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Luke’s Italian Beef

May 15, 2023

  • 215 W. Jackson Boulevard
  • Chicago, IL 60606
  • (312) 939-4204
  • Website
  • Menu

One of my favorite days of the year.  I meet my dad, my brother, and one my friends from my childhood every year for a White Sox game.  

As we get older and all have kids more involved with sports, it gets hard to find an open Saturday.  When the Sox schedule came out this year we went through every Saturday home game and couldn’t find one where all four of us were free.  

We had to turn our attention to Thursday afternoon games.  

We usually go pretty early in the year just to avoid families vacation and travel sports.  Otherwise, we have to wait until August or September and by then, the Sox are usually out of the race and it’s just not as fun.  

We picked a Thursday a couple of weeks ago.  My brother works from home, my friend runs his own business and my dad is retired.  So really, they just have to worry about me being able to take the day off.  

I had a little bit of a problem this year.  My truck was in the shop getting a new fuel pump so I didn’t have a car.  I thought about taking the Amtrak but we usually go out for pizza after the game and I wouldn’t be able to do that.  I ended up just renting a car for the day and driving in.  

I got my car pretty early and headed towards Chicago.  I always like to find an Italian beef before we get to the park.  In the past, we’ve tailgated most years.  Some years we walk down to Morrie O’Malley’s Hot Dogs but most years, we order wings from somewhere but this year, since the game was at 1:10 CT, we didn’t have any plans.  We just met in the parking lot and drank a few beers before going in.  

I got to Chicago around 10:00.  That gave me plenty of time to find a sandwich shop.  I had a couple I had bookmarked in Google maps so it was just picking the one I wanted to go to.  

I ended up picking Luke’s Italian Beef on Jackson Boulevard near South Wells Street in Chicago’s Loop downtown.  The restaurant is on the ground floor of 209 West Jackson.  It has it’s own entrance street side.

The building is right downtown which I did not mean to do. I was looking for something in the neighborhoods around Guaranteed Rate Field but I was mesmerized by the ratings this place got and didn’t look very closely at where it was on the map.

I was worried about parking when I realized where I was but I got super lucky. About a block away, I saw a car pulling out underneath the El and waited. It was an easy back in spot on the corner. I paid for a half hour at the pay box then quickly ran around the corner to Luke’s.

As I was walking to the door, there is a sign that proclaimed “Voted Chicago’s Best Italian Beef sandwich.” It doesn’t say who voted it that and there are a lot of similar signs around the city. I’m always skeptical but those kinds of claims do draw my attention.

The layout at Luke’s is interesting. It’s two levels with the kitchen and ordering area on the second level. You have to go up a set of stairs to find the order counter. I got there right after opening so there weren’t many people in front of me. I quickly scanned the menu…knowing full well I wanted an Italian beef….but I gave it a once over anyway.

A little further down, there’s another counter with pizza slices. They have both the thin crust Chicagoans love and the deep dish the tourist think is Chicago pizza. I passed because I knew I’d end up eating at the park and at our usual Vito & Nick’s stop after the game.

I ordered myself the Italian beef, dipped, with hot peppers and a side of fries. It took less than five minutes for my number to be called and I headed back down the steps to eat. I thought about taking it to the park but I had a little bit of time and it wasn’t going to take me long to inhale such a delicious sandwich.

There area a number of different seating options. If you’re not by yourself, there are tables to sit with friends. A lot of dining done downtown during the day is solo. Whether it’s people from office buildings in the area or construction workers looking to grab a quick lunch. There are several bar stools next to a counter on the wall. Most people would just by pass the barstool and stand. That’s actually the way you eat an Italian beef when you’re in Chicago.

And I happened to pick a spot next to a vintage photo of Comiskey Park (and one of Wrigley too…but Wrigley sucks)

I started with the fries to give my sandwich more time to marinate in it’s own juices.

Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite sandwich shop in Chicago is, I always make an argument for Al’s Beef. The sandwich there is amazing but what they do better than anyone else is the fries. They’re fresh cut, a little greasy, yet somehow still crispy around the edges. They’re not out of the bag fries that are tossed into a fryer directly from the freezer. It’s what makes Al’s really stand out.

The fries at Luke’s are dumped right out of the freezer in to the fryer. The fries are good…adn there’s a lot of them. But they’re just shoestring fries out of a bag. They’re good because they’re filling. I didn’t grab anything to dip them in and they could have used a little more salt. I ended up eating about half the bag right away and taking the rest of the bag with me for the drive back to the field.

When I thought I had given the beef enough time to marinate itself, I started peeling back the layers of paper and plastic wrap. The sandwich was thoroughly soaked through the bun. The super tender meat was exploding with the beefy goodness of the gravy and the bun couldn’t contain it. It held together just enough that I could pick it up and eat it like a sandwich without getting a fork. The giardiniera on top was a little light but it still provided a helluva kick to the sandwich. This was an amazingly good Italian beef. I contemplated getting another one. I wasn’t hungry but I don’t get sandwiches like this very often.

The cost of my early lunch was about $15.

I know I bore you all with my constant ramblings about Italian beef sandwiches but I really don’t think there is a better sandwich anywhere on Earth. It always plays second fiddle to the Chicago Hot Dog and that’s a bummer.

Luke’s Italian beef makes a great Italian beef. There are bigger, more well known chains, but you’re doing yourself a disservice is all you ever eat at is Portillo’s when you go to Chicago. Find Luke’s. Find a place like Luke’s if you’re not downtown. Don’t get me wrong, I hit Portillo’s whenever I see one outside of Chicago, but when you’re in the city, Find a Luke’s. You won’t be disappointed.

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