Thursday, October 20, 2011

Most Memorable Experience at Al's Italian Beef By: Patricia Nicandro

Patricia is a graduate student at DePaul University who enjoys traveling, reading, culinary exploration, and playing sports that don't require much athleticism. If Patricia was forced to choose her favorite kind of food it would be breakfast food with a heavy emphasis on bacon. Patricia may not have a car but she is willing to travel as far as the CTA/Metra tracks will take her in order to reach a good restaurant.

My most memorable experience at a restaurant was going to Al’s Italian Beef on Taylor Street in Chicago’s Little Italy.  I grew up in Bolingbrook, IL, until age 13 and it was always such a treat when my family drove up to Al’s for Italian beef sandwiches with sweet peppers and a bag of fries.  When summer hit, we’d walk across the street to Mario’s Italian Lemonade.  The Italian ice at Mario’s pairs perfectly with the hot sandwiches from Al’s.

Dining at Al’s and Mario’s is so different than what you’d experience in the suburbs.  The food tastes authentic. The beef and “gravy” (similar to au jus) at Al’s packs a lot of flavor and the meat looks real; not like the trimmed lunchmeat you’d see at your typical family-friendly chain restaurant.  The French fries at Al’s are also very fresh with the potato skins still on them. 

Likewise, Mario’s puts chunks of fresh fruit in its Italian ice.  Every other Italian ice I’ve had pales in comparison because they use artificial syrups to flavor the ice. 

The ambiance at these two establishments is very casual, which is also part of their charm.  Mario’s was the first food stand I had ever been to.  And upon my first visit to Al’s, when I was 4 years old, I noticed that there were no tables, just counters.  At that age I was always taught to sit down at the dinner table when you eat, but at Al’s you quickly learn how to eat your Italian beef sandwich standing up.  As I later discovered, this technique is called “The Italian Stance.”

Al’s Italian Beef and Mario’s Italian Lemonade may not be fine-dining restaurants, but you are sure to receive some of the finest food Chicago has to offer.

Al's Italian Beef
1079 West Taylor Street 
Chicago, IL
(312) 226-4017
Mario's Italian Lemonade
1068 West Taylor St
Chicago, IL 60607

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