I’ll be honest with you, the main reason I chose Al’s Italian Beef is because I saw it on Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America TV show on the Travel Channel a few months back. But that’s not the first time I had an Italian beef sandwich. I had one several times a couple years ago in Chicago when I went with my brother & sister-in-law. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of that place despite my hours of searching online and scouring Google maps.
On TV, Adam ended up going to the original on 1079 W. Taylor Street but the one I went to was on 169 W. Ontario St due to the close proximity of my hotel. The one on West Ontario Street is kind of a hole in the wall. There’s not much of any kind of atmosphere other than being a “fast food” environment. There were several photos lining the top wall of the restaurant featuring autographed signatures of various celebrities that visited the restaurant. Aaron (Haley’s friend’s boyfriend) was my food buddy and we dined here one hour prior to going to David Burke’s Primehouse. In case you’re wondering, yes I ate a complete meal at both restaurants.
Historically, the Italian beef is a special sandwich. It originated in Chicago and is linked to the Great Depression where meat’s scarcity was combated by thinly slicing beef roasts so that there was enough for everyone. With that, Al’s No. 1 Italian Beef opened its food stand back in 1938 and eventually grew into the 1079 W. Taylor Street location. Since then, it’s expanded to 15 locations with two more on the way.
In its core, the Italian beef is comprised of thin slices of seasoned, roasted beef, dripping with meat juices on an Italian-style roll. From there multiple variations can expand on the type of sandwich you get. These variations include how “wet” the sandwich is, garnishes of sweet peppers and/or giardiniera (an Italian relish of pickled vegetables with crushed red pepper flakes and oil), various cheeses, and even topping it with marinara. I ordered the Value Meal #5 which comprised of a 6″ Italian beef, small fry, and medium Drink for 8.59. I ordered my Italian beef “Hot”, “Sweet”, and “Dipped” which translates to the garnishments of homemade hot giardiniera, homemade sweet peppers and having the entire sandwich dunked in the roasting juices.
Two words describe this sandwich. Tasty and messy. Extremely messy. Supposedly you’re supposed to eat this thing standing up, elbows bent, and hands away from your shirt. Of course we didn’t know and Aaron found out the hard way as it dripped onto his shirt. Just the smell of this sandwich reflects how tasty it is. The scent of the sandwich is filled with aromas of seasoned, roasted beef, sour vinegar from the giardiniera, sweetness from the sweet peppers, spiciness from the red pepper flakes, and even a little bit of a nutty smell. Every bite of this sandwich is flavorful due to the mix of flavors not only from the seasoned beef itself and the garnishments, but the bread is drenched and completely soggy with that delicious beef juice. If there was one complaint I have about the sandwich (a minor complaint mind you), it is that it wasn’t salty enough. I’m not sure if it was the beef juices weren’t salted to the degree I would have liked or if the saltiness from the sliced beef was washed off by the dunking process. This was quickly remedied by a couple dashes of the salt shaker on the table but it would have been nice(r) if I didn’t have to add any salt at all. Of course, this is the only complaint.
The fries too, were good yet unique. I know that Al’s Italian Beef freshly cuts their potatoes but something about them made them different. The outsides were golden/crispy and the inside was a nice soft texture. The taste however is what made them unique. There was a slight creaminess to it. Almost as if they were cooked with butter but unfortunately I can’t confirm or deny it. As I said, just know they are uniquely good.
Al’s Italian Beef truly is an excellent sandwich. As Aaron and I both finished our meals, we discussed how awesome it would be if there was an Italian beef restaurant close to our residences (Nashville & Indianapolis). Unfortunately, we weren’t familiar with any but simply agreed that if there was one, we’d eat there several times a week.
|Al’s Italian Beef
169 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60610
Bill Total: $10.49 for One