The history of the Italian beef sandwich is inextricably linked to the city. In fact, multiple restaurants on this list can tie their own history in some way to the sandwich’s creation.
Dozens of sandwich makers were submitted, and more than 10,000 votes cast, to find which five should be considered the best. So whether you like your beef dry, wet, or full on dipped, with or without peppers or giardiniera, spicy or mild, cheese or no cheese, here are the area’s top five Italian beef sandwiches in no particular order.
Al’s #1 Italian Beef
The family behind Al’s #1 Italian Beef lays claim to the sandwich’s creation. The story they share starts shortly after the end of World War I with the current owner’s grandfather, Anthony Ferreri. The way he tells it, Ferreri made a living selling sandwiches off the back of his truck. Then one day he attended an Italian-American wedding where they were serving dozens of people off a single beef roast. He saw that, thought sandwich, and the iconic Italian beef sandwich was created.
Though Al’s #1 Italian Beef has opened a few franchise locations, you can visit their oldest location at 1079 W. Taylor St. in Chicago.
Here are what some of Al’s beef-loving fans have to say about the sandwich shop:
Al’s has a distinct medley of flavors. The gravy is so good and amazing when you dip the beef wet with provolone hot and sweet peppers with fries! Or even just eating the meat plain or the gravy bread plain. It’s Sooo Yummy!Eunita C.
The combination of beef, peppers, spices, and other flavors make Al’s the best!Tom L.
What began as a small, family-owned beef stand in 1961 hasn’t changed much in the last 60-plus years. Johnnie’s is proud of its beef-centric, no-frills persona and its devoted sandwich fans say the same. If you plan to make a visit here are some tips: it’s cash-only, there’s usually a line out the door and knowing your order before you get to the counter is highly encouraged.
You can find Johnnie’s at two locations: their original spot at 7500 W. North Ave. in Elmwood Park and also 1935 S. Arlington Heights Rd. in Arlington Heights.
Here are what a couple of Johnnie’s fans have to say about this old-school beef stand:
Perfectly thin sliced beef, with world class seasoning and sturdy, yet absorbent bread. Johnnie’s continues to define, what a Chicago beef sandwich is.Geo K.
Utterly old school, no frills, dipped deliciousness. Worth the drive.Paul K.
Though Buona is the youngest Italian beef sandwich maker on the list, the love of their top sirloin is quickly spreading across Chicagoland. What began as a single stand in Berwyn in 1981 has grown to 26 locations as of this writing and it continues to be a family affair. In fact, as one of the Buonavolanto brothers tell it, the company was founded to put the five siblings into business together while carrying the family’s love of good beef.
Find your closest Buona here or visit the one WGN went to at 3754 W. Touhy Ave. in Skokie.
Here are what a few Italian beef-eating patrons had to say about their favorite sandwich:
Combination of spices and herbs that flavor that wonderful beef make it the best tasting, mouth watering, juicy, delectable beefs in the world.Daniel C.
Very consistent amazing flavor across all of their locations! Love that the product is also available at grocery stores as well.Andrew R.
Pop’s Italian Beef & Sausage
Since its founding in 1980, Pop’s Italian Beef & Sausage has been driven by the dream of one man, and no his name is not Pop. Frank Radochonski began his restauranteur career as a teenager with no real plan for his life. Along the way he found Italian beef, fell in love, and took the entrepreneurial leap to strike out on his own. Clearly his customers say it has paid off in the most tasty way.
You can find Pop’s in 17 different locations, but if you want to visit the original head to 7153 W. 127th St. in Palos Heights.
Check out a couple of reasons his customers say they keep coming back for more:
The juice combined with the beef, topped with free sweet and hot peppers, is a delight to your taste buds. My favorite place.Vernon B.
The have the freshest beef and the flavor is out of this world.Michael R.
Scatchell’s Beef & Pizza
Unlike the rest of the list, if you want a taste of Scatchell’s Beef & Pizza there’s only one option for your GPS. Its original incarnation came into existence in 1953 as a food stand but has since grown to be more restaurant-like with indoor seating including a bar. Open seven days a week until one or two in the morning, they are ready to satisfy your craving at most hours of the day.
To find them head to 4700 W. Cermak in Cicero.
Here are what a couple of customers have to say about the beef stand:
Their beefs are fantastic! Full of flavor and huge. Their giardiniera is awesome! This place is the best!Laura S.
Because the meat is sooo delicious the whole sandwich is very good.Wanda B.