Welcome to a.m. Intel, your bite-sized roundup of Chicago food and restaurant news. Tips are always welcome, drop them here.
Portillo’s Hot Dogs, the Chicago area street food juggernaut that’s developed a cult of personality around Italian beef sandwiches and gooey, golden cheese sauce, is moving forward with major expansion plans. The chain on Monday filed to become a publicly traded company, confirming its intent to launch more than 600 restaurants in the U.S. over the next 25 years.
Founded in 1963, suburban Oak Brook-based Portillo’s currently operates 67 locations across eight states and has accrued a deeply passionate following. The filing included colorful anecdotes from fans, according to Crain’s, including “I’m gonna baptize my first born child in Portillo’s melted cheese.” The brand plans to debut seven new outposts in Illinois, Michigan, Arizona and Florida by year’s end.
Though the filing does not detail the price per share or the number of shares it will sell, the Wall Street Journal in July reported that Portillo’s initial public offering should land between $2.5 billion and $3 billion. The IPO should take place by the end of 2021.
Latin Restaurant Weeks land in Chicago at last
Chicago’s first Latin Restaurant Weeks are here, beginning on Monday, October 4, and going through Monday, October 18. Latino and Caribbean restaurants, including Taqueria Chingón, Tacotlan, and Birrieria Ocotlan, will offer prix fixe menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Osito’s Tap will serve specialty cocktails for $10. Latin Restaurant Weeks began in Houston and expanded to Miami before coming to Chicago.
Time Out Chicago brings back restaurant reviews
As Chicago’s food media landscape tries to find its footing amid major shifts during the pandemic, Time Out Chicago this month has resumed publishing restaurant reviews (albeit bite-sized ones) for the first time since 2020. Robert et Fils, a French restaurant that opened more than a year ago in North Center, received four (out of five) stars from editor Zach Long; newish vegan spot Bloom Plant Based Kitchen in Wicker Park scored three stars from assistant editor Emma Krupp.
Something new is popping up at Luella’s Southern Kitchen
Darnell Reed of Luella’s Southern Kitchen is now in the popcorn business. Luella’s Southern Popcorn is now available for shipping and pickup at Luella’s in Lincoln Square, Reed announced in an Instagram post over the weekend, and it comes in four flavors: Creole Cheddar, Salted Caramel, Chicago Mix, and Luella’s Mix, which soups up the Chicago Mix with candied pecans.
In the future, robots will deliver all our food
The robot invasion has begun! Or at least they’ve started delivering food on the University of Illinois Chicago campus through the company Starship Technologies, one of several app-driven robot delivery services that have been appearing on college campuses, including Ohio State and the University of Michigan, over the past two years. The robots look like coolers on wheels; they are self-driving and guided by cameras. The Tribune’s Nick Kindelsperger took a test run with a lunch order from the Panda Express on campus. He reports that his food arrived in 11 minutes, still hot, and that the delivery fee was just $1.99, with no tip. Currently Starship only partners with on-campus fast food chains, but there are plans to expand to independent off-campus restaurants in the future.
El Milagro workers wait for management to make a move
Today is the deadline workers at El Milagro tortillas have given management to respond to a letter they hand-delivered during a protest march last Thursday that demanded a discussion about more equitable pay, an end to harassment of employees by HR, and either a larger workforce or lower production quotas. The workers claim that the citywide tortilla shortage is not due to supply chain issues, as El Milagro has claimed, but because so many employees have quit because of poor treatment by management. El Milagro responded to the protest by locking out 14 workers from the Little Village plant after they returned from the march to finish their shift.
Obama returns to an old haunt
Former president Barack Obama was in town yesterday to break ground on his presidential library in Jackson Park. Truly a momentous occasion, but digging is hungry work, so where did he eat afterward? According to Mario Smith, host of the program News From the Service Entrance on WLPN radio, “He ate at Valois’ after it closed, shades down, cops in front. It was reminiscent of when he lived around here…” Obama ate at the Valois Restaurant so often when he lived in Kenwood that the cafeteria now posts a special menu of his favorite dishes.