Not too long ago I told you about my experience visiting the Orlando White Castle and how baffling I found its popularity.
But on the same evening I trekked across the parking lot to another Central Florida newcomer, Portillo’s, the Chicago-style beef and hot doggerie. And I liked it a lot.
Portillo’s began in 1963 when Dick Portillo opened a wiener stand called The Dog House in Villa Park, Ill., in metropolitan Chicago. Eventually he slapped his own name on it and soon after a chain was born. There are now more than 70 locations, most still in Illinois. Besides Orlando, there are Florida Portillo’s in Brandon, Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The restaurant itself is big and noisy, in sound and in decor. It reminded me of another Chicago diner, Ed Debevic’s. The space is essentially a warehouse-sized box that is filled with signs, murals, hubcaps, hanging bicycles and musical equipment, and booths with shiny vinyl backs and retro kitchen-style tables with Formica tops.
I placed my order with an impossibly happy fellow at the counter. Portillo’s is known for hot dogs and beef sandwiches, so I got one of each.
I got the Jumbo Hot Dog, which had a plump frankfurter in a poppy-seeded bun made soft with steam. Crammed in to overflowing were chopped onions, slices of tomatoes, hot peppers and a dill pickle spear. I haven’t had a hot dog in a very long time but I’d have another one of these any day.
The Big Beef sandwich was good, too. (The Big Beef is the Italian Beef but half again as large.) It featured what was supposed to be thinly sliced beef (but was more like beef schnibbles) that, according to the restaurant, was roasted for four hours (I didn’t time it) and served on a french bread roll with a bit of beef gravy on it. I also had some sweet peppers and hot giardiniera, which added nice notes. Of the two, I enjoyed the hot dog more.
Portillo’s has a nice ordering system set up and food comes out quickly.
Portillo’s is at 7715 Palm Parkway, Orlando (map). It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 689-800-0102.