Al’s Italian Beef: Mangia, Chicago!

"Eat at Al's!"

“Eat at Al’s!”

When you think of food in Chicago, deep-dish pizza and fully-loaded franks are usually the first few items that come to mind.  Delicious, yes.  But there is another decadent item that is famous throughout Chicago, and frankly, it is one of the most overlooked sandwiches in the whole country.  A sandwich that is on par with Philadelphia’s cheese steak and New York’s pastrami.  A sandwich so meaty, so juicy, so spicy, and so messy, it could only come from the culinary wizards from the city best known for beef.  That sandwich is the Italian beef.

"What to order, what to order?!"

“What to order, what to order?!”

While you can find this sandwich all over Chicago, and throughout many parts of the Midwest, the best place to get this beefy creation is at Al’s Italian Beef.  This restaurant has stands throughout the Chicago area, but the best place to get it is at the original stand at 1079, Taylor Street, in the University Park neighborhood, which is just down the road from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  Many locals say that Al’s invented the famous sandwich all the way back in 1938.  Many Italian immigrants who worked in the Chicago stock yards would go home with cuts of meat that were often too tough to be roasted, let alone eaten.  Stock yard owners would give these less desirable cuts of meat out to the employees after work.  To make the meat more palatable, it was slow-roasted to make it more tender, then slow-simmered in a spicy broth for flavor.  Both the roasting and the broth used Italian-style spices and herbs.  The meat was then thinly sliced across the grain and stuffed into Italian bread.

Step inside, and you’ll be surrounded by dozens of photos hanging on the wall, a classic menu with old-fashioned clip-on letters, a cash-only register, and the smell of slow-cooked beef and fries!  Thinly sliced roast beef is chilled for up to 24 hours, before being dropped into a soup-like gravy, where it stews in the juices from the roasting, along with added spices.  The thin, and gravy soaked beef is piled onto an Italian roll, which is then submerged in the same gravy, until the roll is moist and wet!  Customers can opt to have their beef topped with cheese, sweet peppers or hot peppers.  The hot peppers are highly recommended!  Actually, the hot peppers are a mix of what the Italians call giardiniera, a variety of pickled vegetables which is usually found as an antipasto, something that is traditionally eaten as an appetizer in Italian cooking.  And to be precise, the giardiniera is actually thinly sliced celery, mounds of hot pepper flakes, bits of peppers, all in a spicy broth that absorbed by the sandwich itself!  My advice is to top the hell out of that sandwich, and go for the gusto!  Order up a side of fresh-cut fries (so fresh,  you can taste the skins!), and you’ve got one hell of meal that would make even the most hard-core carnivore green with envy!

"Where's the Beef?  I got yer beef, right here!"

“Where’s the Beef? I got yer beef, right here!”

"You know you want it!"

“You know you want it!”

Oh, I forgot to mention how you can make the sandwich even meatier!  Order up a “combo” and you can top the sandwich with, wait for it…An ITALIAN SAUSAGE!  As Travel Channel host and food afficianado Adam Richman would say, “Nothing goes better with beef than with more beef!”

Mmmmm, Italian beef OR sausage?"

Mmmmm, Italian beef OR sausage?”

Oh, and there is also a technique to eating this properly; it is known as the Italian Stance.  Step up to any one of the indoor counters, spread your legs apart (just about three feet apart), and bite into the sandwich.  Doing this allows the remnants of the sandwich to fall on either the wax paper or floor, so you’re shirt stays clean!

"Going, going, gone..."

“Going, going, gone…”

Having tried the sandwich, and the stance, it is one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had, being in Chicago.  The trip itself, was so worth it.  I spent a good 20 minutes on the subway, before wandering down Racine, and coming across the iconic stand.  I can honestly say, having sampled deep dish pizza, Chicago-style dogs, and the Italian beef, my Chicago-food bucket list is complete!  For now…

Al’s Italian Beef

1079 W. Taylor Street

Chicago, IL 60607

(312) 226-4017

About admin

I am a graduate of Stony Brook University, and I have a degree in History. I am an avid traveler, with an extensive knowledge of geography, a passion for photography, and a knowledge of animals too. I enjoy pop music of the 1980's, fine dining, movies, baseball, basketball, and rugby.
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One Response to Al’s Italian Beef: Mangia, Chicago!

  1. Alisoun Brewster says:

    Jared–it is only 6:00 in the morning here in Chicago and this write up makes me want to hop on the train and get to Al’s for an Italian beef sandwich!! Yummy!!

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