Portillo’s Preview

A quick how-to for first-timers at the Chicagoland chain.

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Portillo’s Italian beef sandwich and fries

Alicia Garceau

Some people are excited about a certain business that serves furniture with a side of meatballs opening soon in Fishers. This Chicago expat, however, has been marking off calendar days for the grand opening of Indiana’s second Portillo’s location (9201 E. 116th St., Fishers, 317-588-1111). Tomorrow, people. It’s tomorrow.

The restaurant, with its red-checkered tablecloths, Chicago-ephemera decor, and nostalgic big-band music piped over the sound system, started as a hot-dog stand in a small trailer in a Chicago suburb in 1963. Today, Portillo’s has more than 50 locations and enjoys a fervent following. Newbies, here’s how to order like a pro:

  • Order the beef. Drop the “Italian” and just say “beef.”
  • Ask for “extra gravy” on the beef versus the “dipped” option. More is not better here. Having the beef dipped in the gravy results in a soggy bun and a sloppy eating experience. Don’t get me wrong—it’s tasty, but it’s a mess best eaten at home in sweatpants, not in public.
  • Peppers are a personal choice. Top your beef with either hot giardiniera (pickled peppers in a spicy oil) or sweet peppers, but passing on the peppers entirely is a dead giveaway of amateur status.
  • For the perfect accompaniment, order the crinkle-cut fries. Crispy on the outside with pillowy potato inside, they’re always hot (Always. How?) and never too salty.
  • Save room for chocolate cake. Not a bite of cake, mind you, because you’ll want to eat the entire slice. Internet theories abound about the famous cake’s recipe. Is mayonnaise the secret ingredient? Is it a box mix and canned frosting? Who cares? It’s delicious.

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