Until recently, we didn’t think Portillo’s was a place we’d ever have to review. So why are we talking about it today? Well, for a number of reasons, but we’ll narrow it down to an important three.
First, the number of Chicagoans we’ve recently encountered who have never eaten Portillo’s is absolutely mind boggling, as in our minds literally cannot comprehend it. Second, if you’re a tourist or new to the city, Portillo’s can be a daunting place, especially the flagship River North location at Clark and Ontario. And lastly, as avid Portillo’s lovers, a recent conversation over dinner at Portillo’s reminded us of just how f*cking great this place is, so we felt the need to share.
Let’s get one thing straight: Barnelli’s, Luigi’s, or whatever other restaurants the Portillo’s Group owns - forget about them. While Dick Portillo may have built a well-rounded empire of various cuisines, the Portillo’s menu is the only one that matters. Portillo’s has locations all over Illinois, plus Indiana, Arizona, and California, but the River North location is the focus here. If you’re ever in need of a fast food-esque meal, specifically for a classic Chicago style hot dog or Italian beef, this is your spot. Don’t be distracted by the 87 different lines, multiple menus, pictures, crap on the wall, and people screaming all over the place. It’s a god d*mn rooster thunderdome in there, but fear not, we are here to guide you to tasty salvation.
Find the Portillo’s Hot Dogs line (not Barnelli’s) and step right up, order with confidence, keep your numbered ticket, and head off to the left where you’ll wait for a little jingle calling your number over the loud speakers. Pro Tip – you can order beer at the bar adjacent to where you wait for your food. Hot dogs and Italian beefs are the gold standard, but don’t overlook the burgers and chicken sandwiches if they grab your attention. And when it comes to dessert, not ordering some would be a mistake. Chocolate cake shake, all day ’erry day.
The classic. There’s a reason Dick Portillo turned a simple hot dog stand into the successful corporation it is today. Solid Chicago style hot dogs.
Exactly what it sounds like. An Italian beef and sausage combined together on a french roll. Double the meat, double the fun.
A “healthy” alternative to the Italian beef or hot dog. A hearty piece of fresh grilled chicken on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Add some sweet peppers or giardiniera too.
When we’re craving Italian beef sandwiches, we head to Portillo’s. We aren’t knocking Al’s, Mr. Beef, or anyone else, but we choose Portillo’s twelve times out of ten. Go for the Big Beef if you’re extra hungry, and don’t forget to add sweet or hot peppers either way.
The burgers often get overlooked, but they can hold their own. One third pound of juicy beef with lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup, and pickles on a toasted bun.
Salty, soft, and fresh. Step up your game and add some cheese sauce on the side.
Sure. Why Not.
A piece of decadent chocolate cake mixed into a chocolate shake. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. Do it.
Ha! Order an Italian beef with extra giardiniera instead.