Forget Deep Dish Pizza, Italian Beef Is Illinois' Best Food

Chicago Italian beef sandwich
Chicago Italian beef sandwich - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Imagine you're walking through downtown Chicago on a cold night, and nothing sounds better than a nice hot meal to warm you up. Enter the Italian beef sandwich: a steaming pile of thinly sliced, juicy beef tenderly laid on a fluffy length of Italian bread, topped with hot briny giardiniera, Chicago-style. The sandwich (otherwise known simply by the shorthand "Italian beef") is famous for being packed with flavorful slow-cooked meat and pickled veggies, but if you're a foodie truly in for a flavor thrill, dipping the whole thing in a cup of steaming hot beef juice might just be the ticket. Indeed, Italian beef sandwiches are truly one of those meals that warm the soul, and, as many would say, are by far the best dish you'll find in the state of Illinois. As some would argue, Chicago's Italian beef sandwich has long been overshadowed by the city's infamous deep-dish pizza and pepper-laden Chicago hot dogs. Now, it looks like this Chicago classic may be finally getting its long-deserved time in the limelight.For proof, look no further than a recent YouTube video featuring food-focused creator Joshua Weissman, who asked his followers to vote for the most iconic food from states so that he could make those dishes and then rank them. For Illinois, Italian beef was the unequivocal winner. It's certainly a sign of a cultural shift (a shift that is possibly in part due to the hit Hulu series "The Bear"). But no matter what caused Italian beef's recent rise, it's been a long time coming -- and more than that, it's a well-deserved win.

Read more: The 101 Best Pizzas In America

Italian Beef's Originals Are Super Local (And One Of A Kind)

Italian beef with beef juice side
Italian beef with beef juice side - Darryl Brooks/Shutterstock

Arguably, Italian beef deserves top billing as Illinois' standout fare because it's truly a unique Chicago creation, more so than its hot dog and deep-dish pizza rivals. While there's no denying that deep-dish pizza and Chicago dogs are also from Illinois, these two dishes were not entirely original. Both hot dogs and pizza (the American versions, in this case) were first created and sold by immigrants in New York City -- and in this battle of the Chicago classics, location is key. Unlike those other Windy City staples, Italian beef sandwiches were first created in Chicago by Italian immigrants who were looking for a way to feed a lot of people for less money. So they cut the beef incredibly thin and served it on bread. The result? Well, there's nothing anywhere else quite like it.

As food writer and Chicago native Lucas Kwan Peterson explains in a piece penned for the Los Angeles Times, the "hyper-local" sandwich is also truly, deeply, singular. "It is definitely not your classic Italian sub sandwich with a variety of cured meats," writes Peterson, "nor is it a roast beef sandwich, with relatively thick-cut meat slices that still have some pink in the middle." Per Peterson, its one-of-a-kind qualities make it nearly impossible to replicate, even in Chicago-themed restaurants outside of Chicago that serve the city's best-known dishes. If you want a good Italian beef sandwich, you have to come to Illinois to get one, no exceptions.

Italian Beef Is A True Everyday Meal

Storefront for Al's in Chicago
Storefront for Al's in Chicago - Iris van den Broek/Shutterstock

Italian beef takes the top spot as Illinois' (or at least Chicago's) most iconic food because it's the only one that is eaten year-round as an everyday meal by everyday Chicagoans. While Chicago deep-dish pizza has long been considered the most iconic food of the city (and in turn, the state), the truth is that most locals don't regularly eat it. In reality, most Chicagoans prefer to eat tavern-style pizza which has a thin and crispy crust and is cut into small squares.As for Chicago-style hot dogs? Though they're popular and commendable in their own right, the reason they don't deserve the number one spot is that they are more of a summer thing, for baseball games and walks along the lakefront -- unlike Italian beef sandwiches, which are a dish for all seasons. When the cold winter wind hits, outdoor hot dog stands around the city close and don't reappear until the warm weather returns. An Italian beef sandwich is something you can easily find at venues all around the city, especially at famous joints like Al's #1 Italian Beef. So if you find yourself in Chicago and want to eat like a true Windy City resident, Italian beef is always the way to go.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.