Al's Italian Beef, Alhambra

I was in the neighborhood and thought it would be a good opportunity to try the last (as far as I know) untried Chicago Pizza joint, Nancy’s, in Alhambra.

Alas, it is closed for remodeling. But what’s this right next door? Al’s Italian Beef!!

From my extensive bitching re: chicago pizza and lack of a decent dog out here, you know I grew up in Chicago and have some definite opinions on things. I like to think they are minimum standards of acceptability. i.e. one does not call a dog a ‘chicago dog’ unless it is an all beef frankfurter made by the Vienna Sausage Co, Chicago, IL. It’s served on an S. Rosen poppy seed bun. It is simmered in water. Grilled hotdogs are properly labeled as ‘char dogs’. You know, RULES. We’re not animals, here. This is not 'nam!

Italian Beef is thin sliced, soaked in seasoned au jus, and served on a soft but CHEWY italian roll that will hold up to the drippings. It can be wet or dipped. It probably has cheese (provolone), and may or may not have sweet or hot peppers.

Al’s, alas, is all italian beef SHAPED and then chained, comodified, and blandified to meet national distibution methods. The meat is mush, the ‘gravy’ tastes like burnt drippings mixed with a mccormick ‘italian-style’ spice pack, and the bread is some generic italian style roll with no more tooth to the crust than your average ralph’s loaf. The only thing roughly correct was the orange plastic cheddar cheese-like-food-substance drizzled over my fries, which had more taste than anything in the sandwich.

Skip this. If you’re already down to alhambra, just drive the rest of the way to San Diego and go to Lefty’s. Get the the special, served on garlic bread. Way, way better. And there’s beer and pizza.

As I exited, I looked across the street at several totally unfamiliar noodle houses, and guessed that would have had much better food for the same amount of money at any one of them.

Pity. A good sandwich is a beautiful thing. It is not available at Al’s.


Ditto, I encountered a similar experience at their Dallas location; far cry from Chicago outlets.

Chicago Al’s is/was sorta lousy compared to winners like Johnnie’s, Jay’s and Chickie’s (when it was open). Only Mr. Beef, a friggin tourist trap, is worse out of the known joints. This was backed up by multiple beef-a-thons.

In LA, Portillo is certainly passable, especially if you ask for hots and a combo. @lectroid, were you still in CHI when #lthforum was founded?

Had to stop by for lunch today… this stuff (all Vienna products: beef, dogs – produced in the Vernon plant – and the giardiniera) is still priced basically like Chicago despite the distance.

I’m so old school I don’t even know what # lthforum is.

I left the midwest in the early 90’s, though I do get back to visit family once or twice a year.
Calls home confirm that Al’s, which was once the spot for a good sammich, got all franchised out. The fact that they have a prominent picture of Mike Ditka endorsing it should have been enough to send me running.

I should call Nancy’s and see when it reopens. No way I am I driving out to La Verne

1 Like

Keep your eyes peeled for the Italian Beef Sandwich special at A Cut Above Butcher Shop in Santa Monica. One of the best I’ve ever had outside of Chicago. It used to be a regular menu item but now they only offer it occasionally as a special.

Sam’s Club

1 Like

I think it’s very telling that the gravy is listed before the “sliced beef” on those containers hahaha

Tasty, hardly anything edible in it

Beef: Beef, Containing Up to 10% Solution of: Water, Salt, Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Natural Flavors, Polysorbate 80, Soybean Oil, Tricalcium Phosphate, Caramel Color, Partially Hydrogenated Soy Bean Oil. Coated with: Beef Juice Base (Beef Shortening, [Propyl Gallate Added to Protect Flavor], Sugar, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Onion Powder, Hydrolyzed Corn Torula, Brewers Yeast Protein, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium, Guanylate), Spices and Natural Flavorings. Gravy: Water, Beef Homogenized Shortening, Beef Base (Salt, Dextrose, Beef Shortening [Propyl Gallate Added to Protect Flavor] Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Maltodextrin, Filtered Water, Sugar, Onion Powder, Hydrolyzed Corn Torula and Brewers Yeast Protein, Caramel Color, Spices, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium, Guanylate, Natural Flavor), Granulated Garlic, Crushed Red Pepper and Oregano. Giardiniera: Serrano Peppers (Serrano Peppers, Water, Salt Acetic Acid and Calcium Chloride), Celery, Carrots, Diced Red Bell Peppers (Red Bell Peppers, Water, Salt, Acetic Acid, Calcium Chloride and Sodium Bisulfite), Salad Oil (Soy, Olive Oil), Cauliflower, Olives, Vinegar, Spice, Sodium Benzoate.

But does it taste good?

I am old-school and don’t believe (or have ever found) highly processed food ever tastes good. Just because you add some MSG etc doesn’t make it taste edible

1 Like

I highly recommend the Cooked series on Netflix (especially the second episode) about this topic.

Bout Italian beef or about processed meat?

Vienna’s wholesale beef is obviously not the same as the retail product. Go ask 'em directly cuz @Porthos said our food knowledge is sorta bullshit n false. Portillo’s sorta makes its own (MSG, don’t hate) stock, which adds another whole dimension. To say the sliced beef is the same as P’s product is to believe XLB is a dumpling.

@lectroid, Nancy’s not reopening. Nor should it. Team #Coalfire.

1 Like

Well there will soon be this:

Coalfire, brah: - Coalfire Pizza on Grand

I hate deep dish more than I hate torilla and Filipino food. And I hate Filipino a lot.

Who could hate lumpia, pancit, and lechon?

Unless you mean you hate it because you can’t stop eating it if it’s in front of you…

I guess the white rabbit truck is right out huh?

Personally I think the sisig and Tocino tacos are some of the best fusion-y hipster tacos around. Better than Koji and a pretty good deal to boot.

Those are all bastardised Chinese dishes and pale in comparison to the OG.

Springrolls, chow mein, and suckling roast pork?

Culinary pure blood be damned. Still tasty.

DTF serves bastardized Shanghainese XLB. Many of the top 3 stars in Paris have Asian influences. Plenty of bastardization going on in HK cuisine. Italian pasta is “bastardized” Chinese noodles. But all tasty.

Hating on “bastardized” cuisine is so 1990s.

I’m not hating, I’m just stating my opinion which we are all free to do here.

I use the term bastardized to describe something I feel as a inferior replica or imitation of.

The key difference here is DTF serves great renditions of XLB. The 3-star chefs in Paris expertly use Asian influences and vice versa in Japan.

Its my opinion that Filipino food does have some redeeming qualities to it but those 3 things are not it. I’ve never heard of a lechon that reaches the quality of top Chinese roast pork. Also while there are many variations of pancit most that I’ve had are terrible compared to the rest of the amazing diversity of noodle dishes in Asia. Honestly if I had to choose my top styles of noodles pancit may not be last but its close to the bottom. But that’s just my opinion so don’t take offense bro but not every culture has an amazing culinary history due to the inequalities of socio-economic development that has allowed some culinary cultures to excel while others got screwed by world history (thanks to Europe). Maybe I’ll change my mind when the cuisine develops a bit further I’m open minded to change.

I wonder which came first, Cantonese roast pork or cochinillo asado from Spain. Pretty sure lechon is from Spanish cochinillo and not Cantonese roast pork.

Maybe being opened minded is being able to appreciate the variations of certan dishes within each culture and not judging it by another culture’s standards. There are so many crossover dishes between the Asian countries it’s hard to say which is bastardized and which is “better”.