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.
Big tastes abound at Carlo's Restaurant, and Italian-fare enthusiasts can't stop talking about the five-star menu.
Food allergies can be a bite, but Carlo's Restaurant is showing that all food has the possibility of becoming great dishes.
This restaurant's fully stocked bar is a perk for patrons who enjoy a fine wine (or more) with their meal.
Parties of any size can easily be seated at Carlo's Restaurant.
Reservations are available, so give the restaurant a call before you head over for the fastest seating.
Whether you're coming from work or a ballgame, the dress code at laid-back Carlo's Restaurant is come-as-you-are.
If time is of the essence, this restaurant's take-out option may be a better fit.
Take the comfort of your own home and add great grub from Carlo's Restaurant to create the perfect night.
Free parking is always available just seconds away from Carlo's Restaurant.
At Carlo's Restaurant, you can ease your appetite and please your pocketbook
the menu offers a selection of mid-priced, budget-friendly meals.
Convenience is essential at Carlo's Restaurant, and food is served from morning until night.
Carlo's Restaurant is the place to go if you're looking for quality and highly-rated Italian food.
If you're looking for some fine Italian cooking, you'll definitely love Carlo's Restaurant.
For tasty American fare, head to Egg and I for a sandwich and side.
If gluten is something you try to avoid, check out the G-free menu at Egg and I. Low-fat fare is also available for those keeping an eye on their diet.
Score quick and easy seating for your large group at Egg and I.
The restaurant takes reservations, so you can plan your next get-together ahead of time.
Comfort is prioritized at Egg and I, and guests are encouraged to come as they are.
Feed the gang at your next get-together with catering from Egg and I as well.
At this restaurant, you can work your arms a little. Pick up the food yourself and carry it out.
Avoid parallel parking and slide into a spot free of charge — the restaurant offers free parking next door.
Menu items at Egg and I tend to be mid-priced, so expect to plop down about $30 per person to dine here.
The restaurant serves lunch and dinner, but it's the brunch menu that draws the most rave reviews from patrons.
When you're looking for a bite of some great American dishes, you definitely won't need to look any further than Egg and I.
So what are you waiting for? Come see what the highly-rated American food at Egg and I is all about.
If cooking isn't on the agenda, the perfect pie awaits you at Chicago Heights' Faso's Pizza and Pasta, where customers praise the pizza like no other.
If gluten is something you try to avoid, check out the G-free menu at Faso's Pizza and Pasta. Low-fat fare is also available for those keeping an eye on their diet.
Fancy-schmancy attire is not required; in fact, guests are told to keep things casual.
Homebodies can take advantage of this pizzeria's delivery and take-out options.
Can't get enough of Faso's Pizza and Pasta's tasty dishes? They also offer a catering service for parties and events.
Diners at Faso's Pizza and Pasta will love the free parking nearby.
If you don't want a night that will cost you an arm and a leg but you do want a delicious meal, come to Faso's Pizza and Pasta.
Smothered in piping hot cheese and toppings of your choice, the pies at Faso's Pizza and Pasta come highly recommended by pizza connoisseurs.
You won't want to go anywhere else for a superlative piece of pizza than to Faso's Pizza and Pasta's great restaurant.
Hot cheesy goodness awaits your appetite at Aurelio's Pizza — this pizza joint is the place to go for a serious five-star slice.
Aurelio's Pizza is a local, healthy restaurant that caters to those with dietary needs, especially those with gluten-free sensitivities.
Aurelio's Pizza is a fine restaurant for those with large and small parties.
Make a reservation to ensure your night goes according to schedule.
Put the suit away when heading to Aurelio's Pizza — dress is casual, as are the vibes.
Hosting a swanky shindig? Call up Aurelio's Pizza for their catering services.
Delivery and carryout are easy options for those interested in staying home.
Free parking is available in a lot near Aurelio's Pizza.
Aurelio's Pizza is creating dishes any foodie will love at around $30.
Some people say that if you've had one pizza, you've had them all. Diners who've tried Aurelio's Pizza's pizza say it is the absolute best.
You won't want to go anywhere else for a superlative piece of pizza than to Aurelio's Pizza's great restaurant.
Indulge in a wide array of American dishes at Tender Trap.
Tender Trap also has large TVs for your viewing pleasure.
Tender Trap offers patio seating in the warmer months.
For those with an inner dancer, Tender Trap features a live DJ and room to move.
The restaurant is on the noisier end, which is something to keep in mind when planning intimate get-togethers.
Weekend diners, beware! The restaurant is busiest on Friday and Saturday, so getting seated will take some time.
That's right! Tender Trap will bring their delicious food to your house for any occasion.
Some say walking is the greatest thing in life. This restaurant knows it's carryout.
Drivers will jump with joy when they find out about the free parking in the lot next door.
Tender Trap offers various parking options, including bike parking.
Most items on the menu are reasonably priced, so expect to spend around $30 per person at Tender Trap.
You'll definitely want to reconsider going anywhere else when the food at Tender Trap tastes like pure heaven!
Cindy Espinosa has cooked almost every dish on the menu at Nellie’s (2458 W. Division St.), the Humboldt Park luncheonette she co-owns with her husband, Pablo. Yet she’s never attempted mofongo, a dish of mashed fried plantains that’s a Puerto Rican tradition.
“I see it being made,” she said. “I know how it’s made, but I’ve never tried it.”
It’s easy to see why. The cooking process, which I watched unfold in Nellie’s kitchen, is pretty involved, with a lot of hand-mashing and frying. “It’s more of a Friday-night dinner type of thing,” Pablo said. “You might eat it once a month at home.”
Yet the final result—a dome of fried plantain that diners can moisten with a dip into housemade chicken broth—is worth the work. Here’s how Cindy and Pablo’s cook, Carmen, makes it.
Carmen first peels and chops green plantains, the same fruits used in the restaurant’s jibaritos and tostones. According to Pablo, the restaurant goes through a crate of about 50 green plantains every week.
Then Carmen tosses them into a deep-fryer with some chopped tocino, or pork lard. When the lard has cooked down to a salty, crispy crunch, she dumps it and the plantains into a type of mortar and pestle called a pilon. “Every Puerto Rican household should have one,” Cindy said. The pilon’s concave bottom is what gives a serving of mofongo its distinctive dome-like shape.
In Puerto Rico, you see “all types of sizes” of pilon, Pablo said. That includes some as large as a butter churn, which sit on the floor. Nellie’s is a tabletop model, about 6 inches tall, wooden, and covered in carvings. It makes only one portion of mofongo at a time, which can make things hectic for Carmen on a busy weekend day. (All that mashing “takes an arm,” Cindy said.)
Making mofongo to order gives the staff flexibility to tailor each serving. For instance, Carmen can leave out the tocino to make a vegetarian version of the dish. (Both Espinozas have been vegetarian for a year and a half.) Other versions on the menu include iterations with shrimp in place of tocino or with a mound of chicken, shrimp, or steak nestled inside the dome. Mofongo can also be a side order to fried chicken (chicharron de pollo) or fried pork.
I get to sample the classic, main-course version.
The mofongo dome appears next to a small silver tureen filled with housemade chicken broth for dipping. There is still a big chunk of meat and bone floating in it, as well as a big, soft carrot that I devour, savoring its umami flavors. Moistened with a little broth, the green plantains lose their fibrous dryness to become melt-in-your-mouth comfort food; the bits of tocino provide an occasional kick of salt.
I send a mental thank-you to Carmen’s arm for providing this food. I hope it was worth the work.
Photo credit: Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon
To many Chicagoans, the neighborhoods south of Roosevelt Road seem to be a culinary wasteland. To Jimalita Tillman, Chicago native and executive director of the Harold Washington Cultural Center and Performing Arts Theatre (4701 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.), fine-dining opportunities definitely exist on the South Side—if you give them a chance.
Because many of these restaurants depend on word of mouth, Tillman said, the advertising budgets of their more northern competitors often trump their oral marketing, and so she often spends “all day” giving South Side restaurant recommendations to area visitors and theater-goers.
“There are many great places [to eat] throughout these areas,” she said. “It really depends on what you’re in the mood for.”
And if you're in the mood for a little musical and cultural Chicago history to pair with your meal, you don't have to travel far from the landmark arts center. The Harold Washington Cultural Center, in the former location of the historical Regal Theater where the likes of Ella Fitzgerald once performed, is right in the heart of the Black Metropolis—a region marked by the culture and Southern-inspired music scene that developed during the Great Migration. Today, Bronzeville is still flavored with leftovers from its swinging past.
To savor alongside your meal, we paired each of Tillman’s restaurant recommendations with a few musical, historical, and cultural tidbits.
4655 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., Chicago, IL 60653
It’s the quick and personable service that makes this gourmet hot-dog eatery a standout, Tillman said. Of course, Chef Cliff Rome serves the usual Chicago-style hot dog, but it’s the varied wiener and burger options he creates that color H-Dogs’ menu with the fine-dining flair he perfected while studying in Paris. The Healthy Hound—a grilled veggie dog with sprouts, roasted peppers, red onions, and cucumbers—sits alongside salmon burgers, turducken sausages, and portobello-mushroom sandwiches without the least bit of tattletaling or fighting over who had the mustard first. Sweet-potato or truffle fries complete the gourmet-on-the-go experience.
Bite of History: The gourmet hot-dog diner sits in a historical building that was once known as 47th Street Marketplace. Before a 2010 fire destroyed the building, it was considered a symbol of the revitalization of Bronzeville and housed Tillman’s Spoken Word Cafe—one of the original hosts of HBO’s Def Poetry series hosted by hip-hop artist and actor Mos Def.
2. Pearl’s Place
3901 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60653
“I’m a breakfast head,” said Tillman—as are many in the crowd of diners waiting to get inside for brunch on any given Sunday. The kitchen cooks up a mix of Southern and soul food—yes, there’s a difference—but Pearl’s Place sprinkles it with the right amount of creole flavor. After sampling Pearl’s juicy yet crispy fried chicken, sautéed salmon croquettes, or all-day breakfasts of vegetable omelets or homestyle pancakes, it seems only right to finish with a bite or two of peach cobbler or sweet-potato pie.
Bite of History: The interior decor, with album jackets and vinyl records lining the walls, features a photo story of the neighborhood’s jazz and blues history with jazz legends Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Lena Horne—all of whom graced the stage at the Regal Theater during Bronzeville’s musical heyday.
3. Norman’s Bistro
1001 E. 43rd St., Chicago, IL, 60653
The bistro’s entrees—including vegetable confetti ravioli, smoked cranberry salmon, and the Great Duck burger—offer an upscale taste-bud experience at “South Side prices,” Tillman said. From the food to the decor, presentation is an art in this sleek and classy spot featuring creole-inspired American food with a Brazilian flair. In the exposed-brick, art-filled wine bar, sommeliers pour from an extensive list of wines. Separate from the dining room, the intimate setting of the bar creates an ideal spot for the happy-hour crowd.
Bite of Culture: On Sundays at 9 p.m., the bistro hosts a live jazz jam session. Or make an appointment and walk over to Gallery Guichard—housed in a turn-of-the-20th-century Italiante row house—to peruse its African-diaspora art and blown glass, sculptures, and photography by local as well as international artists.
Photography by Andrew Nawrocki.
Clockwise from top: Birria in action—rich, briny consommé and tender goat meat, stewed for hours with bay leaves, cinnamon, and other spices. // Ceramic bowls absorb the birria's heat, keeping the broth warm throughout meals. // When Rick Bayless recommended Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan to "Esquire" magazine, he described the eatery’s birria as "full of flavor, incredibly homey and satisfying."
In Ocotlán in Jalisco, Mexico, the temperature rarely dips below 40 degrees. That's mild by Chicago standards; however, when the Reyes family immigrated 2,000 miles from Ocotlán to Chicago, they brought with them a recipe that would prove thoroughly compatible with the colder weather. That recipe is birria—a savory stew made by simmering goat meat for hours with herbs and spices. On a cold day in mid-March, I made a trek across town to the family's Pilsen restaurant, Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan, to taste it myself.
As soon as I entered the eatery, I smelled the warm, rich aroma of simmering goat meat. Goats were also present in the decor: miniature replicas decorated shelves and cupboards, and a mounted goat head kept watch over the booths, a toothpick dangling humorously from its lips.
After I ordered birria at the counter, a server presented me with three dishes. The smallest held pickled onions and lime wedges, which are traditional birria condiments, and an oblong basket cradled warm, fresh tortillas. The largest bowl brimmed with rich, briny consommé, chopped onions and cilantro, and hunks of tender goat meat.
The first spoonful of broth tasted bright and smoky with hints of ancho peppers and cinnamon. I separated a piece of goat meat with light pressure from my spoon. Leaner than beef, the meat still had pieces of bone inside, which infused the meat with the flavor of their marrow. The crisp onions and fragrant cilantro stood out against the birria's savory elements to create a harmony of flavors that was especially comforting on a cold day.