I seem to be spending about every weekend back in Chicago and this past weekend was not exception. This time, however, I was in town for a concert and not work. We got tickets to see Sugarland (for the third time!) at the Cedar Point Sportsmen Club in Peru, IL. Peru is a little over an hour from Chicago, so we decided to stop at my girlfriend’s parents before and after the show. On our way to meet my parents, whom we were going to the show with, we started talking about food. We had a pretty packed day trying to fit everything we wanted to do in and we neglected lunch up until that point. Since she’s more familiar with the area, she started running down places on the way to the meeting point. After a few suggestions, I finally said, “What about Portillo’s?”
Let me start by saying. I LOVE Portillo’s. This is Chicago style food at it’s best. When I was in college, I interned downtown at Fox Sports Net Chicago. The downtown Portillo’s is located a few blocks away and I used to walk there all the time. Since I started dating my girlfriend, I take any opportunity I can to stop at this location on Cicero.
We didn’t have a whole lot of time, so we parked and headed in. You have to walk through the dining room to get to the order counter and there was a small line. Portillo’s tries to speed this process up a little by having three cashier’s going and they send someone out to the line to take your order. They write your order on a paper sack that will eventually be used to give you your food.
I knew exactly what I wanted when I walked through the door. Portillo’s does Italian Beef like no one else. I got a big beef, large fry and a coke which was the special that day. I’ve noticed once you get outside of Chicago, most people don’t realize what an Italian Beef is. Like I’ve said on this blog before, an Italian Beef is not a French Dip. The sandwiches have some similarities, but they’re nothing alike. A true, Chicago style Italian Beef consists of thinly sliced (think deli sliced roast beef) beef piled on a hoagie roll with melted mozzerella cheese, camralized onions and grilled peppers. The beef should be wet enough that the juice soaks through the bottom of the bun making it mushy and hard to keep together. I keep the onions and peppers off my sandwiches because I love just the taste of the beef and the soggy bun. Portillo’s doesn’t disapoint here. The fries, on the other hand, are pretty disappointing. They’re fresh out of the bag crinkle cuts.
My girlfriend ordered the Char-Broiled Chicken Sandwich. The flame grilled chicken breast comes on a toasted bun with mayo, lettuce, and mayo. I was pretty surprised at how big this sandwich was. With a large fry and Coke, she had enough left over to give me a taste of the chicken.
The line at Portillo’s offers a show. They have mastered the assembly line of filling orders. The bags that your order is taken on is passed down the line to fill the order. When it gets to the end, the last person throws the bag on a tray and calls out your number. Sounds simple, but they add some fun by coming up with a rhyme for every number. “Order 77, you’re about to be in heaven”….that kind of thing.
Portillo’s has 31 Chicagoland locations, two stores in Indiana, and two stores in California. If you visit Chicago, you MUST find a Portillo’s location. I don’t normally eat at the same place twice, but I stop at Portillo’s every chance I get.