Chicago is known for its food. And there’s nothing more quintessentially Chicago than a great Italian beef sandwich. Locals crave them and tourists adore them. People will argue about which place has the best Italian Beef sandwiches. It’s almost as much of a pastime here as rooting for the Cubs and hating on the White Sox or vice versa.
If you’re new to the city or just looking for great new options, you want to know the best, most authentic places to get an Italian Beef. Most Chicagoans have their favorites, but that doesn’t mean we won’t try something new. You never know when a restaurant will come along that blows you away with flavor, and we are always looking for that.
If you’re in Chicago visiting, or a local looking for a new place to try, check out our list of the best places to get an Italian Beef. Or treat a friend with a virtual GiftYa card that they can use for their next tasty Chicago treat.
Before we get into the list of the best places to get an Italian Beef, let’s go through a bit about what makes a great Italian Beef. For this list, we chose a little something for everyone. No two are exactly alike. We also included places outside of the city, because there are a ton of amazing beef stands, and this gives you a few options no matter where you are.
People make a lot of fuss over how to order a beef or what’s the real Chicago way to eat a beef. For anyone new to the city trying to sound like a real Chicagoan, we don’t actually care how you say it. There’s nothing wrong with letting us know it’s your first beef. We love nothing better than introducing someone to our favorite dishes.
Beef sandwiches started long ago, using less expensive cuts of meat because, well, we were poor. So the artistry was in how you seasoned and cooked the meat, and that’s still the biggest part of making a great sandwich (thought the cuts of beef are a higher quality in a lot of places). It’s a bit like a French Dip, but ours has a lot of flavors and we serve them a few ways.
You can get yours dry, wet, or dipped. Dry just means that they don’t add any extra gravy to your bread. The bread still soaks in some gravy from the beef itself. Wet means that they open the bun and dip it into gravy before putting your beef on top. Dipped is just what it sounds like. They dip the whole thing in the gravy. It’s wet and messy, so grab extra napkins. But definitely worth it.
Most people eat their beef with either sweet pepper or Giardiniera (usually called hot). The sweet peppers are either red or green bell peppers. The Giardiniera is an art form all its own and a lot of people choose their favorite beef stand based on the Giardiniera.
The original Original Chickies was located on the south side of Chicago. This one is in Hillside, so about 20 minutes outside of the city, which makes it a good option for anyone in the near west suburbs.
This restaurant has a long Chicago history, and the beefs are some of the city’s favorites. According to their website, they were even voted “Best Beef in Chicago” and if you look up any best of list of beef stands, you’ll find the name Chickies mentioned. The great thing about the new Chickies is that it’s run by the same family that started the original. They use all the original recipes, and everything is made fresh there. No skipping steps or taking shortcuts and you can taste the difference in the food.
Located just to the west of Chicago in Cicero, IL, Freddy’s Pizza has made every best of list for Italian food in the city. They’re not known for their beefs specifically, but their Italian Beef sandwiches are phenomenal. The problem with Freddy’s is that they have so many amazing options, you won’t be able to go in for just an Italian Beef.
If you’re stopping through, Freddy’s also makes and jars their own Muffuletta mix and Giardiniera, both world class. And do yourself a major favor and grab a slice of pizza and homemade gelato or Italian Ice. You won’t find a thing on the menu that you don’t love. They started as a little deli with an outside table. Now they have a seating area so you can stay and enjoy your food there. Plan for a crowd, though. This place is packed during all their open hours.
Buona Beef was founded in Berwyn, but it has locations all over the city and suburbs today. Which is great because the beef sandwiches are amazing. If you want an authentic Italian Beef no matter where you are, there’s probably a Buona nearby. Buona’s giardiniera is also the original or old-fashioned blend, using the traditional celery, carrots, cauliflower, and peppers combo.
Johnnie’s Beef is one of the best-known beef stands in the area. We can’t fail to mention this one because die-hards will tell you that it’s their favorite and there are a lot of die-hards. The original Johnnie’s is in Elmwood Park, and anyone from the Chicago area knows that there are a lot of Italians in this neighborhood, so the Italian food needs to be on point.
Johnnie’s is always busy, and they give you a solid sampling of what a real Chicago Beef is supposed to be. Grab yours with sweet or hot or both.
You can find plenty of faithful Pop’s fans. There’s one location in the city and several throughout the suburbs. Their beef sandwiches are tender, and the gravy is probably the best part. Perfectly seasoned and mouthwatering. They serve the traditional Giardiniera for the hot fans and you can grab a combo here or stick with the regular beef.
Pop’s has a good array of choices on the menu, but if you’re in the area you need to try the beef sandwich. It’s by far a favorite. They serve it any way you like it, dry, wet, or in between. Try the wet, because you really don’t want to miss out on the flavor of the gravy here
Scatchell’s has been serving up Italian Beef sandwiches since the 1950s. To be in business that long, you know they’re doing something right. This is a true representation of what a Chicago Beef is supposed to taste like, even though Scatchell’s is technically outside of the city, in Cicero.
They have a full menu of beef stand items, like hamburgers, traditional Chicago dogs, and sausage sandwiches. It’s what you’d expect from the beef stand experience, uncomfortable seating and down-home dive atmosphere. Decently priced for a good size beef.
You can’t have a list of Italian Beef sandwiches and leave out this gem located in Little Italy. Carm’s is approaching 100 years of business and there’s a reason it’s lasted so long. People trek back to this old Italian neighborhood from miles out in the suburbs just to get a taste of their favorite foods.
Carm’s beef is made the old-fashioned way, no muss, no fuss, and lots of garlic. It’s a great sandwich and their Italian Ice makes it doubly worth the visit.
This place is well known by anyone who likes great Italian food. It’s best known for the Italian subs, but their beef sandwiches are a treat. One of the things that Bari is known for is the imported ingredients. This is a traditional Italian deli, so they use the most authentic items in their foods. Their Italian beef is slow roasted with a unique flavor that many people would put at the very top of their list.
This is an added bonus item for this list because it’s technically not a beef sandwich. Lavergne’s in the Berwyn Depot District is known for food fusion, a welcoming atmosphere, and a good bar.
What it’s also known for are the Beef Eggrolls. These little treats are all sorts of amazing and you don’t want to miss them. Their beef eggrolls are made with Italian Beef, Giardiniera, and provolone, all wrapped up in a neat little eggroll. They serve them as an appetizer. Two eggrolls in an order. But one order is enough for two people. They’re a good size eggroll. They serve it with au jus to dip. It’s a neighborhood favorite that’s worth the trip by itself but a lot of people stop at Lavergne’s for the rest of the menu, too. Great staff and a comfortable environment. They also have an outside patio area to enjoy in the nice weather.