There are three foods Chicagoans need to survive: hot dogs, pizza and Italian beef.
Like hot dogs without ketchup and deep dish pizza as big as your face, Italian beef is a classic favorite with a cult-like following. As part of being admitted into the Chicagoan club (temporary or not), you need to pick your favorite from a short list of classic Italian beef royalty.
If you’re in from out of town, you’re going to hear a lot of chatter about where to go. There’s the typical places, like Portillo’s and Al’s Italian Beef. Both make a delicious sandwich in locations throughout Chicagoland, but are filled with tourists and are, well, typical. We have the insider picks; classic Best Local places complete with standing room for you to master your “Italian stance.”
If you’re staying downtown…
Al’s #1 Italian Beef (1079 W. Taylor Street) Wait a second! Isn’t this the touristy, overdone place previously mentioned? Al’s Italian Beef franchise and the original Al’s #1 Italian Beef are two very different things. While their sandwiches are comparable, nothing beats the real thing. It’s the unique flavors of nutmeg and cinnamon mixed with traditional spices that make Al’s a Chicago staple. Chris Pacelli, nephew of Al’s original owner, also defined the proper way of eating an Italian Beef sandwich, “the Italian stance.” Instructions include: “Elbows on the counter, feet EXACTLY 2 1/2 feet from counter. Mouth wide open.” [Watch Adam Richman from the Travel Channel’s Man Vs. Food learn “the Italian stance” “>here.]
From Presidential Towers…24 minutes: Walk to Clinton blue line stop. Take the train towards Forest Park, getting off at the UIC-Halsted stop. Walk to Taylor Street. [pssst…There’s an Al’s Beef Franchise only a few blocks from Presidential Towers on 601 W. Adams Street if you’re looking for a quick fix]
From Kingsbury Plaza…30 minutes: Walk to Grand blue line stop. Take the train towards Forest Park, getting off at the UIC-Halsted stop. Walk to Taylor Street.
From Grand Plaza…30 minutes: Walk to the Grand-State red line stop. Take the red line towards 95th, getting off at Jackson. Transfer to the Jackson blue line, taking it towards Forest Park. Get off at UIC-Halsted. Walk to Taylor Street.
Mr. Beef (666 N. Orleans Ave.) You can’t mention Al’s #1 without referencing Mr. Beef. From the outside it looks like a run-down liquor store, but on the inside delivers beefy goodness in a classic beef stand setting. This sandwich is praised for its chewy, yet industrial enough to hold the moisture, Gonnella brand bun. Also a staple of their sandwich is the fresh giardiniera, which is dominated by spicy celery making it extra crispy. Mr. Beef has had a longtime showdown with Al’s #1, but Beef took home the gold during a Travel Channel challenge between the two. [Watch the Food Wars episode here.]
From Presidential Towers…18 minutes: Walk to the Washington & Wells purple line stop, getting off at the Chicago-Brown stop. Walk to Orleans.
From Kingsbury Plaza…5 minutes: Walk to the Orleans & Grand bus top. Take the 11 bus towards Howard/McCormick, getting off at Orleans & Huron.
From Grand Plaza…11 minutes: Walk out of the Grand Plaza towrds Ohio Street. Take a left on Ohio and then a right on Orleans.
The Original Johnnie’s Beef (7500 W. North Avenue, Elmwood Park, IL) Rain or shine, sleet or hail, sandstorm or tornado, hurricane or tsunami. Chicagoans have braved horrid conditions to stand in a line outside Johnnie’s that curves around the corner. But the gratification received at the counter is well worth it. Whether you prefer spicy or sweet, dry or dipped, they make it however you like. Their sausage and beef combo is a favorite if you’re extra hungry. No matter what you choose, you can wind down after your sandwich with a refreshing Italian Ice. The sweet and tangy ice treat is almost as popular as the beef. Elmwood Park is about a 30 minute drive from the city, but well worth the trip.
From Presidential Towers…45 Minutes: Walk to the Chicago-OTC Metra stop. Take the UP-W train towards Geneva, getting off at the Oak Park Metra. Walk to Harlem and South Blvd, taking the 90 bus towards Harlem Blue Line. Get off at Harlem and North Avenue, walk towards 7500 W. North Avenue.
From Kingsbury Plaza…1 hour: Walk to the Clinton green line, getting off at the Harlem stop. Walk to Harlem and South Blvd, taking the 90 bus towards Harlem Blue Line. Get off at Harlem and North Avenue, walk towards 7500 W. North Avenue.
From Grand Plaza…1 hour: Walk to the Clark & Lake green line stop. Take the green line towards Harlem, stopping at the Harlem stop.Walk to Harlem and South Blvd, taking the 90 bus towards Harlem Blue Line. Get off at Harlem and North Avenue, walk towards 7500 W. North Avenue.
If you’re staying in the suburbs…