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Portillo’s Hot Dogs
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Portillo’s Hot Dogs

This is the first in a series of Chicago posts and is the first thing I ate when I touched down in the windy city. I ate at 6PM the previous day and had two bananas for breakfast the morning of the flight to get ready for the gluttony. The NYC Food Guy and I waited until exactly 10:30 AM to enter Portillo’s and got what you get when you go to Portillo’s (at least we thought): The Hot Dog and The Italian Beef.

The rest of my Chicago friends ridiculed me when I told them all I had was pizza, hot dogs, and italian beef when I went there. I didn’t tell them that I called Alinea the day I found out I was going and was advised not to bother even trying to get on the wait list. I would have certainly paid whatever was necessary to dine there that night, but it was an unlikely chance at the finest molecular gastronomy the United States has to offer. Looking back on it, we should have skipped Geno’s and staked Alinea out, if only for the chance at a table.

Instead, we got Cheese Fries.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – krinkle kut fries are the most underrated fries on the planet. Done right, they’re some of the best out there. I’m sure that these fries weren’t hand cut in back, but they were fried well and the cheez whiz was excellent. I usually like to mix in a bit of mayo and ketchup if I’m ever faced with this cheese-on-the-side scenario, but most of my guests find mayo on fries weird (they’re forgetting that the French pioneered this cuisine and have taste down pat).

These fries were great, but like so many krinkle kut fries before this, you’ve already had them. Skip these if you’re on a stomach budget.

Next up was the Chicago Dog:

If I ever become a lead singer, one of the names that will be a finalist for the band will be “The Sport Peppers.” Who doesn’t want a little sport pepper on their hot dog?

I was soon to get a lesson on the Chicago Dog and what condiments were necessary for making for a true Chicago Dog. It seems like the only two contentious toppings on the Chicago Dog are pickle based; the relish and the actual pickle spear. Old school Chicago Dogs don’t have the fluorescent relish and the pickle, new school dogs may have one or the other or both. I don’t think anyone’s been stabbed over this difference of opinion, but there’s a schism and from what our handlers said, the rift can only get deeper.

Next up was the Italian Beef. How can you tell it’s a good Italian Beef? When you can see it through the wrapper, that’s how.

Neither of us were especially pumped about this one. The beef was OK, but not very flavorful. It was wet, but didn’t seem very tender. Maybe they just needed a couple more beeves on the grill to sop up some of the juices before the day got underway (we were the first customers).

Satisfied with our first conquest and ready to face the pizza, we thought our Portillo’s (by the way, it’s pour-til-oh’s, not por-tee-oh’s) experience was over. Sunday, our foodie driver and Live Off Groupon winner Josh Stephens was planning our itinerary and making sure we crossed all the Chicago culinary Ts as we talked. We told him where we’d been, and when we got to telling him about Portillo’s, he asked; “Did you get the Cake Shake?

There aren’t enough ways to set that off. I don’t do pullquotes, but if I did, that sentence would be in some. Josh, did I hear you right? Did you say Cake Shake? I think my taste buds just ejaculated a little (can they do that?). You better drive me to that shit right now or we gon’ have some problems up in this bitch.

Lawrence was in the back seat for this, but he can probably attest to how fidgety I was in anticipation of the cake shake. When we got it, I wasn’t going to let my lactose intolerance get in the way of enjoyment of this beauty.

It didn’t look as pretty as the one in the picture, but let’s just say it did. They’re not lying about the cake shakeyness of this little dynamo; there’s frosting and cake inside – just like they put cake in a shake, because I’ll bet that’s about what happened here. I don’t know why this hasn’t caught on in NYC yet. Just think of all the cake shake options out there. Don’t forget pies. Pies would be fantastic. How about a raspberry vanilla pie shake? German Chocolate Cake Shake? Banana Cream Pie Shake? Come on – you know you want that.

The Chicago dog at Portillo’s was pretty good, not the best, and the Italian Beef was a pass, but if you only have one cake shake in Chicago, you better not miss this place.

Portillo’s Hot Dogs
100 West Ontario Street
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 587-8910

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • A Tuscan Foodie in America September 9, 2010, 9:49 am

    Ah – my adoptive city! Don’t bother with Alinea. Personally I hated it, but I am one of those that think that food should look like food. I am not big into the molecular thing.

    As for Portillo’s, I have been here for 18 months, and I haven’t tried it yet! And it kills me that one of the most famous dish in Chicago is called Italian beef: because I am Italian, people assume I know what that is, while I had never seen it before moving here!

    • Hagan September 9, 2010, 9:51 am

      I don’t think it has anything to do with Italy ;-P The best italian beef is already written up and will be on soon!

  • Jason September 10, 2010, 3:54 pm

    Did you get a chance to go to Mado while you were in Chicago? It’s in the Wicker Park area. Awesome food and even greater people (Ali and Rob Levitt).

    • Hagan September 10, 2010, 4:44 pm

      DIdn’t get to … More Chi-town coming up, though!

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