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 was jealous when one of my fellow Serious Eats co-conspirators in crime visited Fontano's Subs a while back for A Sandwich a Day, because it's one of my favorite places to grab a sub sandwich (my coworkers wholeheartedly agree). It's a bit of a walk from my office building, but on nice days, it's a perfect excuse to get out for lunch.
At first glance, there's not much to look at. The place is tiny, jammed between fast food options, and easy to miss. Even the front door is a little confusing; it's not located on the face of the building—you have to enter the office building and then take a sharp left into the sandwich joint. Then you step inside and see that the place is pretty banged up. It's dimly lit and there's barely anywhere to sit. But then you see that there's a long, fast-moving line, and you know good things are coming soon. And by good things, I mean, giant sandwiches to shove into your face.
The very first sandwich on the menu is the Blockbuster ($5.50 for 6"), and it's up top for a reason; this is a bold sandwich, featuring layers of ham, salami, capocollo, provolone, and Swiss. When piled together, these meats are admittedly difficult to discern from each other, but what you do get is a dense, salty, meaty, Italian sub. The shamelessly fat-flecked meat is rich and cradled in a Gonella sandwich roll, which makes the whole thing chewy in a good way. I've noticed that in general, most good Italian subs do involve a bit of a jaw workout, but to me, that's just part of the fun.
The Big Al Italian ($10 for 12") is a relatively similar flavor combination to the Blockbuster, this time featuring mortadella, cotto salami, Genoa salami, and provolone. The main difference in flavor here is the bologna-like mortadella and the lack of Swiss. I did notice that the mortadella added a more velvety texture and, well, bologna-like flavor to the pile of rich deli meat.
Last but not least, the Wise Guy ($5.50 for 6") is composed of prosciuttini, capocollo, Genoa Salami, and provolone. The main difference in flavor here is that the spiciness of the capocollo comes out on top.
I did notice a few interesting things with these sandwiches, however. The first detail I noticed is that when you order one with everything, you get lettuce, tomato, Italian dressing, and mayo. Most Italian subs don't usually come with mayo, so if you're a purist, you can ask for them to leave it off. Second, the giardiniera is easily the hottest I have ever had. Seriously! You might want to order it on the side just to be safe.
The sides ($.99) aren't recommended for the fact that well, they aren't that great, and if you really have to have something on the side, my coworkers have devised a maneuver where they go to Arby's next door to score some seasoned curly fries, which never fails to make me laugh.
20 E. Jackson, Chicago IL 60604(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.