Italian beef is such a common feature in Chicago's gastronomic landscape that most Chicagoans (M. Stern included) never know it is anything special until they move away, then realize with horror that one cannot get it anywhere else, certainly not in Italy. It is slow-roasted beef that is vigorously garlicked, sliced thin and sopped in natural gravy. You can buy it this way by the pound, to take home; but the vast majority of visitors to Mr. Beef come to eat it here, in a sandwich.
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 your sandwich “hot,” with pepper enough to make your lips glow. Mr. Beef’s giardiniera is crunchy, spicy and a brilliant contrast to the full-flavored beef.
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.
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.
"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."
"There's not a big menu here, but the one dessert that is always in good taste in this town is an Affy Tapple, the locally-made caramel apple. These are yet another of the so-called Second City's first-rate foods."
"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."
"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!"
"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."