Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
I don't know about you guys, but walking by the same restaurant everyday somehow makes it unappealing. Sure, sometimes I think about stopping in, but then I always pass it by. Is that just me? In this case, the restaurant is Luke's Italian Beef. At the risk of gaining Serious Eats stalkers, this restaurant is really, really, close to my office. As in...the same building. That said, I've only eaten at Luke's a handful of times. Maybe I'm just weird! (Okay, I'm weird.)
One of my main beefs (groan, pun intended, I hate my face) with other Italian beef pizzas is that the beef is almost always on top, or close to being on top, of the pizza. The cooking process inevitably transforms tender beef into jerky. But Luke's personal pan pizza with Italian beef ($5.25) may have actually changed my mind. Hidden under the layer of cheese and spicy giardiniera is a pillowy pile of thinly shaved Italian beef. Luke's beef is tucked in so well that the end result is a mind-boggling collision of Chicago—overloaded pizza and tender Italian beef. Then you have the giardiniera on top of the mozzarella, which finishes the distinctly beefy flavor with sharp pickled spiciness.
Imagine Kenny G, John Tesh, and Yanni all smashed into the same pizza, and you'll get the same result: tender cheesy softness that's so dreamy. So...dreamy.
Now for the hardcore Chicagoans, you have the Italian Combo ($5.45). For this amount of money you get a ton of food. It's almost too much for my puny mind to comprehend! The Italian beef in a dipped bun by itself is already tender and satisfying by itself, but the sausage adds a chewy fennel-spiked element. The sausage was a little too dry for me, and overall, at the risk of being unmanly, it's just too much meat. My father swears by these things, but his doctor sure doesn't.
The beef and cheddar croissant ($4.95) is my co-workers choice. It's the most straightforward sandwich of all three, a bit of cheese sauce (though not nearly enough), and a lot of Italian beef jammed into a sliced, buttery, croissant. No more, no less.
The fries ($1.85 + $0.80 for cheese sauce) have to be ordered to be believed. If you're eating with other people, share an order. My coworkers once asked an employee why they don't serve smaller sizes, and his response? Customers just kept asking for more! The shoestring-style fries are about half crispy and half soft, and are just okay in my opinion. The cup of cheese is your standard fast food-style cup, but it is addictive nonetheless.
(Note: If you guys Google this place, you get a lot of scattered results, including a place that's called Luke's of Chicago located in Arizona. There's other outposts named Luke's in Lake Bluff and Lake Zurich as well. The one in this post doesn't appear to have a website.)
Luke's Italian Beef
215 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60606 (map)
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.