Chicago’s Portillo’s & the Purple Pig

Chicago's Portillo's Hot Dogs
Portillo’s, fortunately you can’t eat ugly.

Chicago’s Portillo’s and the Purple Pig

Welcome back gluttonous readers to a Portillo’s edition of the Pot and Pan Handler’s frivolous blog. Today we’re talking something near and dear to our hearts… Italian Beef’s, then a complete sensory overload sends us in a different direction and leads to eating a different form of lunch. Twice. Like most stories, this story starts at the beginning, so join us in front of a live studio audience as this program is already in progress…

Portillo’s Italian Beefing

Okay dubious readers, as regular readers may remember we at the Pot and Pan Handler are infatuated with the blue collar Chicago sandwich classic Italian Beef.  Still yet, you may remember that our current favorite Chicago joint slanging these sandwiches is Al’s #1 Italian Beef. However a Chicago local took that opinion to task, stating that Portillo’s has a better Italian Beef. BOOM! That was the sound of our collective minds blowing. If there really is a better Italian Beef in town, we need to investigate immediately. Such is our cross to bear for you… the finicky reader.

Chicago's Al's #1 Italian Beef
Al’s they got beef.

Fortunately we know where Portillo’s is, as one location is directly across the street from our own Al’s #1 Italian Beef. Portillo’s is a gaudy building with a drive thru and giant video screens loudly displaying menu items in brief, bright, neon, seizure inducing video clips. It never once crossed our minds that we would eat there, but the gauntlet has been dropped.

Challenging an Italian Beef in Chicago is the equivalent of finding the nearest southern Colonel, slapping him in the face with a leather glove and demanding satisfaction. I do declare. So we go in hot. Prophetically we passed the Purple Pig on the way, would we wish we stopped there instead? You see how we did that, by posing the last sentence as a question we build suspense, plus we address the literary necessity of foreshadowing all in one thought. Damn we’re good at this.

Loud Ass Cluster Fuck

Walking into Portillo’s is pure sensory overload. Imagine Grand Central station, now have a military jet take off, a train arrive and several of those warbling European police sirens go off in the same general location. We are overwhelmed. This place is not a tourist trap, it’s a tourist nightmare. If a theme park and a food court had a love child named Loud Ass Cluster Fuck, it would look just like Portillo’s. A torrent of people, sight and sound, with loud Chicago flavored junk and sports memorabilia adorning the walls, ceiling, floor, upstairs, downstairs, patio… EVERYWHERE. Children are running amok; the shrill cries of whatever the modern, presumably more PC equivalent of bloody murder is unpleasantly pierces our eardrums.

Beer is over there, can I get an ale yeah?

ORDER # 180!!

Digesting all this has taken a moment, one thing is clear, in Portillo’s there are no vacant tables. Pardon me, there’s one other thing that’s clear, if and I do mean if, we do acquire a table, it will be dirty. Refreshingly unsullied by an over fussy staff, the glistening crumbs and smears from customers long gone beckon & mock your mortality. Long after you’re gone that mustard stain will still be there. And it looks pissed.

ORDER #180!! The words boom over a loud speaker above my head startling me. I think briefly about leaving, there seems to be multiple places to order, but one of them has beer on tap. I’ve found a beer stand. An island of sanity in a sea of overfed confusion, I’m on a mission. I make my way to the stand and order a Hacker Pschorr and ORDER #181!! booms overhead startling me once again. I receive the beer; it’s served in one of those medieval 20 pound schooners seemingly designed to maximize spillage, which I do immediately. I grab my beer, spill it again and begin my search for an empty, crumb strewn table.

Chicago's Portillo's Hot Dogs
Oops this is a lot like the last pic… Mmmm beer.

ORDER #182!! Booms over my head again startling me and I spill the schooner once again. I’m walking in concentric circles waiting for a table to open up & fortunately for my hand I can’t stop spilling this beer. Wait… It happened, a table has opened up & we beeline for it immediately. We sit down at this miracle table and realize we’re in luck as the table is only dirty and not very dirty. Winning.

ORDER # 183!! Over the loudspeaker, I jump & spill more on my hand. Portillo’s is loud. This is not going well.  We look around at the throngs of people milling about in seemingly random fashion. We feel disengaged, like watching an ant farm. Though you realize the random movements have meaning as a casual observer it’s hard to decipher what that meaning is. ORDER #184!! I jump and spill my giant beer once again.


Not including the beer stand there seems to be 3 more lines to place an order. 2 lines have formed but there seems to be 2 more ordering counters. I grunt, lift the heavy schooner and have a drink. Lifting this heavy glass is first class, providing a robust workout as well as challenging rank sobriety. Gaining confidence I get in one of the meandering lines to order. ORDER #185!! Over the loudspeaker shatters my confidence. This line doesn’t seem to be moving and I’m beginning to miss my workout beer.

Winding Line Of Portillo's
Portillo’s offers the opportunity to do a line.

30 long, dry minutes later I’ve read & re-read the menu repeatedly, eventually I get to the front of the line. It seems a small miracle but there is a girl at the head of the line taking orders. She rolls her eyes, snaps her chewing gum and says whadyawant? 1 Chicago dog and 1 hot chicken Caesar salad, please. Another eye roll to let me know that I’m a trivial bitch, and she hands me a white paper bag with my order written on it. She then points behind her and says your dawg will come up over der and dat salad will come up over dere she points in the opposite direction towards the front of the store. She then points straight ahead and tells me to pay at another counter at the back of the restaurant.

Portillo's menu.
Great view.

ORDER # 186!! I’m beginning to hate that. I proceed to the aforementioned counter with my order bag to pay. Inhabiting the counter is a gum chewing mass of sarcasm. Her hand is out as she wants my order bag. I hand the bag to her, she looks at it, rolls her eyes, looks at me, rolls her eyes again and said, whadyawant? What’s all this then? Who was the last order taker? A fraud, corporate spy, Russian collusion, we can’t be sure so I repeat the order and pay. ORDER #187!! I retreat back to the not very dirty table with my work out beer and wait. ORDER #188!! I look at my receipt, I’m order #285, I’m going to be here awhile.

Coming soon;

There’s no reason for you to sit here and watch me spill beer while waiting for an order… Tune in next time, same bat time, same bat channel, was Portillo’s food worth the wait? Wait, what about the Purple Pig? Will I ever realize the reason I went to Portillo’s was to get an Italian Beef, but I ended up ordering a Chicago Dog and a salad? Shit I did, didn’t I… All these questions and more will be answered next time, dear reader, until then remember ORDER # 189!! Ooh just under a hundred to go. We’ll see you then.

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The Pot & Pan Handler are; Fuck this. Writing is such fucking bullshit, I should be out fucking foraging for berries or collecting squirrel shit for fucking fertilizer, you know something fucking useful, fuck this shit; I’m fucking bouncing, fuck windows. Oops technical difficulties are ours. – The Pot & Pan Handler

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