Way before there was tall or venti and skim or soy, there was sweet or hot and dipped or dry. The flagship location of Al's has been dishing up rich beefy gravy fumes—and the beef to match—since 1938. But before you let the aromas go to your head, you better decide how you want your beef: Al's taciturn employees are all business.
Over the years, Al's has seen more celebrities than the banquettes at Rockit Bar and Grill. The walls are chockfull of headshots ranging from pro bowler Mike Aubry to Governor Rod Blagojevich. If the guv takes even half as long to scrutinize his Italian beef as he does molding his hair dome, then it's gotta be good.
And it is, maybe even the best. Though some feel the purity of Chicago's flagship sandwich is compromised by the sweet spices that Al's uses, they (along with chunky spicy fennel infused giardinara) are what make Al's distinctive. Once you belly up to the stainless steel elbow-height counters (no tables here) and unroll that wax paper sopping with grease and gravy, you'll go through a gross of napkins to stay clean. Basic beef runs $4.75 and a combo with sausage $5.75. French fries, when fresh, are crispy with skin on, but often flaccid when sitting under the heat lamps.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Michael Nagrant