Where to Find Italian Beef Outside Chicago

Its hometown fans may disapprove, but the city’s proprietary sandwich is now being served in all sorts of places.

Its hometown fans may disapprove, but the city’s proprietary sandwich is now being served in all sorts of places.

Chicagoans may be picky when choosing purveyors of Italian beef in their hometown. But they are even tougher on those who try to create the beloved sandwich outside Chicago.

“If you do it in California, and it’s not exactly like they want it, they’ll let you know,” said Chris Caudill, an owner of Roy’s Chicago Dogs at the Yard, in Petaluma, Calif.

Nonetheless, a growing number of brave souls — often displaced Chicagoans — have taken up the challenge of making the city’s least-understood local delicacy a national thing.

Italian beef is served at the Dogg Haus in Milwaukee and at Tony’s Chicago Beef Company, which has locations in Sarasota and Venice, Fla. In New York City, Hank’s Juicy Beef, which before the Covid pandemic had a space on Chambers Street, will re-emerge in January as an extended pop-up at the restaurant Sixth Ward, on Smith Street in Brooklyn. It joins another Brooklyn newcomer: Dog Day Afternoon, a hole-in-the-wall in Windsor Terrace that sells Italian beef and Chicago-style hot dogs.

“It’s kind of like an adult sandwich,” an owner, Joe Boyle, said of the beef dish. “It has a definite following. Plus, there are a lot of Chicago natives around here.”

Mr. Boyle grew up in Oak Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, and opened Dog Day Afternoon in August with Jarret Kerr, whom he worked alongside at the restaurant Buttermilk Channel.


The owners of Dog Day Afternoon — Joe Boyle, left, and Jarret Kerr. Mr. Boyle grew up in Oak Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb.Credit…An Rong Xu for The New York Times

The most prolific proselytizer for the Italian-beef gospel is the Chicago-based chain Portillo’s, which now has outlets in California, Arizona, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida, and has plans to open in Texas. Italian beef is the top seller at every location.

“I get a lot of: ‘I just moved to this city. Can you please open a Portillo’s here?,'” said Nick Scarpino, the chain’s vice president for marketing and off-premises dining.

Italian-beef fans are particular about the sandwich’s trifecta of critical components — moist, thinly sliced beef; a hearty roll; and the spicy relish known as giardiniera or sweet peppers that top it, or both. To keep the Italian-beef critics happy, many of these out-of-town restaurants order ingredients from Chicago-based companies associated with the sandwich, including Vienna Beef for the meat, Turano Baking Company for the bread and Marconi for the giardiniera.

“Some people try to make their own beef broth,” Mr. Boyle said. “They say, ‘I’m going to make this a special sandwich.’ But it’s a working man’s sandwich. It’s straightforward. We try to keep it the same traditional way that it was.”

Mazen Muna, the founder of the Dogg Haus, said that as long as you honor the classic Chicago model, you can make Italian beef anywhere. “I don’t think that it is difficult,” he said. “If a person is buying the correct products and not skimping on quality, geographic location doesn’t make a difference.”

Mr. Caudill, of Roy’s Chicago Dogs in California, believes that the only thing standing between the sandwich and national fame is customer comprehension beyond Cook County.

“It’s kind of funny,” he said. “I’m surprised more people are not doing it. Philly cheesesteak is popular everywhere, but Italian beef is kind of a learning curve.”

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