Another entry amongst the food court denizens of Irvine is Chicago's Best. Its counter has been scarcely open for more than a few weeks, yet it has garnered some pretty enthused posts here on Chowhound. And this was even before it officially opened.
I tried it today, for the first time. I ordered the first thing listed on the menu: The Italian Beef Sandwich, with both mild and hot peppers. The guy behind the counter, after handling my money, proceeded to assemble my sandwich. He first split open a six inch french roll, then with tongs, stuffed it full of what looked like shredded beef, which was pallid white. He then took the whole thing and dunked it into the "jus". After spooning some sliced pickled jalapenos and some brownish, cooked bell peppers, he double wrapped it in butcher paper. And there it was, my $6.63 "Italian Beef Sandwich".
Upon unwrapping and sinking my first bite into this thing, I was puzzled to why this was called an "Italian" beef sandwich. What makes it Italian? It certainly couldn't have been the hot pickled jalapenos and the cubes of tiny carrots. Those gave it a distinctly Mexican zing. It certainly couldn't have been the beef or the "jus" itself. It tasted similar to Philippe's french dip jus, but with less body and flavor. The beef itself was tender. These greyish white ribbons of meat quite easily fell apart in your mouth, but to me, had a "boiled" taste to them. I'm not saying that that's a bad thing, but if it's described as "roast beef", shouldn't it look and taste like roast beef? And Italian? I wouldn't have guessed it.
And the bread, being a soft roll to begin with, easily succumbed to the moisture after being completely submerged in the jus. It turned into a soft, mushy, salty bread pudding. The beef, dripping with broth, already soaked through the bread from the inside, but the dunk finished the job on the outer crust. The bread never had a chance!
Even before the first bite, the whole sandwich had already fallen apart, gobs of beef and jalapenos dropped onto the paper, like drunken sailors jumping off a sinking ship. After a short bit of time, the whole thing became a sopping wet mess. It was then I understood why some people were eating their sandwiches with a knife and fork.
You might think that from my review that I didn't like the sandwich, but I did (sort of). Although I did not care for the flavorless pieces of cooked bell peppers they put on it, it was a decent sandwich. I still think they should rethink the name though. How's "shredded beef with bread pudding" sound?
Admittedly, I'm not from Chicago. The closest I came to even visiting the city was a half hour stopover at O'Hare. I wonder though, is this a true Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich?
2540 Main St
Irvine, CA 92614