Food News

The Chicago (Italian) Beef Sandwich in DFW: A Journey

TJ Dawg House's Italian beef
TJ Dawg House's Italian beef Hank Vaughn
In 2021, Chicago institution Portillo’s announced that they will finally expand to the DFW area, which is a welcome relief for Chicago ex-pats in search of a good Italian beef sandwich. Let’s hope they fare better than another attempted Chicago transplant, Al’s Beef, which seemed to open and then close in Addison quicker than it took Harry Caray to get sloshed during a Cubs’ game.

In any event, there are several places in DFW that serve Italian beef sandwiches. It’s hard to visit them all, but here’s a sample. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list (it doesn’t include perhaps one of the best, Jimmy’s Food Store, after all, which has a great sandwich bar in the back. We all know Jimmy’s, however, and they offer much more than made-to-order sandwiches).

Here are a few lesser-known places, not intended to be The Top Three Places in Dallas for Italian beef, but rather places whose raison d’être was the Italian beef sandwich and other Chicago food … places to go for a quick bite, whether you may prefer it dry, wet, dipped, sweet or hot.

T.J.’s Dawg House
Food Truck, check social media for locations
click to enlarge TJ Dawg House's Italian beef - HANK VAUGHN
TJ Dawg House's Italian beef
Hank Vaughn
T.J.’s offers hot dogs, Polish sausage and Italian beef among other things. They use Vienna Beef, and you can of course get it dipped or dry, with hot peppers (giardiniera) or sweet peppers (bell peppers). An Italian beef sandwich should at least be wet, if not quickly dipped in the jus (or gravy for the less pretentious among us) and thus does not transport well.

No one likes getting home to a cold soggy mess of congealed bread. So, when visiting T.J.’s, try to find a place to sit, or do like we did and camp out in your car with several handfuls of napkins. We got it dipped and hot, and the giardiniera was indeed hot, which always provides a nice kick to the beef and gravy. The bread was firm enough to stand up to the gravy dunk, and the beef was tender and well-seasoned.

Chicago’s Original
1206 East Main Street #111 (Allen)
click to enlarge Chicago's Original Italian Beef - HANK VAUGHN
Chicago's Original Italian Beef
Hank Vaughn
This primarily takeout place for pizza also has hot dogs, Polish sausage and Italian beef sandwiches. Owner Tom Lease even offers a prepackaged kit made in-house that you can purchase to make at home. This potentially solves the “How does one keep the sandwich’s integrity intact on the 45-minute drive home from Allen?” conundrum. Answer: Buy the kit, prepare yourself.

If you choose to eat it there, however, know that there is really no inside seating to speak of, and you’ll either be eating in your car (again), or at one of those steel picnic tables that are locked to a chain outside on the sidewalk. You might sacrifice ambiance, but you gain a pretty good Italian beef, with a nice just-right-on-the-hot-scale giardiniera, a decent bun that Lease proudly says he sources directly from a Chicago bakery, and fall-apart-in-your-mouth beef imbued with all that seasoned goodness that a good gravy provides. It was definitely the wettest of our dips, so if you prefer your beef sandwich drier, keep that in mind. Having said that, it was definitely one of the better beefs we’ve had since our last visit to The Windy City.

How was the cheese, you ask? No cheese on an Italian beef. We’re not animals.

A Taste Of Chicago​
14833 Midway Road, #110 (Addison)
click to enlarge Taste of Chicago Italian Beef - HANG VAUGHN
Taste of Chicago Italian Beef
Hang Vaughn
A Taste Of Chicago (not to be confused with the old Chicago food fair of days gone by) in Addison offers pizza and dogs as well as an Italian beef, and you can sit down to eat here, too. The bread held up the dip well; though we had to request the dip, they didn’t ask how we wanted the sandwich dry/wet/dipped-wise… but they were perfectly willing to accommodate once we asked, and they knew the lingo (you know a sandwich is good when it has its own ordering lingo).

This one we ordered with sweet peppers, and as it turned out they were red bell peppers rather than the traditional green. It made the sandwich pop visually, but truth be told all colors of the bell pepper world taste the same to me when they’re grilled or sauteed. The bell peppers added a taste to the beef that brought something different to the table as compared with the hotter giardiniera. It was a nice change of pace, and it worked well.

Hershey’s Palace
513 E. Abram St (Arlington)
click to enlarge Hershey's Palace Italian beef - HANK VAUGHN
Hershey's Palace Italian beef
Hank Vaughn
This spot sits in the shadow of AT&T Stadium in Arlington and has a pretty diverse menu that offers wings, chicken tenders, pizza, catfish, shrimp, and yes, Italian beef sandwiches. I was a little dubious about a beef from a place that also fries chicken wings and fish, but after I ordered, the cashier asked how we wanted it (“dipped”), and if I wanted hot or sweet peppers. So far, so good … until she asked if I wanted cheese on it. Oh well, as the late Meatloaf once said, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

The sandwich itself was fine, but it was also the most expensive on this survey at $12.49 (though to be fair, it came with fries). It had the right amount of dunkage, but the beef was just so-so. The beef-to-giardiniera ratio, more important, was way too high at almost 50/50. Giardiniera is supposed to be a condiment, not a co-equal ingredient with the beef.

If you’re out at Jimmy’s to pick up some ricotta or that 5-gallon jug of olive oil, by all means go to the back and order an Italian beef. You can’t go wrong. If, however, you’ve circled Jimmy’s for 20 minutes looking for that elusive parking space and still want your beef, any of these three should suffice. This should tide us all over until Portillo's shows up.
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Hank Vaughn is a freelance writer who enjoys sharing and overthinking his food and drink experiences, both good and bad, from his culinary journeys with his wife across North Texas and beyond.
Contact: Hank Vaughn