordering system. Also to note I got it dipped too. The main problem I have is that it is really expensive. I mean I got a sandwich and fries and that was about $10. I was still hungry so I got another sandwich so essentially I spent $18 for the meal for mediocre food.

                To note, the combo was nice, I really liked the Italian sausage that they use which had a nice fennel flavor.

                All in all, I probably won't be back because of the price but this puts Portillo's Italian beef to shame but still does not deliver.

                1. re: A5 KOBE

                  thanks for the early report A5. this bodes well, except for the prices. i also read they're charging for "hot" peppers? I mean... WTF?

    1. My family and I left Chicago before Portillo's opened so I can't comment on Portillo's. My dad used to bring home Italian beef sandwiches from little, mom & pop places on the west side.

      The last time I was in Chicago, I ate at Mr. Beef on Orleans. Nothing in California comes close.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Kate is always hungry

        There was a branch of Mr. Beef that opened in Venice a couple of years ago, but closed down several months later. The website is still up indicating they were hoping to reopen eventually, but it's not looking like it's going to happen. Would love to end up being wrong on this though.

        1. re: Feed_me

          How did I not know this?! I'm curious why they'd choose to open in Venice. I can't imagine many Chicago ex-pats live there--but I could be wrong. Was it as good as in Chicago?

          1. re: Kate is always hungry

            Mr. Beef in Venice only lasted about 3 months. Here is the link to the thread about Mr. Beef and mentions of a couple other places.

        2. re: Kate is always hungry

          Agreed Mr. Beef on Orleans in Chicago was/is great...would love to find a place in Southern CA that came close to that sandwich!

          1. re: foufou

            My brother and I are talking about doing an America's Test Kitchen recipe testing for Italian Beef sandwiches. I say it's roast beef seasoned with Italian spice/herb mix and a tiny hint of tomato paste. I think the Italian beef that Vienna Beef sells may have a trace of parmesan cheese in it, perhaps from the rind.

            1. re: foufou

              I was watching Jimmy Fallon last night and he talked about going to various cities to promote the Tonight Show. He said that when he went to Chicago, he went to Mr. Beef on Orleans. He loved it.


            2. re: Kate is always hungry

              Portillo's in Buena Park comes perfectly close to the perfectly bland Mr. Beef (on Orleans) circa, say, 2005. Food memory is a funny/faulty thing.

              Portillo's may not be the best beef in Chicago, but they've been able to consistently replicate their offerings pretty much down to the T. (See wesabi's below)

              You just have to bring your own proper hot giardiniera.

              1. re: TonyC

                You're kidding right? They don't have proper Giardiniera? Giadiniera is a key component to an Italian beef sandwich. You have to bring your own? That's like McDonalds saying you need to bring your own "special sauce" for a Big Mac! (It's an analogy Hounders! I'm not in any way advocating eating at McDonald's).

                1. re: OC Mutt

                  Clarification: I was being tongue in cheek. of course they have giardiniera. it's been reported to be marconi from v. foods just like in Chicago. however, I always found it not as pleasing to me as say, Dalanti.

                  It's certainly more "proper" than anything any LA deli would serve, but... Chicagoans tend to be really freaking peculiar about their giardiniera.

            3. You are right, Al's is the best in the world. Not much else comes close. Portillo's is passable if you need a fix.

              1. it's no italian beef, but the brisket sandwich with the side bowl of vienna beef italian beef jus at labels on pico is beefy and tasty.

                1. from a recent trip just to to Al's just to make your wait more frustrating!!!

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: goldpackage

                    Nice pic!! I love Al's. It's better than Mr.Beef, and much better than Portillo's.

                    1. re: john gonzales

                      It's better than Mr.Beef, and much better than Portillo's.
                      This is equivalent to saying nothing at all. Portillo is just a decent beef in Chicago. Mr. Beef is... deplorable. If you're going to name drop (312), mention Johnnies (or unknown gems such as Uncle Johnny), or don't bother benchmarking the city.

                      I lived a few blocks away from Al's No. 1. It's nearly foul even when fresh, probably won't be better when packaged and shipped across the country. (LTH contributors have verified the grossness of nearly all Al's outpots, none of which are corporate outside of Chicago).

                      Still, I'll be lined up on opening day because A) Al's Alhambra is close 2) nostalgia 3) I have the PR rep's number programmed in.

                        1. re: john gonzales

                          Just go over to the Chicago board and you'll begin to see that coming down from Mt. Sinai with stone tablets inscribed with the names of the best places for Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago isn't as simple as, TonyC makes it out to be...

                          1. re: Servorg

                            and therefore definitely not what j.g. makes it out to be above, either.

                            The Chicago board is dead; google: lth beefathon.

                            name dropping big franchised beef shops like that is a disservice to Chicago beef, and to ex-Chicagoans who've counted on Johnnies during lunch time for years.

                            of note, Mr. Beef's that lived shortly in Venice was unauthorized and got a a cease/desist.

                            1. re: TonyC

                              I don't even know what you're talking about or if you were originally addressing me. But what's with the "name dropping" and "disservice" business?

                              The op mentioned Portillos. They're popular here and in Chicagoland, and a place the Socals know. So yes, the comparison is valid. You have some strange love-hate with Al's calling it foul but then saying that you'll be one of the first to go. Again, it's a place that does plenty of local business in Chicago and get's plenty of play on various lists/boards. So again a valid comparison. Mr. Beef has plenty of followers too. So you might have an opinion but a comprehensive discussion of Italian Beef involves these names.

                              You might have an opinion, but it's just that, and like with many things here (and on various other media sources) opinions vary. I'll give you the "insider" plus. I've only been to Johnnie's once. For my tastes it ranks below Al's. But one doesn't have to have lived in Chicago to assess a sandwich.

                              My wife is from outside of Chicago and has most of her family all over the area. She's also Italian. So I'm in Chicago a couple of times every year and try the referenced places plenty. In fact I went to both Mr. Beef and Al's just a couple of months back. I've only been to Johnnie's once. It doesn't top Al's if you ask me. Not that one should have to qualify their opinion about a sandwich. Feel free to have yours.

                        2. re: TonyC

                          As a Chicago ex-pat and fellow LTHer, I have to agree with TonyC that Al's Beef franchises are all pretty bad which does not give me much hope for the ones opening here. At least Portillo's is consistent among the branches, even the Buena Park branch.

                          1. re: WesSabi

                            Are you talking about franchised locations? I have only ever been to the one on Taylor and the one on Ontario.

                            Tastes differ but I really like the sandwich at both and they seem to have very good fries. I know the sandwich's there are polarizing. Some people will put it near the top and some will put them near the bottom. I like their dip while I've seen some people really criticize it. To me their gardiniera is better than Portillo's, Mr. Beef, or Johnnie's.

                            I agree that Portillo's is relatively consistent among outlets. If the Al's franchises are significantly worse than the originals, it must be some sort of poor control. Once the "formula" is in hand, it can't be that hard to turn out a good sandwich.

                            1. re: WesSabi

                              Was I able to reach you for a mini LTH gathering at Spice Table a few years back? We had over a dozen ppl show up and waxed poetic on Billy Goat, Schwa, Kuma's, LTH, Ramova's Grill and such.

                              1. re: TonyC

                                I only moved here about 15 months ago but would love to come to the next gathering.

                                1. re: WesSabi

                                  WesSabi, I shot you an email. peep please.

                                2. re: TonyC

                                  Hey Tony, as a longtime LTH'er now living in L.A., I look forward to your posts here. Let me know if there's ever going to be a mini-LTH gathering again!

                                  1. re: moreplease

                                    WesSabi, moreplease, can you guys put your email in your chow profile so I can send a msg? i can't find your corresponding handles on lth (i am, as always, also TonyC there)