Some of my earliest memories involve lunch at Little Joe's, a trim place for dine-in and takeaway in an otherwise forgettable Countryside strip mall.
Roughly half of the storefront is devoted to the counter and open kitchen; the other side houses a hodgepodge of tables in need of a perpetual wipe-down. Blame the house favorite for that: juicy Italian beef ($4.95), topped with lightly pickled, not-too-spicy giardiniera. Instead of the customary sport pepper mix, this version employs crunchy, paper-thin celery in its place. As for the combo of Italian beef and Italian sausage ($5.95), when topped with a mix of hot and meltingly tender sweet peppers, it's a cut above most I've had.
Little Joe's also makes a snappy, Chicago-style hot dog ($2.85) and cheese dog ($3.25) of note. The latter in and of itself is worth a visit. Here, again, that giardiniera proves the perfect foil. Alternately, there's a respectable chili dog ($3.25), its russet topping made in-house and also available by the bowl. Factor in the salty crinkle-cut fries—golden outside and creamy within—and a great meal is in store.
The menu houses a smattering of other items, none of them half bad. You can get a steamed Tom Tom tamale ($1.75) or a greasy-good pizza puff ($2.95), for example. Char cheeseburgers ($3.95), meatball sandwiches ($3.85) and ubiquitous buffalo wings ($6.95) are options, too. And if you're hankering for some beer? No problem. It's not only available, it's cheap; less than $8 per pitcher buys you icy-cold Heineken.
There's nothing fancy about it. Little Joe's is just plain good.
About the author: Jennifer Olvera is a veteran food and travel writer and author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago." Follow her on Twitter @olverajennifer.