Al Ferreri, his sister Frances, and his brother-in-law Chris Pacelli Sr., developed their signature italian-beef sandwich out of necessity in 1938. The economic depression made meat harder to come by, so the trio of sandwich makers made their supplies last by cutting thinner slices of roast beef.
Their business started with them feeding guests at family weddings, delivering meals to local hospitals, and catering the country's first food fight, but they soon founded a more permanent curbside food stand in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood. Despite their relatively humble beginnings, Al's Beef & Nancy's Pizzeria rapidly expanded and now boasts franchises throughout the Chicago area and across the country. The family business has garnered plentiful acclaim throughout the years, having been named Adam Richman's best sandwich in the Midwest on the Travel Channel show Best Sandwich in America in June 2012, appearing on Richman's Man v. Food and earning a place on Esquire's list of The Best Sandwiches in America in 2008.
The cooks begin every morning by roasting cuts of beef for the day, kneading fresh pizza dough, and cutting french fries with an industrial-strength laser pointer. The hearty italian-beef sandwiches can emerge from the kitchen with simple, unadorned meat or with blankets of melted cheese and spicy housemade giardiniera. The pizzas range from crispy thin-crust disks to deep-dish pies with 2.5-inch-thick crusts, supporting any combination of the 24 available toppings, which include oven-roasted garlic, baby spinach, and bacon.
Led by owner Mike Galderio, Balagio Ristorante unites families and friends around fresh-made pasta, breads, sauces, soups, and a trove of different wines. For lunch, guests can conquer stomach pangs with a selection of salads, signature pasta dishes, or handheld eats, including the 8 oz. black angus burger, served with fresh mushrooms and mozzarella on a brioche bun ($7.95). Evening-time guests, on the other hand, can peruse or origami-fold a dinner menu brimming with chicken, seafood, and pasta entrees. Start with an appetizer of baked eggplant marinara ($7.95) or crispy fried calamari ($8.95). Move on to classic tossed pasta dishes, such as the Hay & Straw spinach-and-egg fettucine ($12.95), or savory chicken entrees, such as the signature scaloppine Balagio-style , served with a side of braised escarole ($12.95). Browse a selection of veal, chops, and steak fresh-cut daily, or kick back with a bottled beer or martini, such as the Midnight in Rome.
For more than 30 years, Pop's Italian Beef & Sausage has served up a Chicago-centric menu of beef sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs. Silence empty-belly rumblings with one of Pop's delectable beef sandwiches ($4.19–$6.35), such as the italian beef, heaped with mounds of succulent, thin-sliced beef soaked in special spices and natural gravy. Windy-city visitors can delight in the classic Chicago hot dog and the savory polish sausage (each around $2.29–$2.99, depending on location), each nestled underneath mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickles, and the looming shadow of oscillating skyscrapers. Other handheld fare includes the meatball and corned-beef sandwiches, which can be upgraded with a variety of extras, including red sauce, sweet peppers, hot mix (all free on sandwiches, extra as a side), feta cheese, and bacon. A fleet of made-from-scratch soups and salads is also available, and includes such options as the hearty cream-of-chicken rice soup and the large garden salad ($2.09–$3.99).
Originally located in a converted house that could only seat 20 people, Sanfratello's Pizza has grown over the years to four locations in Illinois and Indiana. At each of these, family recipes for authentic Italian cuisine yield classic creations such as shrimp alfredo and meatball sandwiches. Petite pan pizzas host deep layers of sauce and cheese, and thin crusts, like the mouths of most competitive shouting champions, can stretch up to 17 inches wide.
Pizzas, pasta, and other Italian-American eats pair with live acoustic music at Ed & Joe’s Pizzeria, a family-friendly eatery in Tinley Park. Founded by Ed Clark in 1961 with nothing more than some dough and a dream, the neighborhood pizzeria has grown into a family enterprise. Today, chefs serve up an eclectic menu of gourmet pizzas—such as the cheeseburger topped with american cheese, seasoned ground beef, and chopped dill pickles—sandwiches, and seafood. A rollicking roster of live folk, blues, and rockabilly acts take the stage on Friday and Saturday, and open mic Thursdays lets amateurs step out in front of their peers and dissect a microphone. Gluten-free and kids’ menus ensures something for everyone.
Isabella Café’s passionate chef crafts a menu of meatballs, pastas, and other classic Italian fare as well as culinary curveballs of his own creation. Forks can follow a trail of angel hair pasta ($13.95) past veal-meatball boulders and lakes of marinara to reach a secret stash of creamy goat cheese or unearth savory duck and cream cheese buried in stuffed portobello mushrooms ($6.25) by pirates short of suitable treasure chests. Law-abiding molars can also pat down a stuffed chicken breast ($16.95) smuggling brandy cream sauce past Prohibition-era border patrols. For dessert, the kitchen-favorite chocolate coconut torte ($5.95) negotiates a chocolate sauce-smothered resolution to meals held hostage by indecision.