As a former Chicagoland resident, my anticipation for the upcoming debut of Portillo’s at Grandscape in The Colony is practically palpable, even if it’s unfortunately not quite palatable yet. A delectable icon of the city and its surrounding suburbs, Portillo’s rockets up the list of must-try North Texas restaurants with its menu of delicious hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches.
With the Grandscape location set to become just one of many Portillo’s restaurants which will soon dot the North Texas area, according to the Dallas Morning News, it feels appropriate for someone who grew up with a Portillo’s just 10 minutes from their childhood home to create a bit of a primer on some must-haves for those who might be experiencing Chicago cooking for the very first time. A top five list which begins quite appropriately with the pinnacle of Chicago fast food.
Chicago-style Jumbo Hot Dog
Pardon me if I almost wax poetic about the Chicago-style hot dog, even if I did do as much in an earlier review of the similarly brilliant Chicago Avenue HotDogs in Frisco. It’s easy to forget that the windy city’s signature dog may be an almost intimidating sight for those not yet familiar with it.
The neon green relish may be confounding, the dill pickle spear and tomato slices confusing, the celery salt and onion topping intimidating, yet don’t let that unfamiliarity spook you from the comforts of the country’s premier interpretation of the humble hot dog.
The resulting mixture of flavors is a delicious harmony with each note perfectly playing off one another. Many Chicagoans consider Portillo’s one of the best at crafting these creations, so the safest bet for a hungry first-timer is to order the jumbo dog if only to make your best effort at not immediately ordering a second.
From one Chicago favorite to another, Italian beef is also a must when visiting an institution of the city like Portillo’s. While the restaurant does offer the classic Italian Beef, complete with the option to add hot giardiniera peppers to the Turano French bread-nestled beef, I happen to prefer this more unconventional take.
There’s just something about the way the au jus and cheddar cheese melts into the soft croissant, which doubles as a bun for the juicy Italian beef, that makes the Beef-n-Cheddar stand above the rest. While getting a Chicago classic is still a necessity for any newcomer, strict adherence to tradition isn’t always a requirement for deliciousness in this case.
Char-grilled Maxwell Street Polish Sausage
For the more adventurous, the Maxwell Street Polish Sausage is another longtime Chicago standby that calls Portillo’s its home. While not quite as nationally renowned as the Chicago-style hot dog, this dish still has quite the loyal following in the city.
According to the restaurant’s website, Portillo’s founder, Dick Portillo, so fondly recalled getting Polish sausages from street carts on the corner of Maxwell and Halsted St. as a child that he brought the sausages to his restaurant years later. The unique and distinctly flavored sausage variety, originally created over 75 years ago according to the restaurant, is indeed that much of a classic and one that’s best experienced at another Chicago classic like Portillo’s.
Chocolate Cake/Chocolate Cake Shake
Depending on who you ask, Portillo’s chocolate cake may very well be its most famous dish. The velvety smooth layers of fresh baked, rich chocolate cake and frosting hold up even against specialty cake shops.
Somehow along the way, Portillo’s mixed the cake into its creamy milkshake which doubles the deliciousness and acts as yet another famed dessert from the restaurant in its own right. No matter which you choose, your sweet tooth will be satisfied.
Chicken Tenders and Cheese Fries
Sometimes even the run-of-the-mill can be delicious. This is an easy, kid-friendly menu option that’s really become a personal go-to simply for the ability to dunk juicy chicken tenders into some of the best cheese sauce around along with a side of what I would consider to be the best fries in Chicago. The crinkle fries are satisfyingly crisp allowing them to hold up to ample dunking in that luxurious cheese sauce. Don’t sleep on the simple, even if a newcomer should probably try some of the original standbys on this list first.