Chicago has many regional food favorites, but the most famous may be its Italian beef sandwiches. Still, if you haven't spent time in the Windy City, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of this hearty taste sensation. My indoctrination came late in life, but the experience made such an impact on me, I knew I was onto something epic.
The Chicago beef sandwich is nothing more than a roll stuffed with succulent slow-roasted beef, sliced paper-thin, with your choice of peppers, giardiniera and lip-smacking jus. If you order your sandwich “dipped,” you’ll get the whole sandwich, bread and all, dipped into the jus, turning the bread into a sponge. Sure, this gets messy and you’ll have jus dripping off your elbows, but you’ll love every bite of this two-handed sub. Think French dip — only better (and hold the cheese).
The dipped Italian beef at Al's is still number one.
I first experienced this crazy-good feast at Al’s Italian Beef in Chicago. On later trips I tried a few other popular places such as Mr. Beef and Portillo’s, but Al’s is still number one in my book.
As much as I love living in Denver, it saddened me to think I’d have to go all the way to Chicago when I needed my Italian beef fix. I’m happy to report that situation changed when I came across Chicago Mike’s Beef & Dogs at 11405 East Briarwood Avenue in Centennial, just off the corner of East Arapahoe Road and South Lima Street.
Family-owned and operated, Chicago Mike’s has mastered its Italian beef sandwich. The flavor of the beef is balanced, with just the right amount of herbs and spices to send your taste buds to meat-lover's nirvana. The beef is piled high and melt-in-your-mouth tender, but with just enough satisfying chew. When I want to impress my friends with a great lunch, I take them to Chicago Mike’s. I’m batting a thousand, and that’s because the quality control is second to none.
My order is always “hot and sweet, dipped,” which means savory beef, sweet peppers and housemade spicy giardiniera — and the whole sandwich gets dipped in jus and served in a boat with extra jus on the side. One of the secrets that makes this sandwich so good is that the beef is hand-trimmed and hand-sliced (insert sound of mad ninja knife skills here).
Al's is a prime example of a great Italian beef joint, but Chicago Mike's gets it right too.
Originally open for business in 1998, Chicago Mike’s has changed ownership a few times, and is now proudly owned by Giles and Anzhela Everist. The couple wanted a great place in south Denver where they could enjoy their Chicago favorites, so they went all-in and brought Chicago Mike’s up to the high standards we all get to enjoy today. In the kitchen, at least two of the cooks have been at it at Mike's for fourteen years.
Got a hankering for a Chicago dog? Nobody “drags it through the garden” better than the crew at Chicago Mike’s, sourcing the freshest ingredients and piling them high on a snappy Vienna Beef dog. I prefer my dogs topped with special chili (with cheese and onions). The menu includes corn dogs, too, for kids from 3 to 103.
All of the operation is under the watchful eye of general manager Brandon Everist (also a family member), who says they're proud to offer such a wide variety of Chicago favorites. You can order an iconic sausage sandwich, for example, or enjoy that signature sausage on a delicious pizza or stromboli.
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Other Chi-town favorites include Polish sausage sandwiches, tamales (very different from typical Colorado tamales), pizza puffs, Fannie May chocolates and more. The only way this Centennial shopping center could possibly get more Chicago would be if Rick Bayless opened a Mexican joint next door.
So go and enjoy the culinary treasures of Chicago Mike's (it's open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day but Sunday) — but please, make sure you don’t start rooting for the Bears.
Ken Holloway has toured the United States in search of the best regional specialties — and is now looking for great versions right here in metro Denver. Do you have suggestions for Ken? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.