Whenever I’m in Chicago and I have a hearty appetite, I have to make one very important decision: do I want a Chicago-dog or an Italian beef? Decisions, decisions… Now there’s a place where the twain shall meet and doth intermingle underneath one roof before making their way to my tummy! Welcome to Portillo’s!
Founded in 1963, It was founded in 1963 by Dick Portillo. After returning from serving in the Marines, Dick gathered money from his savings and from an investment from his brother Frank to open a hotdog stand. They bought a 12-foot trailer that had no restroom and running water; they named it “The Dog House.” The Dog House operated on North Avenue in Villa Park. By 1967, The Dog House was in good standing, was upgraded to a larger trailer, and was renamed “Portillo’s.” In 1994, the first Portillo’s in Chicago opened up at the intersection of Clark and Ontario Street which is the one I went to. This Chicago eatery is a Windy City landmark that is known for having a myriad of Chicago staples under one roof; hot dogs, Polish sausage, Italian beef, burgers, and frozen custard are just some of the treats inside this fun establishment. Sharing the space is Barnelli’s which specializes in pasta bowls.
The interior reminded me of the inside of a barn but with plenty of neon hung on almost every wall and corner. There’s plenty of Chicago-sports paraphanalia including a sign from the original Chicago Stadium. The place is set up like a food court with customers lining up behind several stands with all the menus and fixins right beneath them. Also, customers waiting for their food can get an up-close look at all the action going on behind the counter; the assembly of a Chicago dog will make the wait just fly by.
Portillo’s Chicago dog is indeed, satisfying. I highly recommend getting it with extra sport peppers. Their Italian beef is as a sumptuous experience; it is as sloppy as it as delicious. The first Italian beef I ever had in Chicago was at Al’s on Taylor Street. That sandwich was a messy du jour; no one can come out of dining at Al’s without wearing a little of their Italian beef on their clothes. Some call it messy, I call it a badge of honor! Portillo’s Italian beef isn’t as messy as Al’s but it definitely hits the spot! However, I will say that Al’s giardeneria is better in that it is a spicier blend.
If you cannot decide between hot dogs and Italian beef, walk into Portillo’s and try’em both!