The Second City is second to none when it comes to beef sandwiches

Destination Dining

September 29, 2019

Story By: Elima Pangorang |

There are many theories of the famous Italian beef sandwich’s beginnings. Among the most popular stories takes diners back to 1938 with Al Ferrari. The savory Chicago sandwich was created as a simpler version to enjoy beef during the Great Depression when meat was scarce. Ferrari thought up the idea to slice up beef into thin servings and place them in loaves of bread in order to stretch his limited culinary resources and serve more of the masses (more than slabs of meat would). Soon enough his recipe and technique spread like fire and he and his family sold a great many Italian beef sandwiches, bringing the beloved trend strongly into the 21st century.

However, no matter what the story is, it is all commonplace with roots in Chicago. So the next time you find yourself in Chi-Town, pull into these joints to kick-start your Italian beef hunt with a big, delicious bang.

1. Al’s Beef
1079 W. Taylor St., Chicago
(Plus seven other locations statewide)
(773) 935-2333

Al’s Beef is Chicago’s original Italian beef, which uses Al Ferrari’s original recipe created in Ferrari’s own kitchen. The recipe includes a dry-roasted secret blend of 100 percent pure spices and natural juices. Taking the gold in this dish is the au jus, or “gravy,” that the folks at Al’s say gives their sandwich unmistakable flavor. At Al’s, diners may add homemade sweet peppers and spicy giardiniera, and provolone cheese.

When choosing a sandwich, there are four levels of juiciness to choose from: Regular, keeping the hoagie nice and juicy, but not over the top; Wet, a popular choice among many customers; Dipped, which submerges the entire sandwich into the pot of gravy; or Dry, which is not recommended since the fun of the sandwich comes from the finger-lickin’-good gravy, but it is there as an option (just so you know).

If you want to sound like a true Chicagoan, Big Al recommends ordering as he would: “I’ll take a Beef dipped with Hot and Sweet.”


2. Buona The Original Italian Beef
10633 S. Western Ave.,Beverly
(Plus 24 other locations)
(773) 941-6980

Buona The Original Italian Beef has come a long way from its humble beginnings in Berwyn, Illinois more than 30 years ago. The story is made up of equal parts family values, innovation and adaption with Jo Buonavolanto Sr. taking out a second mortgage on his home to start up the restaurant, and even digging the foundation of the first location himself with the help of his two young sons. Fast-forward to 2019, and Buona’s has expanded dramatically as a go-to Italian beef sandwich establishment — even claiming the title of “Official Italian Beef of the Chicago White Sox.”

While the restaurant has expanded, Buona’s original Italian Beef Sandwich recipe has remained constant with scratch-made ingredients, feeding the generations of diners from Chicago and beyond for decades, and for even more years to come.


3. Fabulous Freddies Italian Eatery
701 W. 31st St., Chicago
(312) 808-0147

For nearly 30 years, Fabulous Freddies Italian Eatery has served up Italian beef sandwiches that have grown to be a known favorite in the city. Freddies’ Italian beef is prepared in-house every day with a recipe that has been passed down from family members. The Italian eatery uses “top-quality ingredients and never skimps on anything,” mentions the folks at Freddies.

In addition to munching on the traditional Italian beef, Freddies has recently introduced new versions of the beloved meat to its menu including an Italian beef burger and Cheesy BBQ Beef Frots. The burger is gaining a heavy following, growing into the restaurant’s bestseller. As for the frots, the dish comprises fries, tater tots, barbecue sauce and the ever-popular Italian beef.


4. Mr. Beef and Pizza
1796 S. Elmhurst Road, Mount Prospect
(847) 228-1210

Family owned and operated, Mr. Beef and Pizza has been serving the Chicago scene for nearly 40 years and has no plans of slowing down. This is to the pleasure of many diners who go to Mr. Beef to enjoy a classic Italian beef sandwich or its “popular cousin,” the cheesy beef, in which a blanket of melted cheese coats the top of the sandwich. Mr. Beef’s meat slices are roasted in-house daily and are seasoned with the eatery’s signature blend of Italian herbs and spices. The lively restaurant is known among the community to have a hands-on approach allowing the staff and family of Mr. Beef to get to know their customers personally, really completing the concept and joy of taking in a hefty meal among great company.


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