The Windy City. A legendary playground of gusty winds, iconic skylines, and a food culture so diverse it could make a seasoned gastronome weep with joy. Among the Chicago-style hot dogs and the deep-dish pizzas, the Italian beef sandwich stands tall, the unsung hero, an understated but brilliant masterpiece of culinary heritage. As seen in the FX series ‘The Bear,’ the Italian beef sandwich is a Chicago delicacy that I’ve been privileged to experience numerous times, in places scattered around the city, each with its unique story and flavor.
Let’s trace the humble origins of this sandwich before I introduce you to my top 5 favorite spots to grab this mouth-watering delight in Chicago. A by-product of Italian immigration, the Italian beef sandwich was born in the early 20th century, created by working-class Italian immigrants in Chicago. Sliced roast beef, simmered in a seasoned broth, layered thick on an Italian-style roll, and typically garnished with sweet peppers or spicy giardiniera – simple, yet so gratifying.
In the forefront of this Italian beef sandwich history stands with the late Joseph Zucchero, the co-founder of Mr. Beef. The legend himself ran a sandwich shop since the later 70’s, with his creation inspiring the beef sandwich we saw in ‘The Bear.’ Zucchero’s culinary philosophy emphasized robust flavors, quality ingredients, and the sandwich’s beautiful messiness, elements that continue to echo through time in every beef sandwich you bite into today in Chicago.
Where Can You Order the Italian Beef Sandwich As Seen in ‘The Bear’ When Visiting Chicago?
Without further ado, let’s dive into my top 5 places in Chicago where you can order this hearty Italian Beef Sandwich:
- Al’s Beef: No discussion of Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago is complete without Al’s. Their beef is tender, their gravy abundant, and their spicy giardiniera is a hot, pickled dream. Be prepared to get messy, as a true Chicago-style sandwich demands.
- Johnnie’s Beef: In Elmwood Park, you’ll find Johnnie’s, another stalwart of the beef sandwich scene. Their beef is juicy and flavorful, and they serve it with a memorable sweet pepper garnish.
- Mr. Beef on Orleans: This joint is iconic, offering arguably one of the best beef sandwiches in town. Don’t forget to ask for extra gravy – it’s a sin to eat this sandwich dry.
- Buona: With multiple locations around Chicago, Buona is a family-owned business that has been serving beef sandwiches since the 80s. Here, you’ll get a more refined version of the classic, but the quality of the beef and the perfect bread balance make it a must-try.
- Portillo’s: Known for their hot dogs, Portillo’s also does a mean beef sandwich. Served on a perfectly toasted roll, the succulent beef and the right amount of giardiniera combine to create a symphony of flavors in your mouth.
Now, these are my top picks, the headliners of the Italian beef sandwich show in Chicago. But the beauty of this city’s culinary landscape lies in its depth, its neighborhoods teeming with gems waiting to be discovered. A gastronomic adventure lies at every turn, and it doesn’t stop at these five joints. Seek out the small delis, the family-run joints, the elusive food trucks tucked away in bustling alleys. The next great beef sandwich might be there, ready to surprise you, waiting to be unveiled by the eager food explorer.
Because here’s the thing about luxury—it doesn’t always come packaged in a glossy, grand façade. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that perfectly toasted roll, the tender beef falling apart under your bite, the vibrant pop of the giardiniera, the warm, seasoned gravy running down your hands. That’s when you know you’ve hit the jackpot—that you’ve found something truly special, something worth cherishing.
So, if you’re chasing the good life in Chicago, it can very well be found in the humble yet exquisite form of the Italian beef sandwich. But don’t stop there. The city is an open book of food adventures, ready to be explored one bite at a time. Go on, dive in. Taste, savor, and revel in the gastronomic delights that this magnificent city has to offer, because the good things in life come in all sizes, and often, they’re tucked in the form of a delicious sandwich.
When does ‘The Bear’ Season 2 return on FX?
On May 8, FX announced that the second season of ‘The Bear’ is set to launch on June 22. The official press statement for the upcoming season notes, ‘As the team strips the restaurant back to its fundamental structure, they each embark on transformative personal journeys. They’re compelled to face their history and grapple with who they aspire to become moving forward.’
Welcome Back, Chef.
Christopher Parr, is the Editor and Chief Content Creator for Pursuitist, and a contributing writer to USA Today, Business Insider — and the on-air host of Travel Tuesday on Live at 4 CBS. He is an award-winning luxury marketing veteran, writer, a frequent speaker at luxury and interactive marketing conferences and a pioneer in web publishing. Named a "Top 10 Luxury Travel Blogger” by USA Today, Parr has also been selected as the official winner in Luxury Lifestyle Awards’ 2023 list of the “Top 50 Best Luxury Influencers and Bloggers in the World.”