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Portillo’s Hot Dogs (Champaign)

September 4, 2019

  • 2306 N. Prospect Avenue
  • Champaign, IL 61822
  • (217) 207-9000
  • Website
  • Menu

In your 20’s, it seems like all you do is go to weddings.  Weekend after weekend after weekend is filled with weddings.

In your late 30’s, weddings are a little more rare and usually just family, but a new thing is popping up.  40th birthday parties.

I’m at that age.  I turn 40 in October.  A lot of my friends are also turning 40 and most of them are getting birthday parties like we’re still 5-years-old.   Only now instead of cake and ice cream, they are full of cheap beer and fireworks.

There are very few people I still maintain contact with from my childhood but there is one guy who has always remained close not only to me but to my entire family.  His 40th birthday party was a couple of weeks ago in Pana, IL.

I’m about 99.9% sure you’ve never heard of Pana.  It’s a small town in Christian County, IL.  It’s much closer to St. Louis than it is Chicago.

We would have needed a babysitter for the whole weekend so J decided to stay home.  My parents were going to the party as well so I pretty much just hung at their house until we made the drive south.

I knew I wasn’t going to stay in Pana all night.  It was just going to be a thing where I made an appearance because he is a friend and it was really important for my mom that I go.  I didn’t know anyone other than my family and his family so there wasn’t a lot for me to do.  I stayed through the fireworks show (yes, there was a professional fireworks show) then started the 5-hour (6 with the time change) trek home.

I had eaten a sandwich at the party but I was still pretty hungry when I left.  I knew that Champaign was a little over an hour away and I knew they had gotten a Portillos since the last time I was in the area.  Portillo’s isn’t always my first choice when it comes to Italian beef but it is a good choice and one I won’t pass up if there’s one nearby.

Portillo’s Hot Dogs is on Prospect Avenue near Town Centre Boulevard on the north side of Champaign.  There really isn’t a nearby Interstate exit to get off on.  My GPS took me north on I-57 past I-74 and backtrack at the Olympian Drive exit.

The restaurant sits in a highly commercialized area in front of a Menards.  The large restaurant sort of looks like a 50’s diner from the outside with a lot of neon and steel panels.  The super efficient drive through wasn’t set up because it was almost 10:00 at night by the time I got there.  There were only a few cars in the parking lot so getting in and getting out was easier than it’s ever been. 

The 50/60’s dine theme continues on the inside.  There actually is a little diner car built into the dining room but that area was closed off and already cleaned up.  The space makes use of vintage toys and advertisements to complete the retro diner feel.

The order counter is near the back of the space.  There are a couple of registers in between the kitchen and the salad bowl area.  The menu hangs behind the registers but, let’s be serious, I knew what I wanted long before I walked in.

I put in my order for a large beef with hot peppers and dipped, a large order of fries, and a large Coke.  The damage was a little $18.  I paid with cash this time because my mom had given me money for dinner.

I moved down the line to the pick-up area.  It took about ten minutes for a man in a sing-song voice call out my number with a little rhyme…something along the lines of “Number 59, your order’s looking fine.”  He handed me a bag with my food and the large Coke.  They don’t do self-serve fountains at any of the Portillo’s restaurant.  I don’t know if they do free re-fills or not because I’ve never asked for one…which is probably why they do it the way they do.

You can’t eat Italian beef in the car.  Trust me, I’ve tried.  Even not getting it dipped, it makes a huge mess…and I got this one dipped.  I found a table in the small dining area near the front of the store.  The simple tables are covered in either a blue or a red checkered plastic table cloth.

I grabbed the fries first because they’re really the reason Portillo’s ranks lower than other Chicago-style places to me and I didn’t want to end the meal on a low note.  They’re so generic.  The fries are just frozen crinkle cut fries with a hearty does of salt.  They’re good but Portillo’s competitors do a much better job and don’t phone it in with frozen fries you can get in the freezer section of any grocery store.

I ordered the Big Beef because I am glutinous.  I didn’t need it but I really like it and it’s not often I get real Italian beef sandwiches.  The beef is so tender and so flavorful.  The bun picks up so much of the flavor from the gravy which is why you have to get it dipped.  People always complain about not being able to pick it up but that’s exactly how I like it.  Rip it in to small pieces.  Use a fork.  I don’t care.  Flavor is more important than how you eat it.  I got my sandwich with hot peppers and, unfortunately, they really skimped on them.  This is not normal for Portillo’s though, so I’ll chalk it up to an oversight.  There was still enough to give the sandwich a crunchy, spicy bite.

I’ve never met a person that doesn’t like Portillo’s. In fact, Portillo’s is damn near synonymous with Chicago Hot Dogs.  People in Southwest Michigan beg constantly for one to be opened here.  I would welcome that with open arms and likely spend my kids college fund on Italian beefs.  I’ve always said I think there are better beefs in Chicago than Portillo’s and I stand by that.  I still really like Portillo’s though.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Joan klein permalink
    September 4, 2019 8:52 pm

    I’m from pana although I haven’t lived there in almost 50 years. I live in Champaign and glad you made it to Portillo, sure beats pana’s mcdonalds, lol

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