Buona Vs. Portillo’s – The Battle for the Best Italian Beef
Recently we spent a few weeks visiting friends in the Chicago area. I knew one of the foods I had to try in chicago was italian beef. My friends husband is celiac and reccomended Portillo’s as a must try spot. During my googling of the best gluten free italain beef places I found a thread debating weather Buona Beef or Portillo’s had better gluten free italian beef. Of course we had to try both places.
Since our thoughts on each place were the same I thought I would approach this post a little differently. I wrote the review on Buona and let Alan write the review for Portillo’s. Here’s what we thought.
First things first, Buona Beef has gluten free flat bread that can be used for all of their sandwiches and as crust for their pizzas. I’ve read it is good but due to other allergies I did not want to chance trying it. That’s ok though. We wanted to order the exact same meal at both restaurants for a fair review.Alan and I both ordered the Naked Combo Bowl. This comes with Buona Beef, sausage, peppers (I got sweet and hot) and mozzarella cheese.The restaurant was quiet and comfortable when we walked in. When we ordered I almost forgot to tell the cashier I had Celiac. Thankfully Alan spoke up. The cashier said he was glad we alerted him since they take special precautions to keep things gluten free. He went on to explain that they change gloves, clean surfaces, and a few other things that I have since forgotten. I was very confident that my meal would be safe.
At Buona Beef your order is taken and you pick a table. The cashier brings the food out to you when it is ready and checks on you for drink refills etc throughout your meal. This was a nice touch at a semi fast food restaurant (they have a drive thru).
On to the food.
I have never eaten italian beef and did not know really what to expect. The bowls came out smelling wonderful. The beef was tender and there was quite a bit of it. I had to ask the cashier where the cheese was and he informed me that they put it between the meat so it melts really well. I thought that was a neat trick. The beef came in a thin gravy that was so flavorful Alan drank his, and mine, when we were done eating. I kept saying throughout the meal how I wanted to eat this and only this for the rest of my life.
I loved both the sweet and hot the gardineria as well. They were full of sliced carrots, green olives, onions, and sweet and hot peppers.
We will be back in Chicago area in a few weeks and along with Chicago’s Pizza I am definitely going to be stopping back at Buona Beef.
Now I’ll let Alan take the wheel.
We aren’t quite sure why this place is as busy as it is. Perhaps our experience was unique, maybe other people enjoy this place. Our visit, however, made this one of the worst places we have ever eaten.We were staying with some friends, one of which is also a celiac, and joined them for dinner at Portillo’s. When we arrive, the drive through line was backed up at least 20 cars deep. Inside, the wait was much shorter, and we were placing our order almost immediately. The greeter took our order of Beef Combo in a cup with peppers and cheese, written on a brown bag – not very green of them – which we handed to the cashier a minute or two later. A manager had to assist in translation, and stated what was written on the bag was “all wrong”. After making corrections on a new bag, and telling the cashier how to enter the order, the manager left; leaving the cashier to stumble through entering the information into the order screen.We made sure to mention that the order was gluten free, which Portillo’s website states they can handle, assuming at least glove changes would be done, but the cashier informed us after paying that the manager stated “gluten free could not be guaranteed”. Normally, this is where we would ask for a refund and eat somewhere else but, as our friends have never had an issue, we decided to press on.
Next, we waited for our food. And waited. And waited. Our friends were at the table with their food, and we waited. Number 70 was called all throughout our waiting process, we were number 78. We waited. The contents of number 70 were read out – hey, that sounds like our order. We showed the employee our ticket, and found out “they must have wrote the number wrong”. So… our food was ready for a while. We were not happy, but they did at least offer us cake for the problem. You know, cake, to go with the gluten free meals containing an allergy warning on the ticket. Cake.
At this point, we wanted out of the crowd of people waiting on their food, and to eat – we were pretty hungry. We joined our friends, and tried our food. This is where Portillo’s lived up to everything we had experienced thus far. There was no gravy to speak of in the bowl. There was some greasy sludge, but even it was limited. The sausage was dry, with burnt ends, and not very good. The mystery meet in the meal was the same consistency and flavor as steak-um – in fact, if we had to, we would venture to guess that it probably was some off brand frozen beef slices. Very, very greasy off brand beef slices.
The extra peppers – which costs – consisted of two or three small, greasy pepper pieces. As far as the double portion Alan ordered, it looked and felt the same size and weight as the smaller order. Either they screwed up there too, or an extra portion means one slice of steak-um.
Normally, this is where we would some things up in a nice sentence. With Portillo’s, that is simply “Wow.” Wow that any one visit could have everything go so wrong. Needless to say, we won’t be going back. We’ll stick with Buona.
There you have it guys. Buona Beef is the clear winner in our eyes. They had better customer service, better attention to detail, better ability to handle our gluten free meal, much larger portions, and most importantly much much much better tasting food.