The Italian beef is an honest sandwich, in that there's really nowhere to hide when all you're working with is beef, gravy, peppers, and giardiniera. It’s either good, or it’s not. And when it's good, it's either good, or it's one of Chicago's 10 best that Thrillist power-ranks. These are those latter kind.
The top 10 Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago
10. Mr. Beef on Orleans (click here for address and info)
Despite Jay Leno waxing on about it, it’s mainly the location that gets this beef onto the list, as it's a rare, real Chicago joint in the Downtown area. I always feel the beef is a bit under-seasoned, even after you scoop on plenty of giardiniera. But I give it an A for “I want to get my head out of the office for 20mins” Chicago jamoke atmosphere.
9. Jay’s Beef (click here for address and info)
Trendy Wicker Park seems like the last place to look for an authentic Italian beef, unless it’s free-range and topped with Thai ginger remoulade. But Jay’s is an old-school beef mini-chain from the Northwest burbs that opened a location in a former coffee shop. In the process, it accidentally created the world’s first hipster Italian beef spot. The meat and gravy are only on the upper-end of average, but the fresh, celery-heavy giardiniera is very good.
8. Roma’s Italian Beef & Sausage (click here for address and info)
Friendly, new owners run it now, but the beef recipe -- like the decor -- goes back to the crusty original owners in the '70s, and has lots of good spice to it. Added bonus: they have decent pizza if you’re, you know, dating somebody who doesn’t understand the majesty of Italian beef (that might be a red flag, actually).
7. Tony’s Italian Beef (click here for address and info)
South Side, West Lawn
This place is so old-time-neighborhood, the last time I went here a woman in line asked me if I was a McNulty, like everybody naturally knows the McNultys around there. They’ve got all the cop-food South Side specialties; they also put cheese on a beef if you want, but we’ll ignore that. Anyway, pretty good beef, could use brighter seasoning, proud and dedicated staff. Tell ‘em McNulty sent ya.
6. Bari Foods (click here for address and info)
Near West Side, Noble Square
This Italian grocer is famous for its great, house-made giardiniera, so no surprise that it’s the star of the Italian beef (which seems to be a permanent special). What is a surprise is that the beef itself is so good -- its got a thicker cut of quality beef in a nicely-seasoned gravy, all on a sub roll that seems to hold up longer than the typical Gonnella roll... a wise choice in a place that only sells to-go.
5. Hot Dog Station (click here for address and info)
I seem to be the only one championing this obscure-yet-very-well-run Albany Park hot dog stand, but go try the beef here and tell me they’re not doing everything right. They've got quality beef and sausage, lots of bright spice flavor in the gravy, and peppers grilled by hand before they go on your sandwich.
4. Duke’s Drive-In (click here for address and info)
One sure sign that an Italian beef's above-average is if they have live charcoal burning for the sausages. Even if you don’t order a beef-sausage combo, the fact that they care enough to do it backyard-BBQ-style is bound to rub off in other areas. This family-run stand in South suburban has juicy, char-grilled sausages, but the beef is just as impressive, served in a rich, beef-soupy gravy.
3. Al’s No. 1 Italian Beef (click here for address and info)
The Taylor Street original Al’s is the oldest and most famous Italian beef in town -- and surely the most expensive, too. But order a combo, and you won’t regret the price once you taste the combination of sausage (grilled over charcoal right there behind the cash register), and beef in Al’s unique, cinnamon-tinged, grease-unafraid gravy. The original is a different company from the franchises, and should be experienced on its own (preferably with an Italian lemonade from Mario’s across the street), but the franchises are pretty faithful to the original and serve in a pinch, too.
2. Joe Boston’s Italian Beef (click here for address and info)
West Side, Humboldt Park
Dating back to 1949, this beef stand has all the non-atmosphere of a factory lunchroom, which is basically what it is, since it's outlived the neighboring factories. The richly spiced, oregano-dominant broth and the thinly shaved beef seem to melt into the bread. Then put the carrot-/chili pepper-driven, almost Mexican-style giardinera on top, and you’ve got a symphony of cheap eats.
1. Johnnie’s Beef (click here for address and info)
Johnnie’s regularly tops all the best Italian beef lists, and who am I to argue? The spice-rich, complex gravy is the gold standard, while the sausages (cooked over charcoal right there on the line) benefit from the rapid turnover of the line to guarantee you a juicy perfect one almost every time. Fries are forgettable, Italian ice a mild diversion, but the beef is as good as it gets.
1. Mr. Beef Chicago666 N Orleans St, Chicago
2. Jay's Beef2255 W North Ave, Chicago
3. Roma's Italian Beef4237 N Cicero Ave, Chicago
4. Tony's Italian Beef7007 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago
5. Bari1120 W Grand Ave, Chicago
6. Hot Dog Station4742 N Kimball Ave, Chicago
7. Dukes Drive-In8115 Harlem Ave, Oak Lawn
8. Al's Italian Beef1079 W Taylor St, Chicago
9. Joe Boston's Italian Beef2932 W Chicago Ave, Chicago
Nationally famous for its Italian beef sandwich, the menu features a wide array of Italian/American comfort food.
Jay's has been around since '76 and they've been doling out some of the best beefwiches (their signature sandwich) ever since.
In business for more than 45yrs, Roma's is one of the premiere destinations for Italian beef sammies, not to mention their Italian sausage sandwiches, Neapolitan pizzas, hand-cut fries.
Tony's been slinging Italian beef in Southside since 1975, so you know you can trust them to hook you up with juicy beef on a fluffy, chewy roll, topped up with spicy, tangy giardiniera peppers.
Bari's an Italian grocer known for delicious sandwiches like their Italian beef -- house-made giardiniera, thick-cut beef with savory gravy, and a sturdy roll that will hold up to all that hearty stuff inside. The West Loop hot spot, therefore, serves up some of the best sandwiches in the city, and the sheer variety on the menu makes it difficult to just pick one sandwich to choose from. We recommend going for the footlong prosciutto and fresh mozzarella, which perfectly combines salty and creamy flavors.
This reliable hot-dog joint is right across the street from the Kimball Brown Line stop, and will impress you with a few gourmet-style dogs. Traditional Chicago dogs are served alongside the "Long Island" (kraut, chili, onions), other geographically-named wieners, and popular Italian beef sandwiches.
WHERE'S THE BEEF?! At Duke's Drive-In, naturally, where you can score hamburgers, sausage, hot dogs, meatballs, and more, all of which they'll gladly serve you on something called "gravy bread", which is almost certainly worth the cholesterol.
University Village’s Al’s Italian Beef is a strong believer in letting you choose how juicy you want it to be, it being their famous original Italian Beef sandwich, of course. The beef, which is thinly sliced and dry-roasted in a secret recipe blend of pure spices and natural juices, undergoes a hot-and-sweet-pepper-gravy transformation at increments ranging from “dry” and “dipped” to “regular” and “wet.” The counter-serve restaurant also offers fresh cut fries, char-grilled burgers, tamales, and chili. Sit down indoors or outdoors, or take out; Al’s isn’t picky.