Portillo’s Hot Dogs: Chicago In a Bun

Photo courtesy of Yelp

Photo courtesy of Yelp

Rachel Seo, Photojournalist

A Chicago-style hot dog place situated in Buena Park, Portillo’s proudly proclaims its existence with blinking neon signs and a crowded parking lot on Saturday nights.

My dad and I joined the steady flow of people walking towards the restaurant, like flies to a bright light. The inside, however, was even cooler: wooden tables and booths that gave the ambiance a rustic spin, and framed mug shots from the Great Depression era hung over the tables, yellowed, with faded ink.

We joined the crowd of people gathering to order. I wanted the Italian sandwich with sweet peppers; my dad chose the same, but with spicy, and added onion rings and chili cheese fries to our order as well. Delectable smells wafting through the air hinted at a glorious meal to come, but that was yet to be decided.

The wait for the food wasn’t too long–the staff seemed professional and efficient, writing our orders on brown paper bags. The food portions were generally small–the fries came in a miniature square takeout box, and our sandwiches, though stacked high with meat, were short in length. However, all of it was good–the meat salty and hot, the fries coated with a layer of invisible cheese and chili. It left more to be desired, however, so we ordered more food: two classic hot dogs, listed at the top of the menu, along with shakes for my dad and me.

The hot dog was a little unorthodox, at least to this California girl. Yellow relish–a nice departure from the green Heinz chunks–peppers, and onions, topped the dog. It made me feel somewhat healthy, eating these heavily seasoned and grilled vegetables, but all attempts at self-control melted away when I had my first sip of Portillo’s famous chocolate cake shake.

In essence, it was a chocolate shake with a slice of chocolate cake shoved into the blender, but it was delicious. Think In-n-out thickness (maybe a little thinner; it was easier to suck it up the straw), but with a maximum chocolate punch that was so sweet, I wanted to scream for joy. It may be too sugary for some, but for those who have a tooth as sugary as mine, the shake will satisfy any chocolate cravings. I told myself over and over that I was going to stop drinking, I’d save half of it–a quarter of it–five sips of it–one sip of it for my mom, but…I didn’t. Some might think the chunks of cake in it odd, and while occasionally it was disconcerting to have something solid slide into my mouth, my taste buds didn’t mind at all. Think chocolate on double chocolate, so really, triple chocolate.

In other words, it was amazing. Gavin Gondalwala (11) thinks so too, saying, “It’s like street food, but better, because it’s really homestyle…It’s really flavorful, and juicy, and it’s really good…There’s something for everyone.”

And truly, there is. I’m sure all customers walk out of the happening restaurant, stomachs stuffed to the brim with salads or hot dogs or sandwiches, eyes and ears snapping from the unique décor and the lively chatter of people enjoying good food. Portillo’s might not be the ideal place for a quiet, relaxing dinner or a first date, but in this case, the food speaks louder than even the customer’s conversations, and I will definitely go back again.