Chicago, Illinois – Al’s #1 Italian Beef (Sandwich)

by Mijune on July 5, 2012 · 4 comments

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Restaurant: Al’s #1 Italian Beef
Cuisine: Italian/Sandwiches
Last visited: June 15, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL (Little Italy)
Address: 1079 W Taylor Street
Transit: Taylor & Aberdeen
Where I stayed: Hyatt Regency Chicago (Taxi recommended)
Price Range: $10 or less

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 5 (for beef sandwich)
Service: 3
Ambiance: 1.5
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Franchise
  • Famous for Italian beef
  • Local favourite
  • Hole in the wall
  • Subs/hot dogs/burgers
  • Quick/Very casual
  • Family friendly
  • Limited seating
  • Budget friendly/cheap eats
  • Eat in/Take out
  • Mon-Sat 9am-1am

**Recommendations: Al’s #1 Italian Beef Sandwich

I guess you could say it was my “cheap eats” day and I was knocking the “cheap eat” staples out of the park. I started with Pizano’s for deep dish Chicago style pizza, then hit up Birrieria Zaragoza for the city’s “best goat tacos”, and now it was time for Al’s #1 Italian beef sandwich followed by Mario’s Italian Lemonade. I tried to squeeze in the Chicago style hot dogs, but I ran out of time… and what? You thought I was going to say space? It’s not called Follow Me Foodie to Chicago for nothing! Bring an appetite!

I feel like every city I’ve visited has a staple sandwich and it tends to be an Italian sandwich or some world famous sandwich at a Jewish deli or both. In Follow Me Foodie to New York it was Kat’z Pastrami Sandwich, in Follow Me Foodie to Montreal it was Schwartz’s Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich, in Follow Me Foodie to New Orleans it was the original Muffuletta Sandwich, and in Follow Me Foodie to Portland it was a die hard American Reggie Deluxe Biscuit Sandwich. So of course being in Chicago, where there’s a significant Italian population, I shouldn’t be surprised when the locals recommended me to try Al’s #1 Italian Beef Sandwich.

It was another good old hole in the wall, but I’m surprised it’s actually not as highly praised as the other sandwiches I mentioned in the other cities. It’s not as hyped or “world famous” and it’s not the first to come to mind when you think of “must try food in Chicago”. Chicago just seems to be about must try restaurants more so than must try food.

It is generally well liked by locals, but it doesn’t seem as loved and reviews aren’t as high as I expected for a place like this. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a franchise, but I was happy that I tried it and I liked it! It didn’t seem like there was much competition for Italian beef and it wasn’t nearly as popular as Chicago hot dogs and pizzas, but it is considered part of their food culture.

It was located in Little Italy, which was very little and actually a bit underwhelming. I thought Italians did everything bigger? Perhaps I missed a certain area, but there wasn’t much happening except for this and Mario’s Italian Lemonade across the street. Mario’s Italian Lemonade was the actual reason for visiting Little Italy, but Al’s #1 Italian Beef was conveniently located across the street so it was killing two birds with one stone.

Al’s #1 Italian Beef offers a range of fast food menu items from subs, salads, hot dogs and fries, but I honestly think people come here just for the beef sandwich and perhaps hand cut fries.

I was watching them prepare the sandwiches which was already an indulgent experience. I could see the slices of Italian beef swimming in a pool of oily sauce, and then next to that was a bath tub of pure beef gravy. After stuffing the sandwiches full of beef they would take the whole sub and quickly dip the entire sandwich into the tub of jus.

Holy crap. I’ve never seen that done before, however they only do it upon request. Apparently it can get really soggy (obviously) and salty so I just opted out of the idea. I don’t think it’s how it’s traditionally meant to be eaten either, but who knows? When I’m old with no teeth maybe dipping the whole sub will be the only way I can actually eat this.

On the table:

**Al’s #1 Italian Beef Sandwich5/6 (Excellent)

  • $5.95 (6 inch) + hot or sweet pepper for $.40
  • It was a pretty hearty and big sandwich and it was served nice and hot.
  • I highly recommend adding the Italian giardiniera which is a spicy pickled salad made with pickles, celery and hot peppers.
  • Try half sweet and half hot peppers because it really adds desired texture to the somewhat soggy sandwich.
  • This was basically a beef dip, but instead of having a side of jus, the jus was already well accounted for in the actual sandwich.

  • The slices of roast beef were cut super thin and they were melt in your mouth tender and almost stringy.
  • The beef was leaner than expected and the fat marbleized.
  • The meat itself maybe wasn’t as juicy, but the fact that it had been swimming in its own juices made it seem incredibly moist.
  • The beef didn’t have much seasoning or depth of flavour and it was kind of bland if it wasn’t for the giardiniera or jus, but luckily there was a lot of both.

  • It was my kind of ratio for meat and toppings to bread.
  • The bread was just an Italian bread and it was nothing too special, but it got pretty wet from all the sauce.
  • I actually like saucy sandwiches so I didn’t mind, but it’s something you want to eat on the spot rather than taking home.
  • The bread didn’t come across as toasted and I’m not sure if it was supposed to be.
  • It was still pretty freaking delicious though and the crunch of spicy and tangy pickled salad contrasted the greasier meat well.
  • It was a sloppy, semi-soggy, meaty mess that was dripping with every bite and it was salty, sweet, tangy and spicy and solid for $6.
And for dessert or just a refreshing drink after your hearty sandwich, I recommend going across the street for Mario’s Italian Lemonade – another local favourite.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karen July 5, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Everyone I know from Chicago eats it dipped with provolone & giardiniera, but they’re all from the southside, so it might be a regional way of fixing it. Their cheese fries are also ridiculously good, with Merkt’s cheese sauce.

2 Jerry July 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Put me in the “beef, wet, hot, provolone” crowd, and I’m on the north side :)

I also recommend the combo (Italian beef sandwich with sausage).

Mijune, I’m actually surprised you didn’t have those and fries too :)

3 Mijune July 7, 2012 at 3:12 am

@Karen @Jerry – Damnit!! They didn’t even suggest Provolone as an option!I would have added that! And cheese fries?! I didn’t know that either! I tried researching what to order and following what everyone else was ordering, but looks like I missed out on a few things! I’ll have to re-do it.

@Jerry – LOL! I just had goat tacos and Pizano’s! And Italian Ice after! If I knew about the fries I would have ordered them, and had at least a few… I actually unintentionally took a nap in the taxi from being in food coma. Luckily your taxis are so much cheaper than Vancouvers!

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