Well, would you look at that? The Italian beef at Marco's Beef & Pizza in Belmont Cragin is a beauty—tender, beefy, and spicy. Why I am so shocked? Why am I asking so many questions? Because I'm confused. I occasionally stumble upon a genuine surprise at a stand, like an unexpected natural casing hot dog or a peculiarly delicious neighborhood speciality, but finding a solid Italian beef at a place I've never heard about before is shockingly rare—like glimpsing a shooting star or encountering Hot Doug's without a line.
Though it appears to be a complete and utter mess, the Italian beef requires actual skill and patience to prepare. Sure, you'll need to stock fresh buns, meaty gravy, and crunchy giardiniera, but the most important component is the beef. Most places buy pre-cut slices, which are often too thick. Then they leave them swimming in gravy for hours, where they toughen up and dry out. But one bite of Marco's succulent Italian beef gives credence to the restaurant's claim that it is homemade.
Before it starts to sound like I've uncovered the next Johnnie's, know my hyperbolic tone has more to do with the surprise than anything else. Though very tender, it lacked the meaty wallop that the best versions have (not to mention a spice profile). I'm not even sure it would crack this list. But it is a shockingly solid beef, and that's more than good enough for me.