Portillo’s: Chicago’s ‘Cheese’ Steak

By: Rachel Lowen, posted Apr 24, 2009 at 9:00 am

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The sole Portillo’s in Chicago-proper has come a long way from its Villa Park, IL roots. Originally dubbed, “The Dog House,” Portillo’s began as a less-than modest hot dog stand in 1963, operating out of a 6′ x 12′ trailer without a bathroom or running water. Since then, they have exploded into over thirty Illinois locations, and have recently opened two stores in California. The modern-day Chicago location, looks a bit different than their original trailer, in fact, it’s on a whole other planet.

On this planet, a 1920s Roadster with a “Repeal” license plate hangs from the ceiling on suspension platforms, filled with a family of wax figurines- dog included. 27 employees (within view) bustled behind 4 long counter tops- and one bar. Portillo’s occupies two-stories and half a city block, and they’ve opted to fill this space with every Chicagoesque fantasy-scene imaginable. Giant sports memorabilia banners, black and white gangster photos, enormous wooden clocks, neon lights, faux Chicago flats lining the upper level complete with porches (and drunken wax sculptures passed out on said porches) and a picket fence containing diners on the seated area.

Luckily, the beef sandwich for which I came, has remained intact, despite the, er, improvements to the physical space. Famous for both Italian beef with giardinera and jus dip, as well as the classic Chicago dog- hot dog on a poppy seed bun with Chicago-specific fixin’s, I opted for the Italian beef to judge it as a potentially worthy challenger to Al’s Beef in which on many levels it just did not compare. The beef was good, the jus was great, but the space was dizzying and had a bit too much “cheese” for my liking.

Next time I’ll get mine to go; Or, honestly, I’d probably just go back to Al’s.

Portillo’s Hot Dogs

100 W. Ontario Street Chicago, IL 60654 (Google Map)

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