That's my order, word for word each time I stop at Portillo's with tons of locations all over the Chicagoland region. Each time I go into Chicago I have to make one stop at Portillo's. There's a lot of great hot dog places and Italian beef restaurants, but - in my opinion - none of them do both as good as Portillo's.
Portillo's started in 1963 when 30 year old Dick Portillo (left) set up his "Dog House" - a trailer that didn't have heat, a bathroom or running water. Portillo set up his trailer on a street corner in Villa Park and worked there part time while holding down a full time job.
Four years later, the success of the Dog House (right) was so good that he abandoned the trailer (and his full time job) and opened a free standing restaurant at the same corner (see map) and renamed it "Portillo's". There are now 31 Portillo's in the Chicago area, with two more coming in early 2007. And there's one in the Los Angeles area in suburban Buena Park (see map).
Portillo's are famous for their hot dogs first and their Italian beef sandwiches second. But they also sell charbroiled burgers (of which I've yet to try, but want to at some point), grilled chicken sandwiches and sausage sandwiches. Click here to see their full menu.
The Italian beef is sliced thin, then placed in the "gravy" - which is basically au jus sauce seasoned with Italian spices. Keeping the beef in the warm au jus helps make it even more tender. They place the Italian beef on a six inch cut piece of Italian bread and then you go from there.
I have mine topped with a slice of mozzarella cheese; and both cooked sweet peppers and giardiniera - the concoction of hot peppers and vegetables that make Chicago style Italian sandwiches what they are. And for good measure, I have the sandwich dipped in the au jus which makes it messy, but adds great flavor to the sandwich.
The hot dogs are all beef Vienna brand weiners. They are typical Chicago style dogs - hot dogs on a poppy seed bun, topped with chopped onions, yellow mustard, sweet pickle relish, tomato wedges, sport peppers and a pickle spear. I don't know if they're better than any other Chicago style hot dog I've ever had, but they certainly don't suck.
And combined - the Portillo's Italian beef sandwich and the Portillo's hot dog are a good way to sample two staples of the culinary history of Chicago.
The Portillo restaurants each have a theme that depicts the early to mid 20th century history of Chicago. They have a 20's "Prohibition" theme, a 30's theme, a 50's theme (right) and a 60's theme. The original location in Villa Park has a "nostalgia" theme to it. There's authentic memorabilia from those time periods throughout the restaurants and each restaurant will play music of that specific period. Some of the collections are actually pretty interesting.
Portillo's also offers party-packs of food. Their "beef pack meal" consists of 2 1/2 pounds of Portillo's beef, along with cole slaw, potato salad, bread and both hot and sweet peppers. It's actually a pretty good deal at a shade under $45 bucks.
Within 9 of the Portillos locations is a separate restaurant - Barnelli's Pasta Bowl. Barnelli's menu is wide ranging, serving pasta, salads, sandwiches and even ribs. It's kind of a neat concept, actually. If one person in the family wants pasta and the others want burgers or beef sandwiches, you can satisfy the tastes of everyone in the family.
But I've never ventured over to the Barnelli's side of the place because it's really nothing more than fast food Italian style. And I stay away from food like that like the plague.
Portillo's Restaurant Group also has two other restaurants - Key Wester, a seafood, Cuban/Caribbean, Italian themed restaurant in suburban Naperville (see map); and Luigi's House, an Italian restaurant down the road from the Key Wester in Aurora (see map). I haven't tried either one. Actually, they look like the kind of place that would bring in tourists. And with a number of malls and shopping areas nearby, I'm sure tourists and shoppers are exactly what they cater to.
I've been asked by a few people over the year the best place to try a Chicago style hot dog and Chicago style Italian beef. I tell people to go to Portillo's and kill two birds with one stone. It's one of my all-time guilty pleasures.
(Note - The Urbanspoon link below is for the Downers Grove Portillo's location. However, I've eaten at the majority of Chicagoland Portillo's locations and they are all consistently outstanding with both their Italian Beef sandwiches and their hot dogs.)