Best Of Chicago

Top 5 Italian Beefs: Why I’m Right (And You’re Wrong)

October 12, 2011 2:00 PM

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(credit: Al's Beef website)

(credit: Al’s Beef website)

It’s easy to forget that Italian Beef is a Chicago thing – not something you’ll find anywhere else in America (or see done well, at least). Therefore, never, ever take them for granted. Ever.

For those of you who have been around the block and have had many beefs in your day, here’s a list of the top five places. Let me know if you disagree.

For those who have never had an Italian Beef before, you are in luck. Taste one from one of these fine establishments and you’ll be hooked for life. An addict. But, you know, the good kind.

picture 12 Top 5 Italian Beefs: Why Im Right (And Youre Wrong)



100 West Ontario Street
Chicago, IL

Portillo’s is easy to take for granted when you live in Chicago. Ask someone who’s moved out of Illinois though, and they’ll tell you just how much they miss it. They have good reason to, Portillo’s has some of the best dogs, burgers and, of course, Italian beefs in the city.

If you want something really superb, get one of their chocolate cake shakes after you eat your beef. It’ll satiate even the biggest gluttons out there.

customers Top 5 Italian Beefs: Why Im Right (And Youre Wrong)


Scatchell’s Beef & Pizza

4700 West Cermak Road
Cicero, IL 60804-2523

Scatchell’s is a little stand just off of 290 that serves some of the best fast food on the Southwest side. It doesn’t look fancy, but rarely is that ever a sign of good or bad food with places like this. Their Italian Beef makes for the perfect, quick lunch.

Mr. Beef

666 N Orleans St
Chicago, IL 60654-3916
(312) 337-8500

Ignoring the fact that their address is the mark of the devil, Mr. Beef’s food is heavenly (GET IT? DO YOU GET IT???). Next time you’re in the River North area, you should stop by. Their beef sandwiches aren’t dry like the competition, they’re nice and juicy. It is highly recommended by everyone living that you get them with hot peppers. Personally, I’m not a fan, but those who have better taste in food than me say it’s a must.

263886 107404336019953 107404272686626 65046 6114183 n Top 5 Italian Beefs: Why Im Right (And Youre Wrong)

(credit: Johnnie's Beef's Facebook)

Johnnie’s Beef

7500 W North Ave
Elmwood Park, IL 60707
(708) 452-6000

Expect your beef from Johnnie’s to come soaked, which is a good thing. I don’t know if I’d recommend eating anything else there, simply because their beefs are so good. Get sweet and hot peppers on the side if you’re into that sort of things. They’ve also got Italian ice for a nice treat after.

Novi Beef

6746 Ogden Avenue
Berwyn, IL

What’s with all the great beef places just outside the city? Yeah, I don’t know either. Anyways, it gives you at least one reason to like the suburbs.

Like any self-respecting beef, Novi’s has a nice selection of spices that make their beefs just unique enough to set them apart, without being too overpowering to turn anyone off. If you’re feeling adventurous, get their combination sandwich, which combines their great Italian beef with their Italian sausage – the perfect match!

Read more “I’m Right (You’re Wrong)” articles by Mason Johnson here!

Mason Johnson, CBS Local Chicago

View Comments
  • Bill Bennett

    You have got to be kidding.

    How can you use the almighty CBS rooftop to spew this bunk? Are you from Chicago Mason? You have just named the Italian beef offerings that basically have all the same thing in common; blah and bland. Better yet, how about just blahbland. ( I have had all these except Novi.)

    You simply don’t leave Al’s Beef off a list like this. They invented the Italian beef sandwich in 1938, before any of these stores were even born. You obviously like the blahbland thing, Al’s has the flavor thing mastered next to any of these. And in my sacred opinion all your picks would take a distant second to Al’s.
    In Chicago you don’t thrust your singular “I’m right and your wrong” opinion on the millions who would disagree. By the way Mason, why is it that you are right and all of us are wrong? I didn’t get that from this article.

    You might as well have told all Chicagoans that they should change their tastes to Phili cheesesteaks because you are right and we are wrong. ( If you didn’t know, that’s exactly what the loyal Chicago owner of Mr. Beef did two years ago during the Blackhawk’s great run at the title. But sure, what the heck, why not put him on your holy list and promote that bum).

    Bottom line, even though these are all good businesses, I’m right and you’re wrong Mason, Al’s should have been on this list.

    Well at least you like the way the Al’s beef sandwich looks since you used their picture to start your story. I’d be upset about that if I were Al.

    • Sue Majczan

      Hasn’t anyone mentioned Serrelli’s? They have been in business since 1934. There must be a reason.

      • J

        Where’s it at? I’ll give them a try.

    • Mason Johnson

      Bill, you really get me.

      Friends forever,


    • Joann

      I’ve had Portillos, Scatchells, and Novis, all good. But if you want something out west a little, try Teddy’s Red Hots, in Downers Grove. You’ll swear your eating any one of the above beefs, or better :)

    • Mike D.

      Al’s beef sucks! Diarrhea fest.

      • GREG


    • Dylan

      Love Al’s too, but they are a little skimpy on the beef.

    • Elaine

      What about TURK’S on LaGrange Road in Orland Park??? The Best!!!~

    • Jim Hendry

      I was going to say….Al’s has to be on this list. The only one of these that actually belongs here is Mr. Beef. Portillos is ok, but small portions and high prices.

      • mrb

        Agree, small portions and PRICEY. They have gotten too big and greedy.

    • Allan Wulff

      I remember Al’s from the last time I lived in Chicago…1981! Talked to someone about it last week. Can’t forget them.

    • danny

      bill,youre apparently completely out of touch or from out of town. i know you posted your oppinion in oct 2011 but i cant help but comment. mr beef are you fffiing kidding me. SIR, do you own tastebuds. its important to have them when youre trying so hard to be a critic. get a life and buy a hotdog instead. peace out!!

    • LindaLou

      Poor Mason, doesn’t get out to the best, only inconsistant chains. Al’s Was great at one time, not of late. Serrelli’s homemade beef is outstanding as is our shining star “Roma’s” on North Cicero Ave. The owner makes all his Italian beef himself, seasoning ir superbly. Wet, with all the peppers you want…spicy but not offensive… Don”t like the north side? You lose, but don’t even think your choices are realistic….when have you really eaten HOMEMADE…not chainstores…Have you even tried it????

    • fes

      Al’s??? No way. It’s a chain. Maybe back in the day (1938). It’s a great story, but not a great beef.

      I go along with Mr. Beef and Johnnie’s. Johnnie’s especially which is the same joint since I was a kid MANY years ago when the raging debate was which was better, Johnnie’s or Connie’s, a mile or two east on North Ave. We preferred Connie’s, but they’re gone.

      • Dave

        Connies beef is mediocre at best an the pizza is on the bottom of my list.What sells Connies is their little cute trucks. Home Run Inn & Barones pizza still stands out, but it’s not a large corp .Many people like Pizza Hut , Little Caesars, and that loser Papa Johns.Biggest doesn’t mean bestest. I wish we had a good Beef sandwich here in Knoxville,like Novi does have a great beef ,but remember it’s not the beef but the sauce.

      • The Beef Hunter

        He is reffering to Connie’s Beef not Connie’s Pizza. Know your beef sir.
        Connies is back in business. Same family, they are on Grand Ave in Elmwood Park a few blocks west of Harlem. Their beef is great ahd of the highest quality. Better than Johnnie’s which is saying alot.

      • jg

        We had Connie’s Beef today…they’ve been re-opened on Grand for quite awhile now.

    • Matt

      Al’s is AWFUL…plain AWFUL. I went to high school next to it and after trying it 3 times, I never went back. Johnnie’s truly is the BEST

    • leonard

      ate at johnnies last nite. Amazing combo!!!

    • The Beef Hunter

      Portillo’s is a beef for people who don’t eat beef. Nothing bad about it, just sort of middle of the road.
      I would try one of Mason’s recommendations but the fact that he does not like gieardinera on his beef and considers Portillo’s #1 tells me that he knows nothing about Italian Beef. Are you from the suburbs Mason? Perhaps, Grayslake or Vernon Hills? I suspect that you were raised on Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip.

      • Mason Johnson

        Miracle Whip? Helman’s Mayonnaise or nothin’.

      • ange

        Max’s on Western Ave in Chicago, North Side. Can’t Beat it.

      • The Beef Hunter

        Oh, Ange, you’re old school. Not many people remember Max.
        Max was probably the best on the planet 30 years ago. Max was a tru beef genius and giardinera innovator.
        But nothing stays the same, does it. When Max retired his trusty helper, Larry, took it over. In the next 30 years, the neighborhood changed and so did Max’s.
        The cauldrons of peppers that Max would have on the counter (before the re-model) are now in smaller containers on each table. The red oil of death somehow not eating through the plastic jars in front of you.
        The beef is now just average. Not bad, but certainly not world class. Nice to see Max’s still on Western at Peterson though. Brings back memories. When Max retired and moved to Florida, I knew we were seeing the end of an era, and we did. Long live Max!

    • Jerry Dunne

      thers only one great beef sandwich in chicago or anywhere else that I know of,thats Freddies in Bridgeport.Biggest, Best, and juiciest sandwich around

      • Chris

        Freddie’s is a poor man’s Ricobene’s, and that’s not saying much. Johnnie’s in Elmwood Park has the best beef, hands down. I leave the city for it. Freddie’s… haha.

        Oh, and Al’s is garbage, too. Haven’t eaten there in years, but most of the people I know that have eaten there in recent years would agree with the “diarrhea fest” comment above.

    • dsch1956

      By the way, Bill, what makes your opinion sacred? I didn’t get that from your comment.

    • GREG


      • Sassy


  • Centurion

    PORTILLOS? That stuff is low grade Alpo! Scatchells? Once they add something called..FLAVOR…they might have a product to work with. Till then….BLAH AND BLAND as Bill commented.

    Al’s Beef? Methinks Mason has a personal issue for leaving them off the list. He also has no idea what he is talking about. He just listed the names that he is familiar with. Mason, you need to venture out and get to Donalds on 23rd and Western in Chicago.

    As long as he is bringing the burbs into this…..HOT DOG EXPRESS in Schaumburg…you want top of the line beef, with the best trimmings….which is essentially mozza, sweet and hot peppers….and NOTHING ELSE….really…do you really need anything else…..

    Deal with it Mason…I am a complete SNOB when it comes to Italian Beef sandwiches. There are reasons I won’t go to Scatchells or Mr. Beef. Portillos, well, only if I want to puke!

    • Tom Schumacher

      I doubt you would puke, its hyperbole like this that undermines your argument!

      • Centurion

        I puked before…and goin there would probably make me puke again.

    • Mason Johnson

      Donald’s sounds good! I’ll have to try it.

      • Rod Anders

        It is. McDonald’s has the greatest beef in town !!!

    • RealityConfuses

      Been going to Donald’s for years. GREAT BEEF!!! Others are OK at best.

    • mikemac

      You couldn’t be more wrong. I grew up in Chicago. I’ve been eating Italian beefs for 50 years. I’ve had my share of bad beef. Not at Portillios. Portillios beef has always been consistly great. Hot dog express is one of my favorite beef places but Portillios is still at the top along with Gold Coast Hot dogs.

    • Dave Brown

      Oh brother…. another Portillos stinks , Mr beef Stinks guy. The Sheeple have spoke again :) As soon as places become popular there are always a minority of people that have to be different and hate them. Anyhow, This is Chicago, Home of the Beef and LOTS of good places for them with a few bad ones mixed in. OH and you Certainly do not need any CHEESE on your beef . Now Al`s i will agree with. The Original in Little Italy and the one on Ontario i eat at alot, GREAT Beef Sandwhiches!Johnnies is Very Good too. Have not been there in awhie. Darn, i am hungry and it`s only 6am! Novi`s for some reason has always been Hit and miss with us. When they are “ON” they are VERY good and when they are not….. Not so Great. Little Joe`s in La Grange/Countryside is Fantastic. You can`t get a bad Beef!! Heck, you can`t even get a good one, they are GREAT. Been there forever, same owners and the kids are bringing the same passion to the place.
      Well, You can go on and on bout those are some of my favorites. Nice list though.

    • The Beef Hunter

      There is no place in Schaumburg that can compare to a good Chicago or near West Beef house. Mozzarella? are you kidding me? You have lost all credibility.

    • Al Nelson

      Mozza on an Italian Beef? Sounds like a steak and cheese to me…

  • Roberta Waker

    Portillos is the BEST. If they weren’t any good they definitely would not be expanding into the suburbs as fast as they are. They have good food, good service and good prices. We have eaten at all the others, including Al’s, and we will take Portillos any day of the week as will millions of other customers who have eaten there over the years. They must be doing something right because they are ALWAYS crowded and customers appear to really be enjoying their food – so Mason, we agree with you.

    • Centurion

      Good Prices? Portillos is the highest priced joint not in Northbrook. Yep, stopped at a hotdog stand in Northbrook…the 2 hot dog special…was nearly $10. At Donalds..the 2 HotDog special is under $6. ONLY IN NORTHBROOK can you buy 2 hotdogs for $10 .

      • Roberta Waker

        Come on down to the Joliet/Shorewood area – the prices are reasonable and the food at Portillos here is GREAT! That says a lot because we don’t have many nice restaurants down here that actually serve good food. Naperville and Orland Park have some good restaurants, but we don’t always want to drive that far. Anyway, it all boils down to a person’s individual taste, but I will stand by my comment about Portillos being the best.

    • Mason Johnson

      Thanks, Roberta!

  • Rob Bingham

    Come on people. Portillo’s really? thier beefs are the worst! The best beef in all of Chicago is Coaches Corner in Elk Grove Village bar none! Pasta Vino in Shiller before it closed was as good they used to be at the Taste back in the day. Al’s is edible bur if you want a real tasty Italian Beef it’s Coaches Corner!

  • Shawn Dorsey


    • Centurion

      Shaw, I will go with ya to the PATIO anytime, any day.

      • TY

        patio beef are the best i travel across town for the good juicy beefs they are not expensive as, portillo hard burns!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • TY

      THE BOMB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jackie

    I tried Al’s Beef and did not like it at all. Portillos is the best, especially when you get the combination. Awesome!

  • Christopher Gilbert Delgado

    Portillos is not the best, Portillos is absolutely horrible, their burgers are great but definitely the least deserving of all the other amateur hour jokes of restaurants you included in your list.

  • Centurion

    Admittedly, FELONY FRANKS is a rockin hotdog stand.

  • Centurion

    So, this sounds like a chance to head to one of the above mentioned joints…and enjoy some good food.

    Who’s in?

    Oh, Mason….there is a Italian Beef you gotta try out in Genoa, IL. Small place on RT 72. For the money…the offering you get is phenomenal. I think its called THE CORNER CAFE. Was there last week…and it was more than worth the ride. (took a motorcycle trip just to go there) Combo, with sweet and hot peppers, topped with mozzarella.

  • hughglass

    Portillos is very expensive and overrated. Ill take Hot Dog Ricjhes Beef in Palatine anyday.
    AND any AH that charges for drink refills (Portillos) is immediately taken off my list. That $2.00 pop cost them all of 4 cents.

  • Tommy B.

    To all you suburban scruffy the puppies, that’s use to eating dog food, why don’t you try a real italian beef sandwich. Chickies on 28th & Pulaski was the best in the west in Chicago, but was sold. But now the best of the best of the Italian beef sandwich is between Al’s on Taylor St. or Mr. Beef on Orleans. Where’s the beef? In shy town baby! Because Italian beef sandwiches wasn’t even thought of in the suburbs when beef was created! So run and tell that, my suburban friends. So, Mason, you and your suburban friends need to go back to school and learn the difference between Italian beef sandwiches and those hot dog stands you picked.

    • Rick

      Chickies was reopened for a short time on Taylor St. They closed that location recently and are reopening in Cicero.

    • Mason Johnson

      Sorry, Tommy, I went to public school. Guess they didn’t teach us about Italian beefs and hot dogs the correct way!

  • Scott

    Oh for the love of God! Portillos???? Are you serious bro? Go to Fassanos on 79th and Roberts in Justice. The thing is as big as a football and just awesome! You can’t even make this list without going there. Im deeply disturbed by this current list.

    • Scott

      Make that Fasano’s.

  • drbbq

    Why doesn’t Boston’s get any respect? It’s a genuine old school Chicago joint and the beefs are outstanding.

    • DeeLois

      I thought the SAME thing!! The BEST Italian beef!

    • Ty

      Me Too! The owner of the place is hilarious. Food network recognized it’s deliciousness. no local love?

      • J

        Maybe the name Boston’s has something to do with that.

  • Jerry

    And I just can’t understand why with all the transplanted Chicagoians that have moved to Florida why can’t we get one of those places get a franchise started down here.I for one am dying for a good juicy Italion Beef combo.

    • Al Nelson

      Amen brother!

  • Zvonimir Turk

    Scatchell’s really does have the best beef in Chicago!
    As good as their beef is…don’t forget about the pizza or the hot dogs.
    They do it all up right!
    Try them once and you too will be hooked.

  • David

    Forgetaboutit! It is apparent you don’t know S–T about Italian Beef. Portillo’s? Are you kidding me. Italian Beef is all about 4 key ingredients, beef, gravy, bread and giardiniera. Portillo’s only gets the bread right but then again, everyone used Gonnella. Portillo’s giardiniera is hot, but the heat comes from chopped sport peppers. Portillo’s beef is rubbery and the gravy lacks the proper spices.
    There is a reason why Al’s Beef has been named #1, it has the best beef and gravy and the giardinera is the best in the city, wonderfully oily with celery and pepper flakes to add the heat, not overbearing, just right. Don’t take my word for it, Iron Chef Michael Symon choose Al’s Beef over Mr Beef on his TV show, Food Feuds.

    • Das G Man

      Wow, Celebrity Chef Michael Symon, Try these two places and everybodies minds will change forever. #1 Gina’s in Benseville & #2 Bobbo’s on Irving, Chicago. Prices are right and the food in fantastic.

      I’d personally recommend the combo @ Gina’s.

    • J

      I don’t like Al’s Giardenara, they use onions in it…..yeech. I love Buona Beef and their Giardenara is more authentic, it has olives and isn’t just hot peppers. Freddie’s in Schiller Park has a great beef sandwich.

      All the other beef places mentioned are great.

      • The Beef Hunter

        Yes, I agree J-Buona has much improved their giardinera. For a long time it was much too salty, but recently, they have changed to a lower sodium formula.
        I don’t think they make their own, I could be wrong, but the new giardinera seems very familiar to me.
        If I had to guess, I would say Battaglia. For my money, Battaglia makes the best giardinera in town. Although Battaglia is a supplier to restaurants, you can buy their giardinera in select local grocery stores. It is sold under the name “Chicago Style” Try the hot giardinera mix and see what you think. Very similar to what Buona has been using for the last year or so.

  • Cakes

    Al’s Beef is head and shoulders number 1 in the country. What Michael Jordan is to basketball, Al’s is superior in it’s Italian Beef. Also, Buona Beef is clearly 2nd in this category of unique Chicagoland offerings. I have had more Italian beef sandwiches around the city and suburbs than I care to remember, but Al’s will always be my main staple. Of all the beef sandwiches I have sampled, (since 1960) to this day Al’s is number 1 by a landslide.

  • Brian

    The two best beefs are Johnnies in Elmwood park and Mr A’s in Crystal Lake (been there since ’68). Both are great.

  • george

    man I would love to any one of the above beefs and you could add carm to your list to their are no good places to get a beef in FL.

  • paul pacelli

    all i have to say is Al’s isby far the best thereis

  • atomictomato

    Doesn’t anyone like Roma’s on Cicero, in Chicago? Been there for years, open late and always crowded! Unique gravy and they know how to cook an Italian Sausage just right – crispy on the outside so when you bite in all the great juices squirt out! YUM!

    • Brian B

      Now we’re talking, I left Chicago 6 years ago and the last thing I ate before I left was a Roma’s Beef! If you don’t know Roma’s, you don’t know Italian Beef! Hell, I’ve been gone so long I would even eat a Mr. Beef Italian Beef despite how awful it is!

    • J

      Roma’s is good, the one south of Montrose. I’m not crazy about their Giardenara.

  • OldWestSider

    Cross the Buona Beef and Portillo’s recipes, add some oregano, and make your own. If you have been moved to the land of grits and BBQ, you learn to pretty quickly. And it’s as good as any… except for the bread.

  • brian

    albanos on roosevelt road just west of mayfield thats where the beef is

  • danny

    everyones right and then again everyones wrong. if you want a simple inexpensive beef with nice flavor its johnnys. you want more robust flavor at more money its portillos. one thing i can tell you being born and raised in chicago mr. beef is not even close. it sucks!!!

  • paul huber

    Living in Connecticut and New York city, how I miss Italian Beef ! Have had all the places mentioned except Mr. Beef. My ranking of those four : Johnnys first, Novi second, Scathells third, Portillos fourth. Probably would rank Buona Beef .with Portillos. I was born at Mother Cabrini hospital in Little Italy; I think the Italian doctor delivering me dropped some of his Italian Beef lunch on me; and, that I have been addicted ever since…

    • danny

      paul, you definitely have a clue. good choices!

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