Mr. Beef is a two room restaurant with an ordering station and counter seating in one room and a very lengthy communal table in the other. I'd say that the decor is what you'd expect. It's definitely not a clean place, but it's not dirty either (kind of the happy medium you'd hope to see at a good beef joint). I don't really know how well they're doing because both times I went, we were the only people there. Plus, each time I went was at like 6:15 on a Wednesday. You'd think they'd be busy, but I'd say that you can walk in at any time and have practically no wait. It's an order at the counter kind of place, so the service was nice and fast. However, one time we went in and the entire staff was on a smoke break out back, so we had to wait until someone noticed they had a customer.
The Communal Dining Table
The cost is average. A beef sandwich and fries is right around $6. Considering how much meat you get on a sandwich, it's actually a pretty good deal. What's annoying is that they charge like $0.25 for a glass of tap water. I always found that to be obnoxious and a sign that business must be pretty crappy. One last note is that they have their own parking lot which is nice since that area is usually difficult for parking.
There are a lot of ways to get a beef sandwich. The first question is how wet you want it to be. I always go with dipped where they actually drop the whole sandwich in the tub of gravy. The next question is what kind of peppers you want. There's usually some mix of large sweet peppers and a giardiniera for your options. I like to get a little bit of both. So my order came to a Beef Sandwich, Wet, Sweet, and Spicy. We also split an order of French Fries, and when I went with Lisa we got some specialty "made in Chicago" root beer.
The Italian Beef
Sweet, Spicy, and Wet
The French Fries and Root Beer
The Italian Beef Closeup
Sweet and Wet
The sandwich was loaded with beef. There must have been at least a half pound of beef on there. Although there was a lot of it, it wasn't necessarily well seasoned, and besides a salty flavor, not too much else came through on top of the natural beef taste. The sweet peppers were just about as good as anywhere else, but the spicy peppers weren't really anything special. Instead of a nice giardiniera, it was more of just chopped celery with a spicy dressing. The jus that my sandwich was soaking in was pretty good, but again could've used some kind of extra flavoring. The bread was delicious, but I think the industry standard in Chicago is to use a Turano roll, which you just can't go wrong with. I guess overall between the meat, the jus, and the spicy peppers I was looking for some kind of special kick that just wasn't there. It was still a hefty portion of rather tasty meat that hit the spot. The fries were pretty thin (like McDonald's size). They were pretty heavily salted and had the feel that they came out of a mass produced bag, which isn't always so bad, but you can get that anywhere.
Mr. Beef was pretty good, but nothing too special. I plan on visiting Al's very soon to give a nice comparison. Honestly, Portillo's belongs in an Italian Beef Food War with Al's much more than Mr. Beef does. That's not really a slight to Mr. Beef, I'm just saying that Portillo's has good beef. If you're in River North, there just so happens to be a Portillo's near the Mr. Beef, and I'd suggest you go there instead. Maybe I was just expecting too much and waiting to be wowed, but I would just say Mr. Beef is average. I'm giving them 2.5 out of 5 Pearls.