Friday, May 06, 2005

Chicago's Best - Irvine

Another entry amongst the food court denizens of Irvine is Chicago's Best. It's counter has been scarcely open for more than a few weeks, yet it has garnered some pretty enthused posts here on Chowhound. And this was even before it officially opened.

I tried it today, for the first time. I ordered the first thing listed on the menu: The Italian Beef Sandwich, with both mild and hot peppers. The guy behind the counter, after handling my money, proceeded to assemble my sandwich. He first split open a six inch french roll, then with tongs, stuffed it full of what looked like shredded beef, which was pallid white. He then took the whole thing and dunked it into the "jus". After spooning some sliced pickled jalapenos and some brownish, cooked bell peppers, he double wrapped it in butcher paper. And there it was, my $6.63 "Italian Beef Sandwich".

Upon unwrapping and sinking my first bite into this thing, I was puzzled to why this was called an "Italian" beef sandwich. What makes it Italian? It certainly couldn't have been the hot pickled jalapenos and the tiny cubes of carrots. Those gave it a distinctly Mexican zing. It certainly couldn't have been the beef or the "jus" itself. It tasted similar to Philippe's french dip jus, but with less body and flavor. The beef itself was tender. These greyish white ribbons of meat quite easily fell apart in your mouth, but to me, had a "boiled" taste to them. I'm not saying that that's a bad thing, but if it's described as "roast beef", shouldn't it look and taste like roast beef? And Italian? I wouldn't have guessed it.

And the bread, being a soft roll to begin with, easily succumbed to the moisture after being completely submerged in the jus. It quickly turned into a soft, mushy, salty bread pudding. The beef, already dripping with broth, soaked through the bread from the inside, but the dunk finished the job on the outer crust. The bread never had a chance!

Even before the first bite, the whole sandwich had already fallen apart, gobs of beef and jalapenos dropped onto the paper, like drunken sailors jumping off a sinking ship. After a short bit of time, the whole thing became a sopping wet mess. It was then I understood why some people were eating their sandwiches with a knife and fork.

You might think that from my review that I didn't like the sandwich, but I did (sort of). Although I did not care for the flavorless pieces of cooked bell peppers they put on it, it was a decent sandwich. I still think they should rethink the name though. How's "shredded beef with bread pudding" sound?

Admittedly, I'm not from Chicago. The closest I came to even visiting the city was a half hour stopover at O'Hare. I wonder though, is this a true Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich?

Chicago's Best
2540 Main St
Irvine, CA 92614


At 7:58 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

I wonder how the Chicago dogs are? Vienna Beef hot dogs on a poppyseed roll, mustard, BRIGHT GREEEN relish (its special kind), tomato, onion, pickle spear, celery salt, and sport peppers.

I am curious to see if they use authentic ingredients.

Another cool thing I love to eat in Chicago is stuffed crust pizza. Basically a deep dish pizza but it has 2 layers of dough. I'll have to check this place out.

At 8:26 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

I don't think this place has pizza. But I will have to go back sometime and try their sausage sandwich and their dogs.

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, the mixture of jalapenos and carrots you encountered IS Italian - it's called giardiniera, and is a rather quirky invention of Chicago-area Italian-Americans. It's usually made with more ingredients (olives, celery, red peppers, cauliflower), but the preparation is more important than the content.

At 5:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jalapenos?????? That would ruin the whole thing, the real hot peppers used in Chicago are an oil and vinegar cured mix of something closer to a pepperoncini. More flavor than heat but plenty of both. Vienna Beef Co, the biggest supplier, sells it in gallon jars and ther really is no substitute.

The sweet peppers are usually just green bells fried in olive oil and salt.

The dip is a skilled art that isn't a simple as it sounds. Too much and you end up with the salty bread pudding/beef clump. Get it just right and we're talking nirvana.

At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hot Giardeniera is the pepper mixture used in Italian Beef sandwiches. The Victoria brand contains Serrano peppers, sweet peppers, olive oil, carrots, celery, pepperoncini, olives onions, filtered water, vinegar, salt and spices... NEVER Jalapenos.

When I make 'em at home, I char and peel the green bell peppers... as one would do Poblano's for chile rellenos.

At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you all tell me is the owner a heavy set, former football player?
I am from Phoenix AZ and we had a Chicagos Best, sandwhich shop.
The owners Name was Tony and he made the very best sandwhiches onthe planet hands down.

So if this is the guy let me know because we have been trying to find him since they moved from AZ.

We will fly to eat these, no joke!

At 5:13 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I don't quite know who the owner is. I think he may have owned another joint in South Orange County before this one. You should call them and ask if they used to be in AZ.

At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Italian Beef is the best around. Yes I am from Chicago. It's authentic and home made as well as the Italian Sausage. This place uses all Vienna brand products including the natural casing hot dog, bright green relish, poppy seed buns and of course they serve it with home made fries. The owner is not from AZ but he is the 19 yr old son of the late Giorgio's of Chicago in Laguna Niguel. Same great food just no pizza or beer.

At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're way too kind. The sandwich is disgusting!

At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The stuff here is just as good as Portillo's in Buena Park. Disgusting? Not if you're from Chicago. Eating bait (a.k.a. sushi) IS DISGUSTING!

At 12:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I moved out from Chicago several years ago. While I was thrilled that Portillo's opened, it's too far for a quick bite. We live in the area and stumbled across this place awhile back. It's tucked away in a little mall, so.. blink and you'll miss it - but don't!

Their Italian beef/sausage combo is delicious. For those of you who have never had a beef sandwich before, let's get this out of the way: you want it "dipped".

You do it with French Dip, right? It's no different, except you want your sandwich literally dipped all the way; Chicagoans like it soggy.

Portillo's, of course, is great. The only thing this place doesn't have is the provolone or cheddar, but the beef is high quality and the bread and the sausages.. just perfect. I haven't sampled much else off the menu as I'm addicted to the combo, but.. check it out.

The owner's young - a nice guy. I have no doubt you'll be back. The question on your mind.. "Is their beef authentic?". Yes it is.

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my never ending search for the best Chicago style hot dog, I tried Chicago's Best in Irvine. Let's just say I'm still looking.

I ordered the Chicago Hot dog which comes with an order of fried and the Maxwell Street Polish. As always no peppers on my hot dog.

The hot dog comes and there were two peppers on top. It's not big deal to take them off but I do like to have food how I order them. The hot dog lacked any snap and flavor. It must be one of those no brand name hot dogs. The toppings were fresh but the hot dog is terrible. The hot dog could have been served a little hotter. The fries were just your average run of the mill fries/

The Polish sausage wasn't any better. It was overcooked just a little, biting into the polish you almost had to be have the power of a pit bull. The onions are suppose to be caramelized but they were barely grilled.

I'm not a big fan of Italian Beef sandwiches that make Chicago so famous. I rarely if ever order them at restaurants that serve Chicago style food. Maybe I should since I'm having a tough time finding a good Chicago Style hot dog.

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous kawaiiglo said...

go to portillos in buena park!!!


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