Chicago Style Italian Beef

Today we’re examining Chicago Style Italian Beef including the history, the ingredients and most importantly where to get it. In the past we’ve broken down Chicago Deep Dish Pizza and it is probably more involved than you might think.

Chicago Style Italian Beef History

We’re not sure why we Chicagoans have such a hard time with history and getting stories straight. Who started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? Where did we get our Chicago Nicknames? Italian Beef also has some debatable origins. Here are a handful of the most recognized theories.

  1. 1925 a company by the name of Scala’s Original Beef and Sausage Company started in Chicago. (Spoiler alert: it still does operate and supplies many Chicago restaurants with their meat for beef sandwiches). According to them the Italian Beef was introduced at weddings and banquets. The roasted beef was sliced thing and served on bread to help “stretch” the food to feed the many guests. It was, needless to say, a very popular item and the rest is history.
  2. Then there is the story of an Italian immigrant working in the Chicago Stock Yards in the early 1900s. (The stock yards were Chicago’s meat-packing district, and Chicago led the world in meat packing back then). The worker would take home the less desirable cuts of meat that the company sold and according to the story made literally the same exact thing that is served today: roast the beef in Italian spices and broth, slice it, serve on Italian bread. This one seems a bit far-fetched, but we love it.
  3. And while perhaps not the inventory of Italian Beef sandwiches we do have to tip our caps to Al Ferreri and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli. Why? Because that trio is responsible for opening Al’s Beef in 1938. The restaurant is still open today and has expanded quite a bit. In fact there is one in Dubai now!

Regardless of who invented the Chicago Style Italian Beef when we know this much – it’s dang good. Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients used to make these sandwiches.

Chicago Style Italian Beef Ingredients

Al’s Beef Chicago Style Italian Sausage. Don’t you tell us this doesn’t make you hungry.

We like this part the best. So often we don’t know what were eating. A Chicago Style Italian Beef? Easy, it’s meat, bread, juice and maybe some peppers, right? Not so fast…

The meat used to make an Italian Beef sandwich is beef. Typically it’s one of three different cuts of meat: sirloin rear, bottom round or top round. Bottom Round is by far the most popular which if you look at the graphic below it would be a 32 lb. cut of beef just above the shank on the outside of the steer’s hind legs.

Study and remember these cuts the next time you are shopping for beef in the grocery store.                                                                                                                        Source: Yzmo at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (

Most likely the cut used in Italian Beef is going to be from the Bottom Round because it’s lean and it’s the cheapest cut. However the meat isn’t as tender as some of the other cuts. To make the meat soft and delicious it’s roasted at a medium heat in a garlicky broth infused with Italian spices such as oregano. This style of roasting in a liquid is called a wet roast. Depending on the exact style of cut and how long the beef is roasted you could lose almost half of the weight during the cooking process. Yikes!

Once the beef is cooked it’s then sliced thin in a deli slicer and returned to it’s broth to cook some more before being served to you on an Italian roll with your choice of peppers – either sweet or hot.

You’re going to get your choice – sweet or hot peppers. Of course you could opt for neither, but if you take one or the other here is what you’re getting:

  • Sweet Peppers – the pepper is actually called the Friggitello, but you might here it in the streets called “Golden Greek”. We (Americans) will often times confuse this with a peperoncini – THIS IS NOT a peperoncini. Oh, and often times if you order sweet peppers on your Italian Beef you could get simply cooked green bell peppers, which is OK too.
  • Hot Peppers – Mmm. This is where it’s at! When you order hot peppers on your Chicago Style Italian Beef you aren’t simply going to get a couple of whole peppers thrown on there. You’re going to get a hot relish of pickled vegetables that INCLUDE peppers called Giardiniera. (Pronounced: JAR – DIH – NAIR – AH) This HOT style relish is a Chicago thing and we’ll often times add sport peppers to kick it up a notch. The remaining vegetables include carrots, celery, cauliflower, serrano peppers and gherkins. There can be an entire post on Giardiniera – which is a good idea…

Some places you can have them throw cheese on top, typically melted mozzarella. We’ve had it. It’s not bad – actually it’s quite good. However, there is just something that feels “right” about not getting cheese. No one is going to look at you crazy if you order a cheesy beef though.

And when you order you are definitely going to be asked “Wet or Dry?” This can throw a first-timer off. You might be wondering, “wait…what? it’s a sandwich..” Here is what you need to know to properly answer:

  • Wet: The beef gets pulled from the broth with tongs and is immediately put onto the Italian roll – most of the juices are soaked into the bread.
  • Dry: The beef gets pulled from the broth and the server gives the beef a chance to dry off. Most of the juices drip back into the pot and don’t make it to your bread.
  • Dipped: This is a thing. Beef sandwich is made and then with the tongs the ENTIRE sandwich is dipped into the broth. 100 out 100 in the flavor department, 100 out of 100 in the very soggy, kind of hard to eat department too.

Where to get Chicago Style Italian Beef

Johnnie’s Beef (Courtesy of TripAdvisor)

There are so many great places for Italian Beef in Chicago. We couldn’t possibly list them all. We’ll do our best to provide our favorites. If we forgot a place on this list add it to the comments section. In no particular order…

Al’s Beef – Many locations, one of the originals founded in 1938

Mr. Beef on Orleans – Another one of the originals – classic.

Johnnie’s Beef – One of our favorites – located just west of Chicago. Yum.

Portillo’s – A Chicagoland favorite – has a large menu of other foods too and many locations across the city.

Jay’s Beef – This place serves awesome beef sandwiches and is located in Wicker Park. So we like it. A lot.

Enjoy your Chicago Style Italian Beef sandwiches!

Chicago Neighborhood Guide: Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park really does have it all. Plenty of unique boutique shops, restaurants galore, a thriving nightlife, miles of park along Lake Michigan, North Ave Beach, Lincoln Park Zoo, a Nature Museum and more. It’s why we offer a Free 2 hour Guided Tour of Lincoln Park.

The easy part is deciding to visit Lincoln Park. The hard part is deciding on how long to stay and what exactly you should do. Let’s assume you have 1 full day to spend in Lincoln Park, here is what you should do.

Breakfast or Brunch?


Orange Contemporary Brunch

First things first you’re going to need to get come food in your belly because you have a big day planned. If you’re visiting on a weekday we suggest stopping Orange Contemporary Brunch (2413 N Clark St) which is open everyday of the week at 8am. Make sure to try their orange peel coffee and a pancake flight. If you’re visiting on the weekends and want to try a special menu for brunch stop by Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (2024 N Halsted St) which serves a Spanish-inspired sweet and savory brunch menu starting at 9am on Saturday and Sunday. Our favorite is the Breakfast Paella which serves 2-3 people.

Get your shop on.

Regardless of where you fill up to start the day you’re next stop is going to be the Chicago Landmark Armitage-Halsted District. This is the center of the main shopping corridor in Lincoln Park. If you find yourself on Clark Street for breakfast make sure to stop in Aaron’s Apothecary (2338 N Clark St) and check out their fantastic selection of high-end candles & skin care. Estheticians are waiting to help you with any questions and make sure you leave with the right product.

Once you’re at the intersection of Armitage & Halsted you’re just a short walk to many of our favorite shops. Just west on Armitage is a great little stationary and gift shop – All She Wrote (825 W Armitage Ave). Just north on Halsted is a very unique place specializing in one-of-a-kind fragrances. Aroma Workshop (2050 N. Halstead Street) offers their guests an opportunity to create their very own fragrance with workshops and classes. Check their schedule and make an appointment or walk-in and see how it works. Continuing up Halsted you will not only be walking along one of Chicago’s most beautiful retail streets but you will come across a wide variety of shops as well. Groshek Art Gallery (2136 N Halsted St), Read It & Eat (2142 N Halsted St), & Calvin Tran (2154 N Halsted St) all line the west side of the street.

But don’t just take our word for it, explore the area on foot and pop into all the wonderful shops that line the streets. Soon you will have worked up a hunger and if you’re still in the Armitage-Halsted District then you’re going to have lots of options.

Lunch in Lincoln Park

Butcher & The Burger

Butcher & The Burger

Let’s assume that you’re still in the vicinity, here are the best walkable options.

Cheaper/Fast Eats

Affordable Sit Down

  • Pasta Palazzo – Handmade pastas and tasty sangria – need we say more?
  • Athenian Room – Greek sit down with a patio and BYOB policy.


  • Summer House Santa Monica – This LEYE takes you to California Lincoln Park.
  • Chez Moi – Serving French classics in a casual atmosphere with outdoor seating.

Mid Afternoon in Lincoln Park

Are you full? We hope so. Time work off some of those calories you ate and probably drank. And luckily there is just the activity to do that. Free Chicago Walking Tours has a Lincoln Park tour at 2pm that will start near the intersection of Armitage & Halsted. This is the perfect way to really see Lincoln Park.

Your guide will share with you the history of Chicago & Lincoln Park while winding your way way east through one of the most beautiful residential neighborhoods in Chicago and concluding the tour with a stroll through the Alfred Caldwell Lilly Pool and leaving you just steps from the Lincoln Park Conservatory & Lincoln Park Zoo – both free!

From there you will not want to miss grabbing a drink, and maybe an appetizer, at one of Chicago’s best rooftop bars – The J. Parker. Opening their doors at 5pm during the week and 11:30am on the weekends this place is a DO NOT MISS when the sky is clear. Enjoy amazing views of Lincoln Park and the Chicago skyline from the north – a perspective you do not get with rooftops in the Loop and River North.

After a couple of drinks it’s time to head back to your hotel and get ready for the night. There is still a lot of left to do.



  • Pequods – Our favorite deep dish pizza. If you haven’t had deep dish and you want to then go here. Please.
  • Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Co – Unique potpie-style pizzas served upside down. Always a wait so you know it’s good.

Lincoln Park Specialties

  • Twin Anchors – The best ribs in Chicago. No reservations, expect to wait.
  • The Barrelhouse Flat – Arguable the best bar in Lincoln Park with a small dinner menu. Make sure you visit their upstairs.
  • Social Table – Learn how to cook and meet others at this communal dining spot in Lincoln Park.

Our Favorites for Special Occassion

  • Riccardo Trattoria – delicious regional Italian cuisine in an intimate setting.
  • Intro – the hottest chef’s rotate every 3 months making sure your dinners are never the same.
  • North Pond – Michelin-starred with romantic setting overlooking the Chicago skyline.

And finally, after your dinner it’s time for dancing. And there is no single place we’d rather get our groove on than the world famous blues club Kingston Mines (2548 N Halsted St). This place opens at 7pm every single day (and has for 40+ year) and goes until 4am. Cover to get in is $12 during the week and $15 on the weekend – but is well worth the price. The music is unbelievable. The musicians are the most talented blues musicians in the city. We absolutely love this place.


Chicago Nicknames

Chicago has a number of well known nicknames such as The Windy City and Second City.   But where exactly did these nicknames come from and what do they mean? We’ll take a look at their origins and dive into a little Chicago history along the way.

Where did ‘Chicago’ come from?

Great question. Chicago is actually a version of a word spoken by the Miami and Illinois tribes to describe a wild leek (a vegetable that belongs in the onion and garlic families) that grew in and around the mouth of what is now the Chicago River. The local tribes called this plant “shikaakwa” – which translates to “stinky onion.” The early explorers that trekked through Chicago in the early 1600s weren’t fluent in the native language and over the course of the next hundred or so odd year “shikaakwa” became “Chicago.” So, technically, our beautiful city is named after a stinky onion-type vegetable that grew here 350 years ago.

The Windy City

The most famous of our nicknames is The Windy City. A lot of visitors assume that the nickname comes from the intense winds that can blow off the shores of Lake Michigan and catch you off guard as the wind sweeps around the buildings in the Loop. Many have lost their hats, glasses and umbrellas over the years. But this isn’t why we’re The Windy City.

There are rich debates actually as to the origins of the nickname. The top two competing theories deal with a city rivalry with Cincinnati that dates back to the 1840s through 1870s as Chicago and Cincy competed for the title of largest meatpacking city in America. Cincinnati held the title, along with the nickname Porkopolis, until the mid 1860s when Chicago took over as the leading pork packer. Chicago decided to take their same nickname, Porkopolis, as well. This city rivalry spilled over to the baseball diamond when Chicago introduced a team named the White Stockings specifically to beat the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Headlines as early as April 20, 1876 proclaimed Chicago as “The Windy City.”

The other leading theory was Chicago’s politicians and lobbyists effectively blowing “hot air” while vying for the right to host the Columbian Exposition of 1893, more commonly known then as the World’s Fair. This was a bitter content with many big cities such as New York, Washington D.C. & St. Louis all wanting to host the fair. Many figured that New York City would win. Chicago had sent many people out to the east coast to speak and market Chicago as the best city. In the end Chicago did win, hosted the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and in the process might have established the folks from Chicago “Windy” with all of their talking they did.

Second City

There are again a couple of competing explanations as to why Chicago is labeled the Second City. A 1950s book written by New Yorker Magazine writer Abbott J. Liebling titled Chicago: The Second City appears to have solidified the nickname and tied it to our ranking as second best, largely due to population, to New York City. However, that wasn’t the first time the nickname had been used when comparing Chicago to New York City. Second City was a popular term to describe Chicago when we were competing head-to-head with New York City for the rights to host the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Chicago & NYC were the two finalists. We all know how this turned out.

By the way, Chicago is no longer the 2nd largest city in the USA anymore. We’re actually 3rd now behind New York City (8.1M residents) & Los Angeles (3.7M residents). Chicago has 2.7M residents.

There’s another theory of where the nickname came from that we like a little better. Chicago had an opportunity after The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to rebuild a city with a blank canvas. And we took full advantage. In the decades following the fire Chicago experienced the most explosive growth of any city in the history of the world. We pioneered sky scraping, introduced the world to modern retailing practices & created on of the greatest cities on earth. The city you’re visiting today is in fact the Second City.

City of Big Shoulders

This nickname is taken directly from the famous poem by Carl Sandberg titled Chicago published in 1914. The nickname appear in the 5th line and is likely a reference to how Chicago, in the 1850s and 1860s, literally jacked the entire city up 4-14ft creating a world beneath the main street level. After The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 the city was rebuilt properly with several levels. You can see the cars driving below Wacker drive from the north side of the Chicago River at the Du Sable Bridge. Most of the maintenance, garbage and deliveries to all of the buildings take place below the main level which is why you will not notice alleys in the Loop. No need for them.

Other Chicago Nicknames

City on the Make – based on the title of an essay by Nelson Algren published in 1951 that describes a 120 year history in Chicago rife with gansters, hustlers and corrupt politicians.

City in a Garden – based on our city motto, Urbs en Horto, which is Latin for City in a Garden.

The City that Works – famous quote by then Mayor Richard J. Daley

The Third Coast – referencing the shore along Lake Michigan

City by the Lake – self explanatory – we are …a city….by …the lake (Lake Michigan)

Do you have any nicknames you like to use for Chicago? Share them with us in the comment section.




Chicago Hostels

You might not have known, but there are a number of great budget-friendy Chicago hostel options in the hippest neighborhoods.

Don’t assume either that because it’s a hostel you are going to share a bunk bed and a bathroom with a stranger. Almost all of the Chicago hostels today offer private rooms and private bathrooms to travelers not wanting the shared experience. We’ve picked some of our favorites in Chicago – make sure you check them out.

Pro Tip: If you’re interested in staying in a hostel we recommend that you contact the hostel directly vs booking through a 3rd party. You’re almost sure to get the best rate and you will really get a feel for the place by speaking with an employee.

Wrigley Hostel – Cubs and baseball fans you’ll hit a home run if you stay here. Sorry, that was a bad pun. Seriously though, this hostel is less than 1,000 ft from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field – home of the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball team. Wrigleyville is probably Chicago’s most active bar and restaurant neighborhood. Besides the Cubs connection this hostel prides itself on the variety of activities they host from trivia night, to pub crawls to movie nights. Dorm rooms start at $30 and private rooms start at $99.

IHSP Chicago – IHSP Chicago is located in Wicker Park. Do we need to say more? Wicker Park has all the latest and greatest shopping, bars, restaurants and clubs. If that wasn’t enough the hostel provides an unbelievably large list of amenities and activities including free coffee and tea all day, a 24-hr roof-deck with grilling and music, free lockers and luggage storage & free breakfast. Shared rooms start at $35 a night.

Urban Holiday Lofts – This is a pretty swanky hostel located in the popular Bucktown neighborhood steps away from the North Avenue/Milwaukee/Damen intersection which is awesome because from there you can get to almost any part of the city via public transportation (both the blue line and plenty of bus routes run from that intersection). The amenities are pretty extensive and include free breakfast, free wifi, free transportation to the hostel via the CTA and they also have on-site laundry. Dorm style rooms start at $26 while private rooms start at $53.

Holiday Jones – This Chicago hostel is going to get our award for best name. Not sure exactly why, but we love the name Holiday Jones. This is a cousin or a sister or some sort of relative to Urban Holiday Lofts except located a mile south in Wicker Park off the very bumping Division Street. The amenities are pretty extensive and include free breakfast, free wifi, free transportation to the hostel via the CTA and they also have on-site laundry. Dorm rooms start around $40 and private beds start around $90.

The Freehand – The location of this part hotel part hostel (whatever that exactly means) is really sweet – right dead smack in the middle of the River North neighborhood you are surrounded by some of Chicago’s best restaurants and bars and steps from the famous Magnificent Mile. There 24-hr front desk and multi-lingual staff make checking into this place a breeze. The prices for a shared coed room start around $50/night and if you want to go full-on private hotel room the prices start at around $150/night.

Chicago Parthenon Hostel – Where are our Greektown lovers at? Well, this place is for you.     Set in the heart of Chicago’s Greektown. This hostel is small and cozier than some of the others in Chicago but still offers many of the same amenities that you would receive there including free breakfast, on-site bar and restaurant, a kitchen & laundry. Dorm style beds start around $30/night and private rooms start around $60/night.

The Getaway Hostel – The folks at Getaway are re-writing the house rules. Located in the iconic and trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood this hostel welcomes all guests and makes sure you will have a great time with free breakfast, hosted pub crawls, a 24/7 kitchen and a BYOB policy. Shared rooms start around $24/night and private rooms start around $75/night.

HI Chicago Hostel – This is the largest hostel in Chicago. They run non-stop 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. HI Chicago Hostel is located in the south loop just a couple of blocks from the Harold Washington Library Center and has access to plenty of public transportation. No age minimums or restrictions and this hostel will do a great job of making sure that you see the city sights with a variety of activities and programs offered through the hostel. Dorm rooms start at $34 and private rooms start at $119.