Hop in line (it looks intimidating but moves with impressive efficiency) at this charmingly retro Elmwood Park stand and let the smoke of chargrilled sausages tickle your nose while you await the platonic ideal of an Italian beef sandwich. A Johnnie’s sandwich hits all the right notes, from the fresh, supple Gonnella bread to the chunky, just-piquant-enough giardiniera to the herbal bouquet that rises from the steaming jus like an intoxicating perfume. But most remarkable is its utter, well, beefiness; it’s a sandwich that eats like a kind of bomb of umami savoriness. When you’re done, cleanse your palate with the velvety housemade lemon ice.
In 1938, Al Ferreri—yes, of Al's Beef fame—started slinging beef sandwiches in Little Italy. Legions of competitors followed suit and the delicacy took off, or so one popular version of the origin story goes. Point is, somewhere along the way the humble Italian beef sandwich became one of the most iconic Chicago dishes. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to throw a rock in our city without hitting an Italain restaurant or beef stand—but not all are worth the messy hands and the unmistakable eau de jus that seems to linger for hours. From newcomers to a longstanding restaurant featured in FX's The Bear, here's where to find the best Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago.
RECOMMENDED: Our guide to the best restaurants in Chicago