Eat here: Chicago classics – Al’s #1 Italian Beef & Portillo’s Hot Dogs

I think my husband caught something off me. A bug of sorts, if you will. No, not like that, get your mind out of the gutter. I think he’s caught the travel bug. Like, a proper case. He’s into travel too, always has been; in fact, he was even studying travel and tourism before he ditched that for his sports science degree (where he ironically met me, the girl who later gave up as career in the health industry to start working in travel – I know, its completely demented). Travel has been a common interest for us right from the start, its just that I’ve been a bit lot more determined aggressive in chasing creating opportunities to get some passport action. So when, a few months ago, he announced that he was looking into the feasibility of flying to America to watch a few baseball games, I was stoked!

I know that a lot of wives might be a bit apprehensive about their husbands flying to the other side of the world with a mate for 10 days of sports bars and sports games and sports whatever, but this is the same guy who’s backed my trips with other friends to Thailand, Vietnam and Japan later this year – we’ve made it this far together because we still have our own lives and dreams. I wanted to learn to cook banh xeo with my sister in Hoi An, he wants to watch dudes in tights hit balls. We don’t judge!

Anyway, he’s most keen to get back to Chicago and see a Cubs game, with Wrigley Field in all its restored glory – it was mid-facelift when we were there over Christmas. He’s also keen on the food; Chicago knows how to eat! I re-visited classics Lou Malnati’s and the Billy Goat Tavern a few weeks ago, so today allow me to introduce you to another two foods Chicago is really well known for – the Italian beef at Al’s #1 and the Chicago dog at Portillo’s.



Al’s #1 Italian Beef

Now with more than a few restaurants in the chain, Al’s was started as a family business (as most Italian eateries are) back in 1938, to cater for the masses suffering during the Great Depression. In the true Italian fashion of using everything and wasting nothing, thinly sliced beef was sandwiched in freshly baked rolls. These days, you’re also getting a bit of their delicious home made sweet pepper mix on top, as well as the gravy – either a light pour or absolutely drenched, as you please. You can read more about the gravy which is so distinct to Al’s, but here’s the sandwich we demolished:


It more than lived up to the hype; it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, and considering my extreme aversion to soggy bread, that’s really saying something! Don’t bother checking out the menu, just order the Al’s original and join the club of faithful followers.


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Like Al’s, Portillo’s is all around, which is good news for lovers of the Chicago Dog. You can get dogs all over the city, what makes a chain store so special? I can’t tell you. I don’t know the secret recipe. I just know that this was the best Chicago Dog I ate over there. They’re on the small side, so order two, but everything is just in perfect proportion and tastes amazing together! Except that spicy green chili – I don’t do chili, I donated mine to the husband, who was much obliged. Mental.


Anyway, still try the other dogs you come across in Chicago – just make sure you end with a Portillo dog so you can walk away very very happy! Damn, now I want to tag along with the guys…


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