Al’s Beef – Oak Lawn, IL
It’s been way too long since we’ve been to Chicago. Way too long. Not only do I miss seeing our families, but man, do I miss the food.
We really needed to make a trip back to Chicago to pick up a lawmower from J’s parents. On top of that, J’s mom is spending the week with us and her step-dad is planning on coming up for the weekend, so we also picked her up so they wouldn’t have two cars in Kalamazoo. It worked out for everyone.
After getting back to J’s parents house a little after 3:00 Eastern, we loaded up everything that was making the trip back to Kalamazoo then headed to lunch. I really, really wanted to go to our favorite pizza place, but it’s closed on Tuesday’s. Yeah, that’s not odd at all. Closed on Tuesday?
Since pizza was out, I wanted Italian Beef. Most people run to Portillo’s which is a fine option, but it’s nowhere near as good as as Al’s Beef.
Al’s Beef is a Chicago legend. They have multiple stores throughout the region, but the closest to J’s parents is on 95th Street in Oak Lawn. It’s only been open a couple years and it’s in a newer development downtown. They share a building with Nancy’s Pizza which I’ve never had…mostly because if I’m going in the door, I want beef.
It’s been a little over a year and a half since the last time I had Al’s. In fact, I can tell you the exact date. 9-24-09. I can tell you that date for two reasons. One, I blogged about it on Mid-Michigan Dining, but the real reason is that it was two days before our wedding. J and her mom were picking up bridesmaids at the airport and I went for an Italian Beef.
I love Al’s, but J was a little hesitant. She doesn’t like beef and didn’t know what she could eat. Had we went to Portillo’s, she would have gotten her favorite salad, but Al’s is just sooooooo much better.
The store is kind of set up like a fast food joint. You order at a counter then wait for your name to be called with your order. There was no one else in line when we walked in so J told me to order first since I knew what I wanted while they looked over the menu.
I didn’t even look at the menu. I just went straight for a six inch Italian beef, dipped, with hot peppers and provolone cheese. Italian beef the way it should be. For two bucks, I added on a large drink and a large order of fries. J’s mom also got an Italian beef but dry and with just hot peppers, no fries, and a small drink. J ordered a Buffalo chicken wrap with a medium drink and medium fries. The cost was around $30 which is a little pricey, but worth it if you really like good Italian beef…and yes, I do.
I grabbed my large cup and went to get a Pepsi. J and her mom followed and I took a seat in the small dining room to wait for our food. About the time the ladies were sitting down, we heard J’s name being called, so she went up and got our food.
My Italian beef was incredible. The awesome thing about Al’s is the bread. Even when it’s dipped it holds up to gravy. It’s an ooey mess…so much that there is even a proper way to eat Al’s. At the original store, seating is limited, but there are counters that you can stand next to. The proper way to eat the sandwich is called “The Italian Stance.” It’s designed to keep the drippings off your shirt if you’re stopping in for lunch. What you do is put your elbows on the counter and stand 2 1/2 feet away so you’re leaning on your elbows. You can’t do that at the Tinley Park store because there is no counter…just tables, so I ate my Italian beef like it was a regular sandwich, but it was nothing like a regular sandwich. The hot peppers are piled on to one side of the meat and the provolone cheese is melted on top. The Italian beef is easily the world’s most perfect sandwich. It makes me so sad that 98% of the country has no idea what an Italian beef is.
The fries at Al’s are what really sets it apart from the competition. They are skin on fries that are really greasy and incredibly delicious. They are, as Cookie Monster would say now, a sometimes food, but so worth it. When I think of good Chicago style fries, I think of Al’s. I knew J would like them and she did…so I didn’t feel horrible about taking her to a place that celebrates the Italian beef sandwich.
As for the Buffalo wrap, I don’t think J was a huge fan. She ate half of it then wrapped the other half up and handed it to me. I haven’t tried it yet, but she said it was pretty hot which usually means she didn’t enjoy it.
Oh, how I love Al’s Beef. I’m so happy that a franchise was opened near J’s parents so I have better access to the gravy soaked deliciousness that is a true Chicago legend.