The second most popular street food in Chicagoland (after red hots), Italian beef is slow-roasted beef that is vigorously garlicked, sliced thin and sopped in natural gravy. Some of its hundreds of purveyors sell it by the pound, to take home; but but eaters flock to Mr. Beef for a sandwich. That sandwich is known to cognoscenti simply as "a beef"; the modifier "Italian" and noun "sandwich" are presupposed.
Oh, what a sandwich! Piles of the wet beef are mounded into a muscle- crumbed torpedo of Gonnella-brand bread. This is bread made for beef sandwiches. It gets soft as it soaks, but has the oomph to stay in one piece even if you get your sandwich “dipped,” which means double-soaked in gravy. An important choice you’ll need to make is whether or not your want the sandwich “hot,” which means that it gets garnished with giardiniera relish that is crunchy and quite spicy. The alternative to hot is "sweet": roasted peppers. Some eaters get both: hot and sweet.
Sausages here are good, too – cooked on a grate until taut and bursting with juice. You can get a sausage sandwich in similar configurations as beef, and it is also possible to have a combo: a length of sausage and a pile of beef loaded into the bread. Hot and/or sweet.
Accommodations are minimal. There is an adjoining dining room with actual tables at which to sit as well as a counter up front with stools; but the Italian beef connoisseur’s choice is to stand at the chest-high counter that rims the perimeter of the main room. Here, the wax paper that wraps the sandwich can be unwrapped to catch all the spillage and keep it at handy plucking distance while you dine.
"A real Big Boy among Chicago street-food sandwiches: Mr. Beef's beef. This was ordered hot (very peppery) topped with crunchy giardiniera. Utterly delicious!"
"It's a Beautiful Thing is the Mr. Beef Motto; and its beauty has been recognized by renaming the short strip of Orleans where people come to savor the city treasure."
"While beef is king, sausage is no slouch at Mr. Beef. In fact, Chicago is one of America's great sausage cities. The crisp, spicy marinated-vegetable melange known as giardiniera heaped all over this sandwich is especially good."
"Mr. Beef's interior is typical of Chicago's beef shops: ringed all around the inside by a high counter where you can stand or sit on a tall stool and dig in to your sandwich."
"There's not a big menu here, but the one dessert that is always in good taste in this town is an Affy Tapple, a caramel apple made out in Niles. These are yet another of the so-called Second City's first-rate foods."