When it comes to Chicago’s signature foods, Italian beef is undoubtedly one of the city’s most cherished. It's a sandwich that's wholly unique to this great city and sparks fierce debate over who does it the best. Because there's a plethora of delicious options all over town, it's impossible to choose just one. Instead, here are 20 messy favorites that are worth the indulgence. New additions to the list for 2020 include suburban market Frangella, South Side stalwart Carm’s, and Time Out Market vendor Decent Beef.Read More
Chicago's 20 Essential Italian Beef Sandwiches
The very best in beef
1. Roma's Italian Beef & Sausage
Northwest Side residents have favored this Portage Park stand for all of their Italian beef needs since the ‘70s. The meat is nicely seasoned and carries a bit of spice in each bite. It can be paired with a Hot Doug’s atomic sausage, but be sure to get there early as the popular combo tends to sell out.
2. Bob-O's Hot Dogs
Though Bob-O’s originally got its start as a hot dog stand, Italian beef is now arguably the main attraction. Beef connoisseurs would do well to head to the Northwest Side spot for a top-notch sandwich featuring housemade meat. It’s seasoned, sliced, and cooked daily and should be coupled with an order of the impeccable hand-cut fries.
3. Mr. Beef and Pizza
Chicago, IL 60634
The Mr. Beef name carries a lot of expectations. Fortunately, this Dunning eatery, which is unaffiliated with the ones in River North and Homer Glen, lives up to that legacy. Cheese isn’t a usual Italian beef condiment but diners can get their sandwiches topped with mozzarella here. A nice balance of herbs and spices permeate the meat while the giardiniera is flecked with red pepper flakes for extra oomph.
4. Jay's Beef
This suburban-based beef chain’s sandwich accoutrements helps set it apart from the competition. The sweet peppers sing, hot peppers are a pleasant mix of celery and jalapeños, and cheeseheads can add provolone or liquid cheddar on top. The original location is in Harwood Heights and there’s another outpost in Schiller Park too.
5. Johnnie's Beef
There will never be an agreement on the best Italian beef in Chicago but Johnnie’s is the closest to a consensus. Its sandwich is considered by many to be the shining standard that others strive to achieve — a perfect balance of sweet or hot peppers and well-seasoned beef to soak up all the jus. The line often snakes out the door and it’s easy to understand why; this is one greasy delight that every Chicagoan should experience. There’s also a location in Arlington Heights.
6. Mr. Beef on Orleans
There are dining options aplenty in River North but few are as satisfying as this old-school spot. The nostalgic space — complete with celebrity photos lining the walls — is a stark contrast to the neighborhood, while the beef sits in a jus bath each day to enhance the flavor before being loaded onto a crusty roll that’s able to hold up to the juices.
It’s true: Chicago’s beloved fast food chain makes a mean sandwich that manages to hold its own against the city’s dedicated Italian beef purveyors. The menu also offers a non-traditional choice, the “Beef-N-Cheddar Croissant”, as well as a “Big Beef” for the biggest appetites. And thanks to several dozen locations across Chicagoland, a quality Italian beef is never too far away.
This Italian deli and grocer in West Town is renowned for its selection of subs, but don’t overlook the Italian beef. The meat is tender, juicy, and thick-cut, and served on a roll that stands up to its beefiness. Get it with super-hot housemade giardiniera for a spicy kick.
9. Decent Beef (Time Out Market)
Chef Kevin Hickey’s acclaimed Bridgeport restaurant the Duck Inn delivers retro-inspired Midwestern comfort fare. But at his new Time Out Market stall, he narrows the focus even further to Italian beef. The excellent sandwich features shaved prime rib, beef jus, and giardiniera and sweet peppers in a crusty roll. Vegans aren’t left in the dark either, as there’s a “Beet Street” variation that substitutes meat for roasted shaved beets and umami jus.
10. Luke's Italian Beef
Hungry workers in the Loop know Luke’s reigns supreme when it comes to Italian beef. It’s a value too, as $4.65 buys a sizeable sandwich that provides enough sustenance to last a while. Tourists also frequent the restaurant due to its central location, but they’re worth enduring for the food.
11. Carm's Beef and Italian Ice
Established in 1929, Carm’s is one of Little Italy’s standbys for Italian beef and ices. Tender and well-seasoned meat arrives in garlicky jus alongside jalapeno-and-celery-based peppers that add an extra layer of depth to the sandwich. Like many of Chicago’s other beef experts, this no-frills joint has earned a devoted following for its first-rate version.
12. Al's Italian Beef
The purported origins of the Italian beef sandwich can be traced back to this Taylor Street stand in Little Italy. That’s where Al Ferrari and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli Sr., set up shop in 1938 and started popularizing what would become one of the city's iconic foods. Today, the original location is still in business and the beef remains unchanged — marinated in a secret spice blend and dipped in gravy. So stop in, assume the proper upright eating stance, and savor a bit of Chicago history.
13. The Original Chickies
This beef specialist was first opened in 1962 on the city’s Southwest Side but found new life several years ago out in Hillside. Run by the grandchildren of original owner Bob Bailey, Chickie’s continues to impress using the same family recipe – tender, thinly-sliced beef dipped in peppery gravy and topped with housemade giardiniera.
14. Freddy's Pizza
Freddy's is a reminder of the power of giardiniera. Its mix of carrots, celery, olives, and sport peppers perfectly complements the beef served at this mom-and-pop grocer and deli that’s been operating in Cicero since 1968.
15. Scatchell's Beef & Pizza
The eye-catching signs and bright lights of this longstanding shack beckon passersby in for a messy-yet-glorious Italian beef sandwich boasting finely-shaved meat, fantastic gravy, and crunchy housemade giardiniera that’s made with celery and red pepper flakes.
16. Tony's Italian Beef
South Siders swear by Tony’s, where the thickly-sliced beef pleases and the unique giardiniera contains garbanzo beans. Traditionalists will be happy with the standard beef sandwich but for something a little different, try the “Corleone.” It’s packed with grilled beef, grilled onions, mozzarella, and giardiniera on toasted Italian bread.
17. Pop's Italian Beef & Sausage
The jus is the star of the show at Pop’s, the suburban chain. The meat isn’t “melt-in-your-mouth” tender, but provides a pleasurable jaw workout.
A restaurant whose name translates to “good beef” better be able to back up that claim. Like its local counterparts Portillo’s and Al’s, Buona might surprise some who have low expectations for a chain. Consistency can be an issue but at the end of the day, diners know what they’re getting — a hearty beefy sandwich.
19. Frangella Italian Market
Over in suburban Palos Park, this Italian market sells more than just groceries. The deli churns out an exceptional sandwich; instead of soaking in juices, the roasted beef is sliced to order and takes a quick dip in gravy before meeting the bread. It’s taken to greater heights with the addition of zippy giardiniera and sweet green peppers.
20. The Original Mr. Beef
It’s a bit outside Chicago city limits but Homer Glen is home to arguably the finest Italian beef sandwich. This suburban dining destination, which is unrelated to the other two Mr. Beef businesses, uses a secret recipe that dates back to the ‘60s. Current owner Carl Bonavolanto III continues the family tradition of serving luscious thin slices of beef with garlicky jus and superb hot giardiniera that doesn’t overwhelm the palate.