Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Portillo's

Location: 100 W. Ontario St.
Cost: Normally less than $10 per person, but for our feast it came to $15

Passover finally ended, and a feast was in order. I know I was talking about how great it usually is to end the holiday with some Lou Malnati's pizza, but I was in the mood for another Chicago classic... Portillo's. Portillo's has always been a big pig out spot for me. Back when I went to overnight camp (Camp Chi) during the summers, the buses would conveniently return us home at a spot across the street from Portillo's (Arlington Heights location). In high school, when we were finally allowed to drive off campus for food we'd hit up the Vernon Hills location all the time. The point is that I've had a ton of Portillo's, but I hadn't had any since starting JEC. I'd discussed so many hot dogs, italian beef sandwiches, and french fries, but I hadn't talked about a standard that you can get throughout pretty much all of the Chicago land area.

So last night the Bulls and Blackhawks were on TV, and instead of going to a bar to watch we decided to stay in. It just so happens that Ricky works down the street from the River North Portillo's. So he picked it up on his way home from work.

Logistics
Each Portillo's is a pretty large building with an order at the counter and take a number set up. It can be pretty hit or miss on how busy things are, but it's usually pretty packed at lunch time. They're all about efficiency though (people taking your order while you wait in line, lots of employees on busy shifts), so it's usually doable in your lunch hour. They do a big drive-thru business as well. I'd say the worst of these drive-thrus is at the River North location where you basically have to drive through a back alley near the the restaurant.

The cost is cheap. You can get a hot dog for $2.35, italian beef for $4.65, a large salad for $7, a large milkshake for $2.99, a large fry for $1.85, and a slice of chocolate cake for $2.40.

The Food
So I'll get started with the salad. You've got to go for the Chopped Salad at Portillo's. Its strong suits are the Gorgonzola cheese, pasta, tender chicken bites, and a fantastic house dressing. It's right up there with the Malnati salad and the Wildfire Chopped Salad in my book.

The Chopped Salad

Each of us then proceeded to order an Italian Beef Sandwich, Chicago Style Hot Dog, and Fries. With the beef, I'd call it a mix between Al's and Mr. Beef style. My buddy Steve Bacalar says this is his favorite I-beef in the city, but I think it's still below Al's. In general it's meatier than Al's, not as meaty as Mr. Beef, but the meat has more seasoning than Mr. Beef. The giardiniera is a little plain, but the sweet peppers made up for it. The gravy could use a bit more flavoring, but I'm just getting picky at this point (obviously I liked the gravy enough to get my sandwich dipped). Hot dog is pretty standard. The casing had a nice snap (+1 point), but the bun always seems to get a bit soggy (-1 point). The fries are also pretty basic crinkle cut guys. They go kind of heavy on the salt for my taste.

 The Chicago Style Hot Dog

 The French Fries

The Dipped Italian Beef
(Sorry that it doesn't look so good, but it's soaking in gravy! In a good way though) 

I'm still up in the air about the Milkshakes at Portillo's. It could be a little thicker, and there's always a bunch of chocolate syrup that hasn't been mixed in well enough sitting at the bottom. Still, it's cheap, huge, and pretty tasty. Now the Chocolate Cake at Portillo's can't be beat. It's often overlooked because you usually don't have room for dessert. My family always used to get Dairy Queen ice cream cakes for birthdays, but the Portillo's chocolate cake has nudged those out more recently. It's never too dry, and the frosting isn't overbearing to the cake.

The Chocolate Milkshake

 The Chocolate Cake

Overall
I wouldn't call Portillo's a gold standard for hot dogs, fries, or I-beef, but I would say that it's a consistently good option all across Chicago land. They have some "surprise" dishes that will blow you away in the Chopped Salad and Chocolate Cake, while you can't really go wrong with a dog or beef. I'm giving Portillo's 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Addendum
I've recently gone to the Vernon Hills location for Portillo's. It's spot on the same. They do a great job of handling crowds and I wolfed down a lovely salad and I-Beef. I know it's a chain and all, but they set a pretty good standard for other places trying to make classic Chicago dishes.

Addendum
I just went to the location in Buffalo Grove / Arlington Heights. I went for the salad this time and split a hot dog and fries with my sister. It's the same place with a slightly smaller layout and a seemingly endless drive through line. 


Portillo's Hot Dogs (Chicago) on Urbanspoon
Portillo's (Vernon Hills) on Urbanspoon
Portillo's on Urbanspoon

4 comments:

  1. Love me some Portillo's! I always go nuts right after Passover ends, and I usually go for a burger or hot dog. If you like the chocolate cake you should try the chocolate cake shake. Soooo good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Portillo's is absolutely fantastic -- I love going there whenever I get a chance.

    I always have to get their beef and cheddar croissant, although I'll get a regular italian beef as well. Their croissants are flaky and buttery as all get out, really good.

    As for the cake and shakes... well, I don't know if you knew, but recently they started selling a chocolate cake shake. They literally just chop up a piece of cake and blend it with the shake. It adds a much stronger chocolate flavor and the thickness that the shakes need (as you mentioned, they're normally a bit thin) but the sheer amount of calories and sugar mean it's a two-meal treat (last time I had it I ended up freezing half of it for later -- I was incapable of finishing it)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Portillo's has the best Italian beef in Chicago. Better than Al's and Mr. Beef. It deserves another pearl! Plus, I think there's a sweet pepper in that picture. Bad form. Hot peppers only. Even Ricky knows that.

    ReplyDelete
  4. First of all, there are both sweet and hot peppers in the picture. The hot peppers there are ok. Second of all, I'd say that Portillo's is more consistent that Al's. You may have noticed that Al's has like 50 new locations now, and they're not all that great. You've really got to go to the one in Little Italy. That one is better than all Portillo's beef. Otherwise you'd be right. Finally, Ricky got his hot dogs without tomatoes, which is a much more egregious mistake than using both types of peppers.

    ReplyDelete