The 31 Essential Italian Beef Joints in Chicago(land)

Dengeo's

When you attempt to assemble the ultimate Italian beef roundup, and you announce each stop along the way via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, you get a lot of input from people. “Don’t forget Dengeo’s,” say loyals on the North Shore; “Jay’s is the best” brag Northwest Siders. Like most things that elicit strong opinions (pizza, hot dogs) the best versions in the world tend to be the ones you had growing up, and this list proves it. There is a concentration on the west side of the city, through Berwyn and Elmwood Park, then the Italian line takes a hard right north, up along Harlem Avenue, through the secondary “Little Italy” that was established in the 1970s, when the next generation started leaving Taylor Street. The Northwest Side may be littered with beef joints eliciting strong opinions, but there are several pockets of Italians down south as well. Consider Palos Park, Homer Glen and the neighborhoods of Evergreen Park and Mount Greenwood, which are fiercely loyal to their favorites. The reason I wanted to taste everything within a short period of time, was to give me the ability to discern subtle differences and be able to argue why Novi’s and Jay’s, for example, can’t even be considered in the same league as The Original Mr. Beef in Homer Glen and Johnnie’s in Elmwood Park. I’m sure I missed one or two places here, but c’mon, I hit 30 places in just under two weeks, compiling what I think, is The Most Comprehensive Italian Beef Roundup. Ever. In the history of Chicago.

Note: I’ve listed them here alphabetically. Tomorrow I’ll list my Top 5 Italian Beefs in the suburbs; Thursday, I’ll list my Top 5 in the city and on Friday, you’ll get my Top 10 Beefs in Chicagoland, plus #11 – #31. That night, you can watch my Top 3 suburban beefs on ABC 7 and on Saturday, I’ll show you my Top 3 in the city. 

Al’s #1 Beef

1079 W. Taylor St.; 312-226-4017

Al's

$5.99 for a regular sandwich; .60 for sweet; .60 for hot

Total: $7.19

Bread: Gonnella

This is one of the legends in Chicago. Started around The Depression, a result of those Italian “peanut weddings” where immigrants used the drippings and trimmings from expensive beef and made sandwiches out of them, dipping them to add heft (sounds like a debris po’ boy from NOLA), Al’s has one of the best spokespersons in the form of Chris Pacelli, a Chicaaago guy, dere indeed. I find the problem with Al’s – like Buona and Portillo’s – is consistency. Since they each have so many locations now, spread all over the place, the sandwiches you’ll find at one location rarely match another (see: Buona). I went to the original location on Taylor, in Little Italy, where my regular-sized beef came with 2 big hunks of bell pepper (yawn) and a giardiniera featuring just celery flecked with red chili flakes, giving the top of the sandwich an odd reddish hue. The beef (made in-house, unlike those little satellite franchises) was tender, pliable and shredded like Johnnie’s. There were hints of garlic and oregano and it was certainly dipped adequately. But the chew seemed a little off, and I couldn’t get past the giardiniera, or lack thereof, which was missing peppers, carrots, and more importantly, a good balance of sweet, hot and crunch. I realize this is probably closer to the form the original took some 80 years ago, but the sandwich as a whole doesn’t work as well as others in town, at least for me. (Note: please stop propagating the myth that Mario’s Italian Ice across the street is something worth trying. It’s as hard as a rock – like Ferro’s on 31st Street – and actually hurts to eat. Instead, try Johnnie’s or Scatchell’s).

 

Bari Italian Foods*

1120 W. Grand Avenue, Chicago; 312-666-0730

Bari

$6.00 for sandwich + .50 for sweet peppers + .50 for hot peppers

Total: $7.00

Bread: Upper Crust Baking Co.

This was the beef that inspired The Crawl, and it doesn’t count as part of “The Essential 31.” I know people love Bari for their subs – even though they stopped using D’Amato’s bread from next door, sparking an all-out sandwich battle – but more than a few folks suggested I try their Italian beef. What a disappointment. As the picture above illustrates, this beef – ordered “sweet, hot, juicy” arrived with the smallest amount of green pepper, an even smaller amount of giardiniera (about a tablespoon) and beef that was both overcooked and tough. How hard could it be to make a great beef? The sad state of this iconic sandwich’s treatment, at such a well-regarded joint, set me off on a quest to find the best.

*Note: this location does not count as one of the Essential 31, it is only here to serve as a reminder of what led to The Crawl.

 

Beefee

5846 W. North Ave.; 773-745-0414

Beefee

$5.45 (includes fries – not handcut, frozen)

Bread: Turano

They proudly claim they serve the “Best Italian Beef in Chicago,” but that’s according to Fox News. Remind me never to take food advice from Fox News. This beef was one of the few not made in-house; rather, it comes from Devanco Foods Co. They say they grill it, and add seasoning, but I found it somewhat chewy and lacking in any seasoning whatsoever. There is quite a bit of heat in their giardiniera, which has sport peppers, carrots and the extremely rare banana peppers, and the loaves hold up pretty well when soaked. Like pretty much every restaurant on the West Side, there’s nowhere to sit and eat, save for four chairs in the waiting area out in front of the bulletproof glass partition.

 

Bob-O’s Hot Dogs

8258 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-625-9840

Bob-o's

$4.95 for sandwich + .50 for sweet peppers + .50 for hot peppers

Bread: Gonnella

Don’t let the title fool you. Yes, Bob-O’s started as a literal hot dog cart/trailer (like Portillo’s) in the Northwest suburbs. But they also make their beef in-house, and they know how to slice it and soak it in jus just long enough without over cooking. My sandwich was jammed with beautifully tender beef covered with four fairly large strips of cooked green peppers and a knockout giardiniera of textural excellence: celery, cauliflower, carrots and sport peppers held together with plenty of oil. The pool of meat juice in my basket was a gentle reminder of what I could be doing with my hand-cut fries (which were among the best on the quest).

 

Bombocigno’s J & C Inn

588 Van Buren St., Chicago; 312-663-4114

Bombocigno's

$6.99 for sandwich + .55 for sweet peppers + .55 for hot peppers

Total: $8.09

Bread: From a guy (but likely D’Amato’s)

The most expensive Italian beef sandwich in Chicago lives in an historic spot. I know why people like this place. It’s tucked away in a time capsule of a building, hidden away in the SW Loop, in the shadow of Lou Mitchell’s and a bunch of fast food crap. You walk in, and it feels like you’ve stepped back to the 1920s, the long bar along the wall and the compact kitchen all the way in the back. There are a few checkered-topped tables to sit at while you eat your lunch, but I’m not sure I’ll be going back here for an Italian beef. First off, what’s with the bread? I asked the surly manager/owner behind the counter if it was D’Amato’s, since I saw they carried their sandwich bread, but all he would say was “we buy it from a guy.” Dude, if it’s from D’Amato’s, brag about it! Second, the giardiniera comes on the side, in one of the smallest thimble-sized plastic cups I’ve seen since Jay’s. It barely holds the celery and sport peppers swimming in chili-laced oil, and .55 for it seems like a gouge. The two small pieces of bell pepper were similarly unhelpful, but the most jarring aspect was the amount of oregano on this sandwich. You can see it in the picture too, all over the peppers. The bread may be great, but if the beef is tough and it’s dominated by one spice, then you’ve got a problem that’s only exacerbated by the fact it comes in the city’s priciest package.

 

Buona Beef

2135 S. Wolf Rd., Hillside; 708-236-0575

Buona

$5.60 for sandwich + .50 for sweet peppers + .50 for hot peppers

Total: $6.60

Bread: Turano

With 13 locations in Chicagoland, stepping into a Buona feels like ordering at Potbelly, which is a shame, because part of the joy of eating Italian beef in Chicago is leaning against a counter (Johnnie’s, Al’s, etc.) and navigating an icon without staining your shirt. They still have the original in Berwyn if you want to go for the old school feel, but I wanted to see if they’re consistent, so I hit the west suburban Hillside location (eating inside, not drive-thru). Served in a paper wrapper on a real plate, my heart jumped at the sight of three slightly charred green peppers; to the best of my knowledge, Buona is the only place that chars them. This adds some complexity, and the giardiniera of sport peppers, carrots and celery added even more. The beef had a good balance of seasonings – oregano, garlic, salt – maybe a little too much salt, but the beef was both shredded and soft. My only “beef” if you will, was that it wasn’t anywhere near the “juicy” I had asked for. In fact, I remember adding “wet” to my request, and still, the sandwich arrived barely half dipped, which you can see in the picture. Like the hot peppers at Chickie’s and the size of the sandwich at Frannie’s, excuses were made after-the-fact about employees who maybe hadn’t been trained enough yet or who usually work weekends or it’s a situation they’re working on…but in the end, to make the top 10, you have to be consistent.

 

Carm’s Beef and Italian Ice

1057 W. Polk St.; 312-738-1046

IMG_3076

$6.60 for sandwich +. 50 for sweet peppers + .50 for giardiniera

Total: $7.60

Bread: Gonnella

Located just a few blocks from the original Al’s Beef on Taylor, Carm’s sits in the heart of the neighborhood, on Polk St., across the street from Fontana’s Subs, another outstanding Italian deli. They’ve been in business since 1929, about as long as Al’s, but I can’t imagine the sandwiches have always been made this way. Like Frangella, the beef here is sliced cold, kept cold, then dunked into the jus for about 30 seconds, to cook it through and add the requisite garlicky, peppery notes. Unfortunately, there were still plenty of bits of fat in my sandwich, which didn’t make for a pleasant chew. The jus is very good, but unfortunately, the hot giardiniera – consisting mainly of jalapeños, more jalapeños and celery (see pic) just completely obliterates any work that went into making the beef or jus taste good.

 

The Original Chickie’s Beef

1801 S. Wolf Rd., Hillside; 708-449-1000

Chickie's

$6.00 for sandwich +.50 for sweet peppers + .50 for hot peppers

Total: $7.00

Bread: Gonnella

The Original Chickie’s was actually located at 28th and Pulaski in the Little Village neighborhood on the SW Side. It was opened in 1962 by Bob Bailey, who named it after his wife, who went by “Chickie.”  Bailey sold it to one of his employees, but the place eventually shut down. Bailey’s grandkids opened up this store in the western suburb of Hillside about two years ago, in the former Carm’s Beef stand. We hit this shop on Day 4 of The Crawl, shortly after they opened. The beef – moderately tender, sliced paper-thin, wasn’t quite fully dipped (a common problem among beef stands; you need to really clarify with a “half-dipped,” “spoon of juice,” “soaked”) and the real disappointment came in the pepper situation. The four strips of green pepper were ample, but the “hot” here meant only sliced jalapeños. When I asked the owner later about it, he said there is, indeed, celery mixed in among the jalapeños (as I remembered from the original stand on Pulaski) but for some reason the person making the sandwiches didn’t mix up the bowl enough before dipping their spoon in. Again, this theme of consistency arises frequently, as it did at Buona with the “juicy” request. Had the beef been exquisite, it might have moved the sandwich up a few notches, but the sad state of the “hot” peppers unfortunately moved it down. (Side note: amazing hand-cut fries I would stop in again to get on their own).

 

Dengeo’s

3301 W. Main St., Skokie; 847-677-7911

Dengeo's

$5.79 for sandwich, includes peppers

Bread: Gonnella

Started in Skokie in 1972, the Greek family that owns Dengeo’s also has a location in Buffalo Grove. Now before you say “hey, they’re Greek, what do they know about Italian beef?” Let me say that they ironically put more effort into their beef (they make it in-house, roasting, cooling and slicing it on-site) than they do with the gyros, which are purchased from an outside vendor. That said, my “beef, sweet, hot, juicy” arrived on a nice big oval plate, served open-faced, allowing me to see the wonderful (albeit purchased) giardiniera of carrots, sport peppers, celery and cauliflower. Four strips of green pepper were included as well. I thought the jus was exemplary, but so much of it overwhelmed the Gonnella, causing the hinge to disintegrate since it sat in the well of the oval plate, making the sandwich more of a knife-and-fork affair. Also, the beef was just plain tough; thinly-sliced but too chewy and not enough seasoning spread throughout the sandwich.

 

Dukes Drive-In

8115 S. Harlem Ave., Bridgeview; 708-599-0576

Dukes

$4.95 for sandwich, includes peppers

Bread: Gonnella

Opened in 1975, weekend nights during the summertime are when the Drive-In looks like a scene from “American Graffiti.” Lined with hot rods and fast cars, it’s a total throwback, and most of the customers get a beef. The beef here is HUGE, and a real deal for less than $5 including peppers, but here’s the problem: it’s not only too big, it’s also weakly seasoned. Mine came with three big pieces of green pepper, a couple of jalapeños sliced lengthwise with celery embedded with a few bits of red chili flake. Not only was the beef too unwieldy to eat, it had the oddest texture, bordering on rubbery. The sandwich was soaked alright, to the point where it just fell apart in my hands.

 

Fabulous Freddie’s Italian Eatery

701 W 31st St.; 312-808-0147

IMG_3077

$5.95 for a small sandwich ($7.95 for regular, $9.95 for large) + .55 for sweet peppers + .55 for giardiniera

Total: $7.05

Bread: Biondillo

Freddie’s is a machine. Still tucked into a corner spot on 31st and Union in Bridgeport, it’s so close to The Cell, you can imagine they held a wake the day Paul Konerko retired. They’ve updated the kitchen, churning out much more than just beef these days. I saw a pulled pork sandwich topped with onion rings while waiting for my “beef, sweet, hot, juicy,” and while I love that they use Biondillo bread, I now know why the only other place on this list that carries their bread – Riviera – doesn’t totally dunk theirs either (unless you ask): it just doesn’t hold together under the weight of the wet jus. My open-faced sandwich had almost an entire green pepper splayed across the top, in several strips, plus a giardiniera featuring bits of carrot, sport peppers, cauliflower and red pepper. The jus was full of flavor, actually better than the beef, which leaned too much to the chewy side, but I had to pick at it with a fork after two bites, since the whole mess just fell apart.

 

Frangella

11925 South 80th Avenue, Palos Park; 708-448-2598

Frangella

$5.99 for sandwich, includes peppers

Bread: D’Amato’s

This to-go only deli is stocked with a great selection of Italian groceries and a nice amount of homemade dishes in the case, such as arancini, sauces and pasta dishes. It’s easy to pick up dinner from here. The long deli case features the usual Boar’s Head products, but they also do Italian beef everyday. The D’Amato’s bread (among my favorites in town) holds up really well to the jus, and the giardiniera is fantastic: crunchy knobs of cauliflower and jalapeños mixed with habaneros and olives, swimming in oil and oregano; a few “sweet” green peppers are tucked into one side of the sandwich, ensuring a small taste with each bite. The beef is roasted about two hours in garlic and oregano, then cooled overnight. Sliced to-order, it’s reddish-pink inside, weighed to about a third of a pound, then bathed in the extra hot jus for only about a minute, which finishes cooking it. Their theory is by not letting the beef sit in the jus all day, it doesn’t get overcooked. I couldn’t figure out how it was possible that it would retain so much flavor, but I guess if you cook the right piece of meat the proper way, slice it the proper thickness and make a jus that has the requisite seasoning, a brief bath in that richness (combined with the flavors absorbed into the bread) beats a long steep in mediocrity.

 

Frannie’s Beef & Catering

4304 River Rd., Schiller Park; 847-678-7771

Frannie's

$5.25 includes peppers

Bread: Gonnella

The owner here is the nephew of Bob Bailey, former owner of the legendary Chickie’s in Little Village. I liked how the sandwich guy spooned some of the jus onto the inside of the bread before he stuffed it with shredded beef that had both excellent texture (soft, paper-thin shards) with a flavor-jammed gravy. I didn’t love the pepper situation, however. An all-green canvas of chopped bell peppers, celery and jalapenos resulted in bites that featured mostly just green pepper, resulting in an oddly vegetal-tasting bite with zero contrast. This was also one of the smallest sandwiches on the tour, and while I’m fine with that if the ratio works – I’m all for quality over quantity – I thought in this case, it seemed a tad light.

 

Freddy’s Pizza

1600 S. 61st Ave., Cicero; 708-863-9289

Freddy's

$5.99 for sandwich + .50 for sweet peppers + .35 for hot peppers

Total: $6.84

Bread: Turano

Old. School. Freddy’s always feels like it’s frozen in time, like one of those mom-and-pop joints in Queens or the Bronx. Not far from where Capone used to have a house in Cicero, the neighborhood has turned more Hispanic than Italian, but Freddy’s endures. The daily selection in the front case is tempting beyond belief. The day I went, they were trying out a new baked pasta dish called Timballo di Pasta, which we couldn’t stop raving about. The beef here is delicious. Covered with two strips of green pepper and two strips of red (that are actually sweet) their giardiniera is the best in Chicago: homemade each day with olives (!), carrots, sport peppers and celery, it adds just the right note of crunch and heat to this juicy, wet creation. While we thought it was juicy on the outside, it wasn’t totally soggy on the inside, which made it possible to pick up and set down without it falling apart. Frankly, I was surprised, since I’m not a huge Turano fan.

 

Jay’s Beef

4418 N. Narragansett, Harwood Heights; 708-867-6733

Jay's

$5.99 for sandwich + .70 sweet peppers + .70 hot peppers

Total: $7.39

Bread: Gonnella

They have locations in Wicker Park and Schiller Park, but the Mothership has always been at the corner of Montrose and Narragansett, in Harwood Heights, on the Northwestern cusp of the city. One friend in particular was raving about this place, as were several people on Facebook, who, I’m convinced, all grew up within a mile of the place. The request for a “beef, sweet, hot, juicy” arrived almost completely dry, and the peppers – two hunks of green, plus a homogenous medley of celery and sliced jalapeños dressed with chili flakes – offered little contrast to one of the toughest, chewiest beefs we had since Tony’s. To the people proclaiming Jay’s supremacy in Chicago, I ask this simple question: have you ever been to Homer Glen or Elmwood Park?

 

Joe Boston’s Italian Beef

2932 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago; 773-486-9536

Boston's Beef

$6.00 for sandwich +.50 for sweet peppers +.50 for hot peppers

Total: $7.00

Bread: Gonnella

In business since 1949, this little joint occupying a triangular wedge near the Metra Line tracks does some serious beef. Mine arrived steaming hot, smooshed into a a soggy Gonnella loaf oozing with oregano and spices; the beef was as shredded and tender as Scatchell’s, but with more umami/savoriness like at Buona. Finally, someone besides Johnnie’s goes to the trouble of slicing their green peppers into thin, bite-sized shards, draping them just so, then piling on the giardiniera of celery, sport peppers and carrots, dressed in a spicy oil that lingered for exactly five minutes on my tongue after I was done eating. Bravo.

 

Johnnie’s

7500 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park; 708-452-6000

Johnnie's

$4.32 for sandwich + .37 for sweet peppers + .37 for hot peppers

Total: $5.06

Bread: Gonnella

Opened in 1961, the legendary store in Elmwood Park typically has a line snaking out the side, especially in the summertime. On a chilly weekday, I walked right in and got the usual, with a small lemon ice (a must). The thing Johnnie’s does that no one else bothers to is to beautifully space the mixture of finely-chopped sweet – green bell peppers and onions sprinkled with oregano – evenly, throughout the sandwich; a hot giardiniera of carrots, sport peppers and cauliflower is arranged over a messy, juicy, thinly-sliced, perfectly seasoned beef sandwich, containing that perfect ratio of bread to beef to peppers. I would be happy dipping a spoon into the jus and calling it a day. You know you’re in for a pleasurable experience when you unwrap your meaty gift on the counter, and the fat/grease soaks through the paper. But that’s what the Italian lemonade (ice) is for – the sweet creaminess against the fatty richness and mild heat is one of life’s great culinary combos.

 

Luke’s Italian Beef

215 W. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago; 312-939-4204

Luke's

$5.95 for sandwich + .45 sweet peppers + .45 hot peppers

Total: $6.85

Bread: Gonnella

This was, frankly, a surprise to me. My friend Andres, who came along on Day 2 of The Crawl, suggested it. Full of tourists on a Saturday afternoon, looking for deep dish and a beef, but taking all day to figure out how to order one, I asked for a “beef, sweet, hot, juicy” and unfurled one of the larger sandwiches on the quest. There was practically an entire green pepper (meh), steamed, intact, plus a giardiniera of feisty sport peppers and chopped celery seasoned with oregano. The sandwich was plenty big enough to share (I brought along an 8” serrated knife to make splitting easy), and the half I had was properly wet, messy, with the shredded, seasoned beef that lingered a few seconds on my palate after devouring each bite. I loved how the butcher paper was loaded with spices and drippings as I ate (kind of like Johnnie’s), and yet each bite wasn’t as hot as, say, Al’s or Novi’s, which could overwhelm your mouth.

 

Mama D’s

12420 S. Archer Ave., Lemont; 630-243-1212

IMG_3079

$4.95 (for 6″ sandwich) + .50 sweet peppers + .50 hot peppers – but if you get both, they only charge .50 extra

Total: $5.45

Bread: Mazzeo’s

The family behind Mama D’s was relentless. Every time I posted a picture of a beef from somewhere, they would challenge, dare and plead with me to stop in to try theirs. It was hard to ignore. My visit came literally at the end of my Crawl. After eating my fourth or fifth of the day at Freddie’s in Bridgeport, I plugged the address into Google Maps: 25 miles and some 44 minutes away in the sleepy ‘burb of Lemont, this no frills diner in a strip mall is decorated with ‘80s movie posters and can rightly be proud of their Italian beef. Well-trimmed, thinly-sliced beef is jammed into Mazzeo’s loaves (only one other spot on this list carries this Elmwood Park bakery’s bread) covered in a sweet-hot garden of thinly-sliced green bell peppers and an assertive but not-too-overpowering giardiniera (homemade) containing carrot matchsticks, sport peppers, cauliflower and celery. The sandwich is properly juicy, and the bread soaks up all of that wonderful, aromatic jus. The bonus? Having the aroma of the garlic and oregano-scented jus linger on my fingers for the long ride home.

 

Michael’s Beef House

6747 W. North Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; 708-848-8080

$5.49 for sandwich +.39 for sweet peppers + .39 for hot peppers

Bread: Mazzeo Baking (Elmwood Park)

Michael's

A lot of people chimed in when they saw I was doing a North Ave./Harlem Ave. run, and I’ll admit, the first few times I drove by Michael’s I was tempted to pull over, but for some reason, my visit came near the end of The Crawl. Like Novi’s they get their bread from Mazzeo’s, which is admirable, but the beef here just didn’t have a lot of flavor (despite being made in-house). That was odd, because the jus had quite a bit of flavor, and the giardiniera – replete with carrots, celery and sport peppers, added quite a welcome punch, despite the soggy, ineffective  hunks of bell peppers. I would have been happy to eat a debris sandwich, made from the drippings, the gravy and the hot peppers, but sadly, the beef sank it.

 

Mr. Beef & Pizza

3917 N. Harlem Ave., Chicago; 773-283-7444

Mr. Beef Harlem

$5.50 for sandwich + .50 sweet peppers + .50 hot peppers

Total: $6.50

Bread: Gonnella

When I walked in, I saw the pics of Jay Leno and friends, so I figured this was connected to the Mr. Beef on Orleans, since they have lots of pics of the celeb. When I asked, the surly dude behind the counter said “Nope.” When I asked what was the difference, he replied, “we’re the one you go back to.” (There is NO connection between them). If you need some electrical work or construction, just come here at lunchtime to see all of the contractors stuffing their faces with beautifully cooked beef, almost disintegrated in a richly-flavored jus brimming with oregano and garlic. Sport peppers and celery are flecked with chili flakes for ample heat, while three big pieces of cooked green pepper add absolutely nothing to this sandwich. Sure, I would go back here (but I’d also go back to the other two Mr. Beefs as well).

 

Mr. Beef on Orleans

666 N. Orleans St., Chicago; 312-337-8500

Mr. Beef Orleans

$7.00 for sandwich, includes peppers

Bread: Turano

This is another one of the legendary Founding Fathers in Chicago, having made the rounds on national TV and being BFFs with the likes of Joe Mantegna and Jay Leno. I do think one of the reasons for this is that when national TV shows/hosts come to town, they stay nearby and they don’t have time to schlep anywhere. Case in point: when I was a guest on “Food Wars” on the Travel Channel, I told the producers they had to go to Johnnie’s. They said there were tight on time, so Al’s on Taylor and Mr. Beef on Orleans were going to have to do. I digress.  They still use top sirloin here, roasting in-house, cooling, then slicing extremely thin each day and letting it bathe in the richly-flavored jus – which was among my favorites in town (I had written down “yum” in my notebook). My sandwich arrived with a strip of bell pepper and a hot giardiniera featuring celery flecked with chili flakes and sport peppers.  They realize that you can’t let the beef sit too long in the jus, on the steam table, otherwise it will cook too much and get tough – a sign of experience. But my problem here was the size of the sandwich. Just too skimpy, and easily below the 4 oz. standard they shoot for. When I asked the owner about it later, he told me the guy who works on Saturdays tends to be more inconsistent than the weekday guy. “Come back during the week when he’s working here, and I promise it’ll be a little bigger; we’re still working with our weekend guy,” he told me. I think consistency is a huge issue in the beef community, as I had the same problem with a less-than-juicy beef at Buona, in Hillside: Mr. Buonavolanto himself (via his publicist) invited me back to the Berwyn location anytime to personally make me a “properly dipped beef” after he saw my Instagram post. (I didn’t take him up on it). But therein lies the conundrum: a great beef joint has to have a consistently great beef sandwich. UPDATE: Christopher Zucchero, the owner of Mr. Beef on Orleans, wrote to me yesterday, setting the record straight: “The Carl you mentioned, who owns the one in Homer Glen, used to work here when my father purchased it from his uncle, Tony Ouzzato.  It was actually called the Cozy Kitchen and it really was owned by the Scala family of the famed Scala Meat Packing Co.  The Scala’s are cousins to Carl B. and Tony O. When my father purchased it, he chucked their recipe, began using his own, and changed the name. That was in 1977 not 1980. Once again no familial connection.  Mr Beef on Orleans was founded by my father, Joe Zucchero.  It’s a completely different restaurant.”

 

Nottoli Italian Foods

5025 N. Harlem Ave.; 773-631-0662

Nottoli

$6.50 includes peppers

Bread: D’Amato’s

They’ve been making sausage and selling Italian food to the neighborhood since 1947, so I have to give this family-run operation a lot of credit for the great sandwiches, namely the meatball, that they produce without fail. The beef is another matter. First of all, there was way too much beef (see also: Dukes). Even if I loved the beef, there’s a limit to what works in terms of beef, pepper, bread ratio. This one was way out of whack. I didn’t love seeing the deli worker slice the roast beef behind the counter then give it a brief bath – the result was a weakly seasoned sandwich. There were a few green peppers, some mildly hot sport peppers with carrots and celery as well, but even the fine D’Amato’s bread, normally a stalwart, couldn’t contain the over abundance of beef jammed into it, and fell apart into a soggy mess #BrokenHinge.

 

Novi’s Beef

6746 Ogden Ave., Berwyn; 708-749-0895

Novi's

$6.15 for sandwich, includes peppers

Bread: Mazzeo Baking (Elmwood Park)

Since 1966, Novi’s has been to Berwyn what Paradise Pup is to Des Plaines and Poochie’s is to Skokie: dat joint you go to to get a dog, a beef, a shake, what have you, and get out for under $10. I can appreciate the lore and the significance a place like this plays in its community. But I can’t recommend their beef (ironically, the day I was there, they had signs everywhere – on the big board outside, behind the counter – that “Chicago’s Best” was going to be featuring them. What, exactly, is the criteria for getting on that show?) The hot peppers here come in a tiny plastic container to spread as you wish, but it barely covers the length of the sandwich. It’s essentially a deep red blend of finely-ground celery and chili oil. The “sweets” here are two to three chunks of green pepper, and the beef is just plain dry.  You can see in the picture, despite the fact the bread is wet on the outside, the inside is juiceless and there’s nothing oozing off of it. It’s certainly a big sandwich, but take a bite: the hot chili oil completely overwhelms your mouth, and all you taste is hot oil on top of dry beef. I made a remark in my Beefee’s synopsis about not taking any advice on where to eat from Fox News; you can add WGN/CLTV to that list now too.

 

The Original Mr. Beef

12320 W. 143rd Street, Homer Glen; 708-645-0456

Mr. Beef Homer Glen

$6.50 for sandwich + .40 for sweet peppers + .40 for hot peppers

Total: $7.30

Bread: Liborio Bread (River Grove)

In a way, the Mr. Beef saga in Chicago is like the bizarre twists and turns of the Mueller clan in Austin. A family business (Mr. Beef on Orleans) starts in 1963 by Carl Bonavolanto Jr. and Tony Ozzauto, this, according to owner Carl Bonavolanto III. Years pass, they sell out in 1980, but then success ensues and a cult following is born. Things change on Orleans, the name is used elsewhere (Mr. Beef & Pizza on Harlem) but Carl Bonavolanto III ends up in Will County of all places, planting his flag with the original recipe. A great story is one thing, but all I care about is taste, and The Original Mr. Beef delivers on all fronts: paper-thin beef – trimmed of all fat and gristle – suffused with the richness of its own fat from the drippings that are loaded with garlic; an amalgam of serrano peppers, crunchy celery and black pepper in a giardiniera that offers the slightest amount of heat, pairing extremely well with the surprising addition of red or yellow bell peppers that are actually sweet. Stuffed into sturdy, flavorful Liborio loaves that no one else in the region seems to use, it’s a juicy, hot, beefy mess that I couldn’t put down, even after I had already nibbled on three beefs previously that day. UPDATE: Christopher Zucchero, the owner of Mr. Beef on Orleans, wrote to me yesterday, setting the record straight: “The Carl you mentioned, who owns the one in Homer Glen, used to work here when my father purchased it from his uncle, Tony Ouzzato.  It was actually called the Cozy Kitchen and it really was owned by the Scala family of the famed Scala Meat Packing Co.  The Scala’s are cousins to Carl B. and Tony O. When my father purchased it, he chucked their recipe, began using his own, and changed the name. That was in 1977 not 1980. Once again no familial connection.  Mr Beef on Orleans was founded by my father, Joe Zucchero.  It’s a completely different restaurant.”

 

Patio

1503 W. Taylor St., Chicago; 312-829-0454

Patio

$4.90 for sandwich, includes peppers

Bread: Gonnella

Since 1948, the Patio has been a mainstay in the old ‘hood, part of the original Little Italy. The dogs are all Vienna Beef and even though the sign out front says Greco & Sons in Wisconsin, they only make the sausage, not the beef, which is sourced elsewhere. I feel bad for the people who cling, ever so stubbornly, to the idea that this is among the best beefs in Chicago. It is the best bargain, that’s for sure, but the five thin slices of green pepper and “giardiniera” of celery and chili flakes did little to improve upon a thinly-sliced beef that had plenty of connective tissue/fat on it; the fact the beef just sits in the jus all afternoon probably doesn’t help, as my sandwich turned out to be pretty chewy.

 

Pop’s Italian Beef & Sausage

10337 S. Kedzie Ave., Chicago; 773-239-1243

Pop's

$4.99 for sandwich, no extra charge for peppers

Bread: Michelle Baking (Franklin Park)

I had no idea there were 14 locations throughout the region, but this location, in the Evergreen Park/Mount Greenwood area on the far South Side, was, to my knowledge, the mothership. After I placed my usual order of “beef, sweet, hot, juicy” they repeated it back “beef, sweet, hot, wet” which I liked. The sandwich arrived with three strips of green pepper and a giardiniera containing just celery and thinly-sliced jalapeños showered with red pepper flakes (I noticed a theme among beef joints down South that they took a more spartan approach to giardiniera, although they did offer a milder version with the usual suspects of carrots and cauliflower upon request). The jus had a fortifying, beefy flavor and the beef was finely shredded; the bun was soaked but intact, although it had an odd chew to it and we both thought the beef could have been more tender; it tended to have the same, semi-tough texture as Jay’s and Tony’s.

 

Portillo’s

100 W. Ontario St.; 312-587-8910

Portillo's

Menu they hand you while waiting in line and online lists sandwich as $5.45, but they’ve raised the price to $5.69 for a sandwich, probably as a result of their being sold to an investment group recently +.60 sweet peppers + .60 hot peppers

Total: $6.89

Bread: Turano

With 38 locations – 33 of which are in Illinois – Portillo’s has become more of a theme park than a true “joint.” Each location has a theme, such as “30s Prohibition” or “50s and 60s Retro” and I couldn’t help but feel, as I waited in a snaking line at the Ontario location, that I was in a sort of Disneyland for people who wanted to eat Chicago-style food, but didn’t actually want to travel anywhere in Chicago that wasn’t more than 10 minutes from their hotel. They use one of my least favorite breads, but they certainly know how to make beef. The texture was nice and soft, and the “juicy” lived up to its billing – my sandwich was totally wet, allowing me to taste the oregano in every soggy bite. There were two huge slices of green pepper, steamed like most and not worth the .60 upcharge, but the giardiniera of carrots, sport peppers, celery and cauliflower saved it. If you don’t have a car and it’s the most convenient to you in Batavia, Bolingbrook, Crystal Lake, etc., then this is a fine sandwich, but not in my top 10 overall. (Side note: don’t waste the calories on the overrated chocolate cake; better to get it mixed into a shake).

 

Riviera Imported Italian Foods

3220 N. Harlem Ave.; 773-637-4252

Riviera

$5.50 (includes peppers)

Bread: Biondillo

This is one of the most charming little Italian groceries I’ve ever shopped in. The family is as cute as a new Vespa and they keep the aisles in immaculate shape. Known for their subs and their homemade Barese-style sausages, they also make beefs. I liked how they sliced them thin, and the beef, which takes six hours to make, had quite a bit of flavor from the garlicky jus; tucked into some of the best bread on this quest, I would have preferred it wetter, but they opted to serve it a little drier, and then gladly gave me extra jus on the side. Carrots, celery and sport peppers made up a fine giardiniera, and even the “sweet” pepper, a chopped up green, wasn’t half bad. This was more of a French dip than an Italian beef, though.

 

Scatchell’s Beef & Pizza

4700 W. Cermak Rd., Cicero; 708-656-0911

Scatchell's

$5.35 for sandwich + .50 for sweet and hot peppers

Total: $5.85

Bread: Gonnella

Stubby and Eddie Scatchell opened their eponymous joint in Cicero in 1953. The neighborhood has changed quite a bit – there are a lot more taquerias and Mexican grocery stores today – but the basic sandwich hasn’t changed much. First off, it’s huge; mine was stuffed with finely shredded/shaved beef that was easy to chew, along with three green peppers and a nice hot mix of celery and red chili flakes to give each bite some crunch. The bread was thoroughly soaked, and my friend remarked that once you pick this sandwich up, you’re committed, because once you set it down, it will disintegrate. We thought the beef lacked the umami-like savoriness of a Buona, but this baby, consumed at the counter facing Cermak, was a joy to eat. (Side note: the lemon ice is smooth and creamy, like Johnnie’s, but not quite as good).

 

Serrelli’s Finer Foods

6458 W. North Ave.; 877-385-2333

Serrelli's

$5.98 includes peppers

Bread: Turano

I was a sucker for the “Home of the Original Italian Beef” sign out front, so I pulled my car over, practically into a snow bank, so I could run inside and try one of their “famous Italian roast beef sandwiches.” They do sell quite a lot of it, by the pound, in plastic containers, along with the gravy on the side. But I had to teach the guy making the sandwich what a “sweet, hot, juicy” meant – he initially left off the hot giardiniera – and when I walked outside to eat it on my trunk, since there’s no seating, I was met with a tougher-than-acceptable beef sandwich with very little seasoning from the jus. Probably because when I saw them make it, I noticed they don’t place the beef into the jus until an order comes in, and even then, it’s only for a few seconds. The cauliflower-sport pepper giardiniera is fine, but unfortunately, the beef is far too chewy.

 

Tony’s

7007 S. Pulaski Rd., Chicago; 773-284-6787

Tony's

$5.25 for sandwich + .35 for hot peppers (arrive on the side)

Total: $5.60

Bread: Gonnella

With locations in Palos Park and the Southwest Side, there was a lot of chatter about Tony’s while I was running around the city on Day 1 of The Crawl. What a huge disappointment. This was the first stop on Day 3, and so we were there relatively early in the day, before the lunch rush. Not only was the bun barely dipped, but the beef turned out to be chewy, bordering on tough, with just average seasoning. The giardiniera of carrots, sport peppers, chili flakes and celery arrived in the smallest plastic cup possible (see picture), making it difficult to cover an entire sandwich; the three green pepper slices added little, if anything in the way of sweetness. The sandwich is big, by the way, but I would have gladly taken half the amount for a beef that was actually tender and flavorful.

99 Comments

  1. Ryan H

    March 10, 2015 at 8:57 am

    What a comprehensive list, I will be busy for the next 31 days. I have a lot of work to do.

    • Steve Dolinsky

      March 10, 2015 at 9:32 am

      Glad to hear you are into it Ryan. Please don’t try to eat every bite of every one of them. Actually, you probably won’t want to.

      • Dave Lukes

        March 15, 2016 at 7:32 pm

        Steve if you ever have a chance to visit “Beefy’s @ 5749 s. Harlem Ave Chicago. I was mouthwatering while reading your list and simply had to go out and get a “good” beef!Their sandwich would not dissapoint you! The beef has no fat/gristle and it practicaly melts in your mouth! Bread nice and wet but remained “hinged.” Just GREAT and consistant…

        • Steve Dolinsky

          March 16, 2016 at 8:19 am

          Thanks for the recommendation!

        • RUSSELL KROLL

          May 18, 2016 at 8:01 am

          i concur on Beefy’s. i lived just south of them on 63rd street and, i remember when they first opened. all their food is great!

      • Steve Fist

        July 15, 2016 at 2:11 pm

        Never waste a beef. Ever.

  2. Felix Stankevicius

    March 10, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Chickies location on 28th and Pulaski is not The Back of the Yards, not even close.

    • Steve Dolinsky

      March 10, 2015 at 9:31 am

      You’re right. It’s Little Village. Fixed!

  3. Ashley Franklin

    March 10, 2015 at 10:04 am

    What about Enzo’s in Chicago Heights?

    • Sinatra Marcus McGee

      March 10, 2015 at 11:24 am

      Yes! Enzo’s for sure!

  4. Katie

    March 10, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Those might be good but they will never in a lifetime compare to the original carm’s beef (not related to the Polk st. Carms) that was on Cicero ave, wolf Rd. In hillside,etc. you never appriciate what u have until it’s gone! RIP carms beef! Please please bring carms beef back! Amen! :(

    • julio

      June 25, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      have to agree on Carms on Cicero and 5th. Been gone a long time though

    • Leslie Coker

      March 16, 2017 at 6:33 am

      Amen! The spices and oil (or fat) they had in the au jus was unique to any other beef I’ve had. The meat was never dry or overcooked. But it was definitely the spices!

  5. Steve H

    March 10, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    A little surprised that Paul’s Pizza in Westchester did not make it on this list. To me this is better than most of the places on this list. And yes I have been to most of these

    • Dex

      March 11, 2015 at 11:48 pm

      I totally agree – Paul’s is my favorite beef sandwich and their sweet peppers are perfect – not too hard, not to soft and marinated just right – when family comes in from out of town and want a beef sandwich Paul’s is where I take them.

    • Andy M

      March 16, 2015 at 1:50 am

      Paul’s in Westchester is a big beef that’s reasonably priced, It does not belong on this list and it doesn’t belong in the top 50 If you ask me, The bread is rarely good and the juice is watered down, most places on this list have juice you could drink by itself and enjoy.

      • fezzy

        October 28, 2015 at 4:34 pm

        yep

  6. C Packard

    March 10, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    PEPINO’S originally in Calumet City, now in NW Indiana. Big beef sandwiches, homemade Gardinera on garlic bread. Nothing beats it!

    • Michelle Trayne

      March 10, 2015 at 5:25 pm

      Agreed on Pepinos. I’ve never had giardiniera fresh like that anywhere else.

  7. Robin

    March 10, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    We love MaMa Ds too!!!

  8. Jessica Ciannamea

    March 10, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Steve–we’re sad to see Capri’s Pizza on 88th and Commercial didn’t make the list. We’re known for our HOMEMADE Italian Beef and sausage. We’ve been here since 1955 and would love to invite you to come try our food!

    Also–Pop’s? Really?

    • Steve Dolinsky

      March 10, 2015 at 11:18 pm

      Where were you over the past month? I’ve been tweeting, blogging, Instagramming and posting on Facebook; I’ve been hashtagging under #ChicagoItalianBeefCrawl; I started with 20, then expanded to 31 due to all of the comments pouring in. Had you suggested it back then, I would have gladly checked it out.

      • Jessica Ciannamea

        March 11, 2015 at 4:24 pm

        Ahhh, damn. I’ll get on it for next time. However, if you decide to do a BROASTED CHICKEN crawl, keep us in mind!

  9. Susan Braddy-Suhr

    March 10, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    I hope you make it out to Beef Shack in St Charles..on garlic is yummy!

    • Steve

      March 11, 2015 at 6:25 am

      It’s good but, different than the traditional Itl Beef taste.

  10. Joe

    March 10, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    You clearly don’t know your way around a beef sandwich!! Glad you put a lot of thought into this!

  11. Hercules

    March 10, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    Beef Shack in either St. Charles or Schaumburg needs to be on this list. Great sized beef, great flavor, and available on either standard or garlic bread. One of the best beefs that I have had.

  12. Tina

    March 10, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    I’m shocked Mickey’s in Bellwood was not on the list.

  13. shawn O

    March 10, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    uhhhh wheres ricobene’s ??? coco’s ????

  14. Sebastian

    March 10, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    I just wanted to applaud you for saying that Mario’s Italian lemon ice comment. I have been saying this for years, but people try to make it this great joy in life. Well not for me!!

  15. Bunny Chavez

    March 10, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Try Mickeys on Mannheim in Bellwood.Tender and juicy been there for years
    or try Augistinos in carol stream or wheaton on Schmale very good

  16. Laurie Murray

    March 11, 2015 at 12:05 am

    Novi’s in Berwyn is the best!!!

    • Steve Dolinsky

      March 11, 2015 at 10:08 am

      I’m so sorry, but it’s not.

    • Andy M

      March 16, 2015 at 1:53 am

      Novi’s is very inconsistent, and even when they’re on they’re not that great.

  17. Jessica

    March 11, 2015 at 9:59 am

    Roma’s in NW Chicago should have been on here. Everyone knows that.

    • Susan3618

      March 12, 2015 at 11:06 pm

      I agree. Roma’s should have made this list.

  18. Mike Gebert

    March 11, 2015 at 10:09 am

    One thing I learned going to places like Serrelli’s and Nottoli’s is that the places that cut it fresh, it just doesn’t spend enough time in the jus to get the right texture. Serrelli’s has this huge rep in its area but that’s from people who bought tubs of beef and cooked it at home– apparently that’s what you do for a party in that area instead of ordering pizza– so it did have enough time to get warmed properly. I thought Nottoli’s was pretty good anyway, though (and it’s a great little shop, I spent ten minutes talking pizza stones with the guy and another customer when I went).

    I know you were focusing on beef, not combos, but I’ll stand up for one place– Duke’s. I agree that the beef alone is not the most exciting, but they cook the sausages over charcoal, like Johnnie’s or Al’s on Taylor, and the combo is quite good.

    Anyway, great series, even if I knew most of the places, you got some info down about ownership and heritage in a lot of cases that I’ve never seen before (but I’m sure you’ll be seeing again in other peoples’ lists!)

    • Steve Dolinsky

      March 11, 2015 at 10:17 am

      Coming from you, sir, that is a great honor, thanks.
      Noted on the sausage/combo at Duke’s and I completely agree re: Serrelli’s – most of the business is to go, and thus, more likely to be successful at home.

  19. LaRon Williams

    March 11, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Albinos beef on Roosevelt in Cicero is also delicious

  20. Robert Blasko

    March 11, 2015 at 11:24 am

    I used to own a stand in Hoffman Estates about 20 yrs. ago called Savianos. All I ever used back then was Liborios bread, Scala beef, and real Giardeneira made with olive oil. I was proud of the sandwich I served, but there was another place I would always recommend in the city, The Original Roma’s. on Milwaaukee ave. just south of Devon. We never had the notoriety of a Portillo’s (which I thought we were much better than), but I had a good following and so did Roma’s. I’m sure if we were still around you would have like our sandwich.

  21. Lisa

    March 11, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Pete’s Red Hots in Berwyn gets my vote. Yummy!

    • Steve Kovats

      March 12, 2015 at 8:58 am

      That would be Oak Park, young lady.

  22. brett

    March 11, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Your omission of Paul’s Pizza is grave, and duly noted… amateur.

  23. David

    March 11, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    how do you not hit up Herms Palace in Skokie?! They also make their own beef and have a different spin on the tasty yet hot Giardiniera. Go try Herms and tell me “Cousin David” sent ya!

  24. James Tooke

    March 11, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    I liked your review… I travel the city as a salesman…grew up in Berwyn …Italian beef Meca…ni liked Novi’s back in the 70′s…after they changed hands and fries they went down hill .. Over cooked and tough.. Skimpy on the hot Giardinara… You hit a home run with Johnnies… Best so far..you may want to try MrA’s in Crystal Lake… They have beefs similar to Late Paul Bunyons of Cicero…guy the the guy holding the big hot dog in front… Owner sold out and is a taco stand now…was a. Favorite.. Like you said you get used to what you grew up with …however there are standards for a good beef… I like how you separated the bread.. It is very important.. I am a Gonnella man…thanks for the great article on 32 places.

  25. Rick

    March 11, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    Time and time again I see lists about Italian beef sandwiches and always left off these lists is Max’s. Located on the North side 9f the city. Western and Ardmore just south of Peterson. Try it once and you will see

    • Steve Dolinsky

      March 11, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      Closed last year!

  26. David Davis

    March 11, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    You have to try the Beef at Boobys on Milwaukee Ave. in Niles,Il

  27. PeckishinPilsen

    March 11, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    Steve, You are truly doing the Lord’s work. The sacrifices you make for us are inspirational.

  28. Eric G

    March 11, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Rubinos in tinley park a must try!huge sandwich at a reasonable price they were on Chicago’s best proudly family owned

  29. Dave

    March 11, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    i will be the third to suggest Mickeys in Bellwood as one of the top beefs in the area. My top beef in Chicago is Beef Villa, in Elgin (they have four location).

  30. Darrell

    March 11, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Steve, if ever out in Mokena try Annies Cucina on Front street for a beef. Look at yelps reviews first and see what people say.

  31. Mo

    March 11, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    You should try Pete’s Red hot in Oak park. They have the best Italian beef.

  32. Steve Kovats

    March 12, 2015 at 8:55 am

    You should check out the beef at Pete’s Hot Dogs & Gyros at the NW corner of Ridgeland and Roosevelt in Oak Park. It blows away Buona (a half mile west on Roosevelt), and is more consistently great than Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood. I’ve lived in Oak Parkl for 25-years, and discovered Pete’s several years before I moved here.

  33. Mike M

    March 12, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    finally someone that knows what he is talking about. Sick of these outsiders that think they know Italian beef. I have worked for Gonnella foe over 30 years and I do know Italian beef. I do believe that some great places are better than they preformed that day( Chickies and Patio) but respect your reviews.Romas on Cicero was a notable omission. I haven’t been there recently but when Ronny owned it, it was as good as it gets.Great job

    • Steve Dolinsky

      March 12, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      Thank you sir!

  34. mike villarreal

    March 13, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    We invite you come and try our awesome italian beef. We are “foodies” ourselves and put our food up against all our competitors. Any challenge, any day.

    thank you
    mike
    630-559-6288

  35. Jimmy Boy

    March 13, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Scatchell’s is my all-time favorite seeing as my early, formative years were spent a block away. You said it perfectly, once you pick it up and start you are committed! I’m also in agreeance with you regarding Novi’s; I’ve never understood what the big deal was about their beef. It IS very DRY! Good job on the list!

  36. Big D

    March 14, 2015 at 12:15 am

    Steve,

    I agree with most of your list, especially the ones in the Cicero/Berwyn area since I grew up there and thus know a good beef when I taste one. Now, I had just found out about the list after seeing your HH segment on the news (I’m not a big social media person per se) but just had to mention this other gem of a place in the suburbs that I was surprised didn’t make the list, and that place is Augustine’s in Carol Stream & West Chicago. I hope you get a chance to try them someday, I am confident after you do, you’ll be adding them to your list, they definitely belong there!

  37. Kathy

    March 14, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Don’s Hot Dogs on 178th & Wolf Rd. in Orland Park has really good Italian Beef. Reasonably priced also.

  38. Janine T

    March 15, 2015 at 12:20 am

    Sounds like the guy on New
    Orleans is a sore loser! Maybe he should give The Original Mr Beef, the vintage sign since he chucked an awesome family recipe & a great family tradition, just to set the record straight, I used to make and salt the fries when my uncles owned the Mr. Beef on Orleans!
    Steve you did an awesome job honoring my cousin Carl, my Mom was the one in the picture! Carl has kept a family tradition and has made his Dad & Uncle Tony proud! We are all proud!

  39. Andy M

    March 16, 2015 at 2:06 am

    This is a great list, I’m dieting until Sunday when I head to Vegas for the Pizza Expo, but I can’t wait to try a few of these I forgot about and a few I never heard of when I get back, Not sure if you ever heard of Margie’s on Cicero & Division but my dad turned me on to them many years ago, Their beef is right up there with the best of them, Thanks for sending me to bed hungry, you did your job well.

  40. A Harris

    March 16, 2015 at 8:16 am

    One of my favorites for beef is The Dugout in Burbank. Its a small family owned business but I love their beef sandwiches!!

  41. William H

    March 16, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Hi Steve. Regarding Pop’s, I believe that the Palos Heights location (127th and Harlem) is the original and not the one in Mt. Greenwood. It’s been there since 1980 because this week there are 35th anniversary daily specials. I’m glad to see that Pop’s made the list because I always bring my non-Chicago friends there for great Chicago beef sandwiches. I’ve also heard that the Palos location has the best beef, perhaps because it’s the original.-WH

  42. Paul D

    March 19, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    we simply love Dukes, they make a great beef and at this time pepper and egg! Never to much beef

  43. william

    May 27, 2015 at 10:55 am

    You left off one of the top 3 in the state. Teddy’s Redhot’s beefs are by far my favorite. Do your research next time.

  44. Nick S

    May 31, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    The original Mr.Beef in Homer Glen makes one of the best beefs in my opinion. Glad to see you gave them some well deserved recognition.
    I’m somewhat surprised to hear you say their giardiniera offers just a slight amount of heat. The one time I ordered my beef hot from there I couldn’t even finish it in one sitting because it was so hot. I wonder if I just got an extremely hot batch of giardinera? Maybe I’ll try it again next time.

  45. TY

    June 10, 2015 at 11:23 am

    Damenzo’s???? Was eager to hear your comments on their beefs!!?

    • Steve Dolinsky

      June 10, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      Never heard of Damenzo’s.

  46. David Dukes

    September 1, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Growing up in Cicero, Little Village, and the western ‘burbs, I’ve eaten at a LOT of these joints, and worked at a few. For meat flavor, Portillo’s has it locked…but they’re cheap on the meat. Mr. Beefs…fughetaboutit! Bomb sandwich every time. Johnny’s is good, chickies is good (we used to get their pizza pockets at lunch from school) Nova’s had the cheap gravy breads (.75), but I gotta disagree with this guy on the giardinera. I LOOOVE Carms beef hot celery. I make it myself at home today (matter of fact, there’s oil on the plate next to me, from my sandwich at lunch) I can’t get enough of the stuff…minced in tuna, chicken salad, in ramen soup…sure, I got a half dozen jars of the giardinera in my zombie ‘pocalypse stash, but I literally think I would die if I ran out of hot celery. Buona beef ALWAYS served me dry meat. My brother swears by it, but he has to admit that Portillo’s has the flavor Crown Locked! That juice in the bottom of the paper…yep, I drink it. Whatevah…I had a joint here in Seattle for 2 years, had lines out the door, too bad I had to close because of a COMPLEX REMODEL. But hold on Seattle, I’ll be back. DA BEARS!

    • Steve Dolinsky

      September 1, 2015 at 3:02 pm

      This comment is SO Chicago. Love it!

  47. Ken Bourassa

    September 6, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    I lived in the Chicago area most of my life, enjoying the Beef sandwich. Now I live in Montana and order from Portillos at least once a year. Are there any other Italian Beef makers out there who ship. Portillos comes in a freezer package complete with everything needed to make the sandwich

    • Steve Dolinsky

      September 7, 2015 at 9:17 am

      There is a service called Taste of Chicago that ships but I think they actually contract with Portillo’s.

  48. thelma

    September 11, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    There used to be a Margies Beef place on Chicago Ave that was great, but I dont think its there anymore, live in AZ now, so not sure. Got my wedding beef from the guy on north ave with the take out 32 years ago, not sure if same place. Would like to order some shipped to AZ, is it the same place your were talking about, kind of like a small grocery store?

    • Steve Dolinsky

      September 11, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      Doesn’t sound familiar. I think only Portillo’s ships now.

  49. bill

    September 13, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    Pops on kedzie is great and you say Dukes has too much beef..stugot!

  50. Brenda

    October 1, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    This list is awesome. If it didn’t include Luke’s, Scatchell’s, Portillo’s, and Patio I would even consider it worth reading.

  51. Paul

    October 29, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Wanted to take my sons to my old neighborhood, Gladstone Park and to my dismay Roma’s on Milwaukee near Raven was shuttered. But I’ve been to many on this list…beautiful.

  52. plasterer bristol

    November 10, 2015 at 3:14 am

    This looks and sounds amazing, Thanks for sharing this.

    Simon

  53. Ken

    December 6, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Steve,
    No doubt you have put a lot of work into this. Italian Beef is Synonymous with Chicago (as well as Hot Dogs and Stuffed Pizza). It is very difficult to try them all. However, you should try Herm’s Palace in Skokie. Herm’s homemade beef is one of the best that I have ever had and has been around for 45+ years.

    I look forward to your updated 2016 list.

  54. Jim Polaski

    May 17, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Hi Steve,

    I was going to Mr. Beef on Orleans every time I was at Helix across the street. They used Gonella bread and Scala’s Beef which was kitty-corner across Huron.

    So, what happened to Scala’s? I would see their beef with juice in the grocery and bought it. Are they still around?

    • Steve Dolinsky

      May 18, 2016 at 7:45 am

      Scala’s went out of business awhile ago. They had all kinds of management problems I heard.

  55. Rose Lewis

    May 17, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    You did a really wonderful job on this “crawl” and I like the fact you included the prices … But it looks like so many subs are different sizes, I wish you might have included that in all this great info. I know it would be hard to travel with a ruler … But you did bring a serrated knife. Really a great article … Thanks!

    • Steve Dolinsky

      May 18, 2016 at 7:46 am

      Thanks! They do vary in size, but I tried to mention that in the roundup. I would say they’re all within an inch or two though.

  56. JD

    May 18, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    I enjoyed reading your take on all the great beefs in Chicago, and have enjoyed many of the same. I’m curious though, that every time you knocked Turano bread, you also spoke of how well the bread held the sandwich together? I switched from Gonnella to Turano for beefs and juicy italian sausage at home for the same reason you mentioned, the bread holds the sandwich together… Your take?

  57. Justin Diano

    May 18, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    I enjoyed reading your take on all the great beefs in Chicago, and have enjoyed many of the same. I’m curious though, that every time you knocked Turano bread, you also spoke of how well the bread held the sandwich together? I switched from Gonnella to Turano for beefs and juicy italian sausage at home for the same reason you mentioned, the bread holds the sandwich together… Your take? – See more at: http://www.stevedolinsky.com/28-important-italian-beef-joints-chicagoland#comment-57133

    • Steve Dolinsky

      May 22, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      I’m not sure “holding the sandwich together” and “delicious” necessarily go together always. Just because it’s strong, doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. I think Turano is serviceable, but not enjoyable.

  58. Bobby

    May 19, 2016 at 9:23 am

    Steve, Try T’s Paisans on 47th in CanaryVille. They use Turano bread and the beef is Not that fattening with some of the freshest Giardiniera around.

    • Steve Dolinsky

      May 22, 2016 at 8:58 pm

      Will try to make it out there. Thanks for the tip!

  59. Derrick

    May 28, 2016 at 1:04 am

    You forgot to mention Mr. Beef and Pizza in Mount Prospect on this list. Easily one of the top Italian beef sandwiches in the Chicagoland area. Get it with cheese and their homemade hot giardiniera peppers=Amazing!

  60. Mark

    June 3, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Magisterial report, I’m grateful for it, thank you (“a map is not the territory,” but this is a juicy survey)

  61. Mark Smolinski

    June 18, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Have you been to Coach’s Corner in Elk Grove? One of my favorites and I’ve almost been to all of these places.

    • Steve Dolinsky

      June 26, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      I haven’t, but thanks for the recommendation Mark.

  62. Joe Paul

    September 5, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Steve I respect what you do here. I actually kind of envy you.. I would love to have gone to half of these places. But I have been to about 8 or 9 and I’m sorry you had aad experience at Tony’s on the south side. However you should really try it again. I have been eating there since 1979 and still say it’s the best in Chicago. Everyone has a bad day. If you addressed this earlier in the comments I apologize but you really are missing out if you haven’t gone a second time.

    • Steve Dolinsky

      September 11, 2016 at 9:23 pm

      I’m sorry, but I’ve been twice, and both times, same story.

  63. John

    November 4, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Recently visited Johnny’s and hugely disappointed. No beef slices, only chopped
    bits and pieces. A friend who owns a similar restaurant says if you use bottom
    round or sirloin it “breaks up” like that but more expensive top round or sirloin won’t. Think I’ll try your other picks.

    • Steve Dolinsky

      November 5, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Sorry to hear that. I guess I’m do for a re-visit then. I would also suggest you go to the Original Mr. Beef in Homer Glen. Good stuff.

  64. Joe Jackson

    October 31, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    my name is Joe Jackson Margie’s was great I live in Pennsylvania now

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