CHICAGO | For many locals, a visit to Portillo’s is a must when talking about Chicago’s not-to-be-missed food experiences. Portillo’s is a Chicago institution originally founded in 1963 as a hot dog stand in Villa Park known as The Dog House. The restaurant quickly grew in popularity and, four years later, was renamed Portillo’s after its founder, US Marine veteran, Dick Portillo.
The restaurant continued to expand to new locations over the years, with the downtown store at the intersection of Clark and Ontario Streets opening in 1994. The city was excited to finally have Portillo’s downtown and it’s been one of their busiest locations ever since. We love the bright and cheerful atmosphere of the restaurant, which is themed after a typical “Main Street, Anytown, USA”. Make sure to look closely at the vintage paraphernalia in this store; most of the items you find were in Chicago’s original stadium. Don’t miss the Chicago Blackhawks 1938 Stanley Cup banner.
What does a Chicagoan order when they make a trip to Portillo’s? The menu is extensive but some items stand out as typical “Chicago-style food”: char-grilled burgers, chopped salads, hot dogs, specialty pastas, Italian beef sandwiches, ribs, chocolate cake, and the famous chocolate cake shakes.
One famous Chicago food creation is the Italian beef. Where to find the best Italian beef in Chicago is a hot topic of debate but many agree that Portillo’s is one of the best. Despite the name, the beef comes from American beef, which is cooked in a blend of Italian spices such as garlic and oregano. The beef is served as a sandwich on freshly baked bread and can be customized to include sweet or hot peppers, extra gravy, or dipped entirely in gravy for a messy but delicious result.
The other favourite is the Chicago-style hot dog. How does Portillo’s make a Chicago-style hot dog? Start with a steamed poppy seed bun, add an all-beef Vienna hot dog (the recipe is made uniquely for Portillo’s), then top with mustard, relish, onion, tomato, kosher pickle, celery salt, and peppers. Whatever you do, do not ask for ketchup!
Portillo’s has continued to grow over the years, good news for those out-of-towners. Portillo’s now ships nationwide, and has locations throughout the US. This past year Portillo’s opened in Wisconsin and debuted a new menu item: The Badger Brat. We know we’ll be making a stop next time we cross the border north.
Portillo’s (River North)
100 W Ontario Street
Telephone: 312 587 8910
Sun – Thu: 10:00am to 11:00pm
Fri – Sat: 10:00am to 12:00am