What a weird place? It's a gigantic joint that looks like a 50s diner but has a sort of new orleans/dixieland vibe on the inside. way strange. you get ushered into one of two lines by the jovial waitstaff, and while in line they take your order on a a paper bag emblazoned with a puppy dog with the heading "Portillo's Hot Dogs". The waiter writes your order on the bag then you hand it to the person at the cash register, pay, get your change, and then wait in another line to get your food. Over here, they shout out nifty little slogans as they also call out your food ticket number.
So I got my victuals, a famous Italian beef sandwich, a chocolate cake, and a coke.
Sat down opened up the sandwich. and it was greasy as hell. bit in to it, not much flavor to the beef in fact the poor quality meat reminded me of poor quality shabu-shabu meat just boiled in water, with no saucing. The hot peppers on the sandwich helped to add a little flavor along with the slightly though very slightly tasty beef broth that had soaked through the bread. I discarded the majority of the meat, and just ate the bread with some of the peppers. it was ok, that way, but in no way tasty like people have raved about. if this is a true italian beef sandwich, then i feel sorry for the people of chicago. at least, they have great chicago dogs with vienna beef which i do like and have enjoyed numerous times (especially the dogs at rubin's red hot like the big red). but this italian beef sandwich at portillo's had no character, no gestalt, no reason for being if you will. on to the chocolate cake: for 2.5 bucks it wasn't half bad, and a decent sized slice arrived. but ulimtately nothing special. very, very similar to an entemenan's pre-packaged chocolate cake w/ choc frosting.
Now you might say I didn't like the food and you are pretty correct but for some reason I did like the atmosphere of the place, from the cutesy waitstaff, to the 50's diner decor by way of american graffiti crossed with dixieland jazz (and anything that reminds me of good ol' new orleans even when pre-fabricated and sypruped/sycharrine-y still makes me pretty happy). which above all is to say that, portillo's is worth a try for the experience alone, and maybe next time i'll just order a chicago dog and drink and call it a day. luckily, i'm hoping it's more difficult to get a dog wrong than the italian beef.