Portillo’s Hot Dogs

I’ve been in Chicago for over four years, yet I’d never even heard of Portillo’s Hot Dogs until my friend told me about it. Apparently, it’s a place everyone should visit when in Chicago, as it’s the epitome of Chicagoan cuisine.

Located on West Ontario Street and Clark Street, right across from the big McDonald’s glasshouse, it’s technically a fast food joint, but since it’s kind of fancy I decided to review it anyway. The interior is reminiscent of the 20’s and 30’s in Chicago, with soft blues music playing in the background. And the restaurant’s kitchen, which triples up as the cashier and pick up area is divided into different sections depending on what you want to eat, i.e. desert, pasta, hot dogs/burgers/sandwiches, salads, and specialty beverages. Each section is labelled with dazzling neon lights, so it’s not possible to get lost in this place. Tables are decked in white and red checkered tablecloths, which lends to the overall image of a very casual, yet clean-cut and homely place to have a meal.

Despite the namesake of the place, I didn’t get a hot dog (though I was sorely tempted to!). After much deliberation, I got their Italian beef sandwich that everyone was raving about on Yelp, and a cheeseburger for tomorrow’s lunch, which was what my friend recommended. We also got a side of cheese fries to share. Anyway, first, the sandwich – I’m not a huge fan of Italian beef sandwiches, but this was pretty good. A little too soggy, but the beef was moist. There weren’t enough vegetables, which was a shame. It needed some colour to it; some visual appeal to make it look less boring. But the sandwich was still a sandwich – I didn’t really understand all the rave reviews surrounding it after trying it, although the addition of hot peppers helped make it more unique and flavourful. Perhaps I wasn’t eating it the right way.

The cheese fries were good too, though the fries were under-seasoned (never thought I’d ever use that word in America!). Dipping cheese = so unhealthy but so good!! Kind of like the nachos with cheese you can get at the cinemas, but switch the chips with fries and ta-daa! That’s what it was. Again, didn’t understand what all the hype was about with these fries, but maybe it’s a fast food thing.

When I got home, I tries the cheeseburger too, and I thought it was much better than the sandwich. Firstly, it wasn’t nearly as soggy (and I hate soggy bread). Secondly, it had more vegetables that were more colourful, which made it easier on the eyes. Downsides include: the burger was a little burnt, so I could taste that “burnt” flavour, though it made the outside of the burger crispy so I guess it was a trade-off sort of thing going on. The red onions also gave me onion breath for quite a while, which I always find annoying, even though I do like eating raw onions. Otherwise, the burger was very good, and I’m glad I got one to go!

I’d say this were the type of place you should stop by if you want good, fast, Chicago food, and if you have never been before, just go for the experience at least once. I’d recommend the burgers more than the beef sandwich, but to each their own personal preferences. As for me, I’ll definitely try their Jumbo hot dog next time I go! They have very reasonable prices; about $5-$10 depending on what and how much you order. Take lots of napkins as well, because most of the food here comes out of the kitchen dripping with sauce. 6/10 stars, plus a bonus point for being a really good local place to get food.

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