Wikipedia describes an Italian beef sandwich in the following manner:
"An Italian beef is a sandwich of thin slices of seasoned roast beef , dripping with meat juices, on a dense, long Italian-style roll, believed to have originated in Chicago, where its history dates back at least to the 1930s. The bread itself is often dipped (or double-dipped) into the juices the meat is cooked in, and the sandwich is typically topped off with Chicago-style giardiniera (called "hot") or sauteed, green Italian sweet peppers (called "sweet").
Italian beef sandwiches can be found at most hot dog stands and small Italian-American restaurants throughout the city of Chicago and its suburbs. They are difficult to find outside the Chicago metropolitan area. However, Chicago expatriates have opened restaurants across the country serving Italian beef, Chicago-style hot dogs, and other foods original to the Chicago area."
What this fails to mention is how incredibly awesome this sandwich is. Seriously, it's a death row meal. Unlike many other sandwiches the secret is it's simplicity. It doesn't require cheese, or any other condiment to make it tasty. The meat, the juice, the bread - it's enough. I prefer my sandwich with giardiniera, but I'll eat it plain, if it's a good sandwich. That's the other side of the knife edge; while a good beef is sublime, a bad one is horrendous. It's not like pizza or a burger, where even a bad one is edible. No, a bad Italian beef sandwich is an affront to the palate, a disgrace to tradition.
My personal favorites:
- Al's Beef - This is tops on my list, just about. Great gravy, great thin giardiniera. Also makes great Italian sausage. But, one word of warning. Go to the original on Taylor, or the one on Ontario. Ignore the rest.
- Johnnie's Beef - I can't believe they don't have a website. Great traditional style beef, with clear, gray-brown juice. And a phenomenal sausage; order the combo. Also, go when it's nice out, there isn't any indoor seating.
- Joe Boston's Italian Beef - This one is a recent addition to my list. I had seen it for years, but never went in to try it, even though it was in my neighborhood. My mistake - while the fries are often lackluster, the beef itself is tasty, juicy and delicious.
- Portillo's - It's tasty, delicious and everywhere. 'Nuff said.
And now, for some food porn:
Now - go get yourself a sandwich! "One beef, hot; dipped."