A hot-dog honcho scene since 1938, Al's serves up (some say) Chicago's choicest cuts of Italian beef, Polish sausage and signature wieners. Though the legendary Little Italy locale
came first, a trip inside the River North outpost takes you back to classic Windy City days: Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald warble through the speakers, patrons perch on red plastic chairs and friendly cashiers don retro uniforms.
And while the generation of beefeaters inside the store has most certainly changed, the quality of Al's meat has most certainly not. Al's boasts abundant awards from the big shots, including Travel & Leisure's "America's Top Ten Sandwich" and Chicago Magazine's "Top Seven Chicago Food Legends."
Not a beef-man? No problem. Al's offers a hearty sandwich menu, including cold-cut classics like southwest turkey and "Terry's Italiano," a mishmash of imported Italian meats and provolone cheese. Health fiends will be pleased to see salads on the menu, including the "Big Boss" caesar and Chinatown Peanut.
Although drive-through eateries prove difficult to man during River North's bustling lunch hour, Al's Beef executes the task efficiently. At noontime, cars circle the adjacent parking lot and line the pickup window. Other guests prefer to enjoy their dogs underneath the cheery red and white striped tent that serves as a patio.
Beyond the picnic tables, beef lovers can make it a party with Al's Quick Catering menu, featuring beef and gravy trays, wraps, salads and the trademark hearty chili.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Carly Schwartz