Chicagoans are incredibly passionate about their food, and along with pizza and hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches are one of the most important regional dishes. Everyone respects the same city favorites but regularly argue about which one is technically the best.
The Italian beef sandwich originated in Chicago in the 1930s, and it has since become a city and statewide food staple. It’s a classic option for the ‘workingman’s’ lunch; it often shows up to catered parties and events, and it’s never far from mind when looking for the perfect food to soak up a night of alcohol.
But outside the immediate Midwestern area, a lot of people don’t quite understand what it entails. ‘Beef sandwich’ brings to mind a confused concoction of ground beef or steak slapped on a bun. But this is wrong. The classic Italian beef comprises thinly shaved roast beef, sweet peppers, giardiniera, and gravy on a bread roll. Different variations are popular, like the removal of sweet peppers and the addition of melted cheddar. But no matter what you put on it, you can typically order it dry or wet/dipped, depending on how juicy you want it. To some, it’s not authentic unless it’s dripping with beef juice. Others, however, would prefer a mess-free meal.
But all can agree that the Italian beef is a tried-and-true Chicago favorite. The origins are said to lie with Chicago’s Italian immigrant population that worked in the stockyards in the early 1900s. When working men would bring home tough meat from the factories that couldn’t be sold, they roasted it in spices, sliced it thinly, and served it on rolls to improve the taste. They began serving it at their local weddings and banquets to be able to afford to feed everyone, and the sandwich took off in popularity.
Chris ‘Baba’ Pacelli founded Al’s #1 Italian Beef in 1938, which is today’s most well-known beef spot in the city and suburbs. Other local favorites include Buona Beef, founded by Joe Buonavolanto in the 1980s, and Mr. Beef on Orleans. Also check out Portillo’s, Jay’s Beef, and Tony’s Italian Beef.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.