Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Portillo's Hot Dogs: A Chicago Classic

From a Fifties favorite to a Sixties classic, today's eatery is a Midwestern mecca for lovers of the traditional, 'Chicago-style' all-beef hot dog.

Portillo's began, in 1963, with a small hot dog stand, and my family has been visiting its many present-day locations on trips to Illinois since I was a child. Their usual meal of choice is the "hot dog with everything" - a slender, all-beef sausage topped with mustard, relish, onions, tomato, pickle and sport peppers, piled onto a "perfectly steamed poppy seed bun."

Aficionados of this popular ballpark and street-stand favorite might recognize this as the very definition of a Chicago-style hot dog (notice the absence of ketchup - although Portillo's does supply it for those who can't resist!). Their dogs always looks delicious, but it's time for a confession - I don't really like hot dogs! Lucky for me, Portillos has other options, from hearty minestrone soup and famous Italian beef sandwiches to fresh salads and savory burgers.

No longer the classic Chicago Hot Dog (note the inauthentic presence of ketchup!)

Of course, a large part of the attraction of Portillo's is the atmosphere. Most locations have a Barnelli's Pasta Bowl restaurant co-located, to serve up heaping bowls of pasta, and each restaurant also has its own theme - from Fifties rock n' roll, to 30's Prohibition, 40's gangster, or the roaring Twenties. It's great fun to scan the walls and take in the extraordinarily detailed decor as you share a side of Cheese Fries, tuck into a decadent slice of their famous Chocolate Cake, or sip on a thick and creamy Chocolate Malt.

The Bolingbrook location has a 50's theme

Another plus to any visit to Portillo's is the great service you're likely to encounter. Somehow their employees are endlessly patient, full of personality, and seem to never, ever have bad days. They'll also go out of their way to make sure you enjoy your meal - during one visit, they even replaced my bowl of minestrone after I had the grace to spill it all over myself and their freshly cleaned floor! It's no surprise that Portillo's is a favorite with locals and Chicagoland visitors alike. If you find yourself in the area (and with over 30 Illinois locations, two in California, and one in Indiana, the chances of this are good) you should go - even if you don't like hot dogs!

Portillo's on Urbanspoon

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