Monday, July 26, 2010

Mr. Beef

A few months back, the Travel Channel ran this show called Food Wars. I have no idea if it's still running or not, but the premise is that a blind taste test was held between two rival restaurants in one of many cities. They went to Buffalo, NY to settle some debate over the best buffalo wings in the first episode, and in the second episode they graced Chicago with their presence. The battle.... Italian Beef Sandwiches. The contestants... Mr. Beef and Al's #1 Italian Beef. When I was young, my dad always used to rave about the excellent sandwiches and fries at Al's, and after a few meals there myself it has quickly become my favorite. So, you can imagine how appalled I was when Mr. Beef won the food war 5 judges to 1. How could such a place demolish my long time favorite? I had to see what the big deal was at Mr. Beef. Conveniently, I take blood pressures at a dining program that's pretty close to Mr. Beef. So once with Maddie and then again with Lisa, I went there after an evening of volunteering. (Sorry, no web page for Mr. Beef. It's in River North on Huron and Orleans)

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.

The Food
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.

Mr. Beef on Urbanspoon


  1. Portillos definitely trumps Mr. Beef and Al's

  2. Went to Al's on Ontario and Mr. Beef in consecutive nights a few weeks ago. Al's is better than Mr. Beef, but Portillo's is better than both. I've heard good things about Buona Beef too.

  3. Mr Beef on Ontario is Over rated !! I've tried it several times and will not return. Ditto with AL's.. and their HIGH prices and small portions are ridiculous.

    I do agree, Portillos is very good. I like the beef and cheddar on Croisant.. very yuppy sounding but also very tasty. Also the Regular Beef and /or Sausage sandwich is very good.

    Next .... Take trip out to Mr Beef on Harlem ave.( just south of Irving Park) 1000's times better than the Ontario location.

    There is no business relation between harlem and Ontario locations either.

  4. Johnnys beef on North....trumps em all, by far.