[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

While driving around the south suburbs sampling Italian beefs at Italian delis, I passed by a random location of Pop's Italian Beef & Sausage in Orland Park. Even though I wasn't remotely hungry, I found myself turning around and pulling into the parking lot, justifying the move as research; sure, I couldn't include the offering in this particular roundup, but it could function as a steady barometer of the quality of the other beefs. That makes sense, right?

To be honest, I just wanted to feast on an Italian beef from Pop's again, because it had been way too long. The only outlet of the mini-chain in the city limits is past 103rd St, which partly explains my absence. Fortunately, it was as good as I remembered. The beef is thinly sliced and very tender. The gravy isn't spiced in any distinctive way, but it does have an impressive meaty depth, which works well. What truly sets Pop's apart is the giardiniera, which is almost neon green and very crunchy. It's also less pickled than most versions, which gives the chilies a sharper edge.

Pop's is probably not worth making a trek for, but it's a dependable and solid local stand, and I'd be lucky to have one nearby.


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