In the ongoing, sometimes heated and hopefully never-ending debate as to where to find the best Italian beef in Chicago, there's a select group of suburbanites who'll insist you have to venture outside of the city limits - they've pledged their allegiance to Buona. Since the opening of this Berwyn location in the early 1980s, the Buona franchise has quietly and steadily expanded to 11 locations, presenting itself as a seasoned alternative and a formidable challenge to the Portillo's empire. As the sleek renovation of this location will attest, the design of the Buona storefronts have evolved with the times, but the beef, thankfully, has remained the same.
Buona's classic sandwich comes in three sizes - 5-inch, 7-inch, or 9-inch - priced between $3.95-$6.25, and presented as a delicious mess of gravy, seasonings, bread and roast beef. Past that, the charbroiled sausage is Buona's other signature sandwich, with the sausage-and-beef combo existing as some sort of creation from a meat-lover's fantasy. Buona could make a good business on those sandwiches alone, but the rest of the menu is daunting in and of itself - nine types of salads, a handful of soups, paninis, hot dogs, and even thin-crust pizzas (somehow served in five minutes), many with traditional Italian ingredients. And anyone who's really hungry and really cheap can chow down on a 2/3-pound burger for $5.25.
After renovation, Buona looks a lot like a Potbelly, or any other sandwich shop, and that's perfectly fine for the suburbs. A well-maintained, well-air conditioned dining room with a smooth-looking logo seems a little incongruous to the fact that you're eating such sloppy sandwiches, but no big deal. With the apron-donning family and friends of Buona plastered on an enormous interior mural, you still get the sense that the owners of the place love the meat as much as the customers do.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Andy Seifert