Portillo's Menu Items Ranked Worst To Best

The origins of Portillo's "began in the dog house." A man named Dick Portillo invested $1,100 into a small hot dog trailer he nicknamed "The Dog House" in Villa Park, Illinois, in 1963. What started out as a small food endeavor eventually expanded into a chain restaurant till the Portillo's brand basically became synonymous with Chicago. Today, Portillo's has over 70 locations across several states, and people living outside of the Chicago area can indulge in Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, and a variety of other authentic Chicago fare.

Portillo's has a cult following of fans that are obsessed with both the food served by the restaurant chain as well as the overall old-school vibe of the establishment. But just because a place has ride-or-die advocates doesn't mean that the entirety of the menu is worth ordering. There are a whole bunch of options at Portillo's, but there are some items that are better than others. If you're venturing out to Portillo's, it's worth considering which menu items are the best and which ones should be avoided completely. 

20. Garlic Bread

Bread is a pretty standard pre-meal staple at many restaurants. As soon as you're seated at the table, the server will take any drink orders you have, and then soon after serve a basket of bread so that you have something to nibble on while you peruse the menu. But, if you're looking for bread that has a bit more flavor than the plain stuff they offer for free, you can order the Garlic Bread at Portillo's. But, just because you can try the garlic bread doesn't mean you should.

The texture of this bread is a huge problem. You want the bread to feel hot and soft, with the butter and garlic seeping into it to give each bite a rush of salty flavor on your palate. That's not the case here. The bread is really hard: End each bite takes effort to bite into and the bread subsequently breaks apart into a ton of crumbly pieces. It leaves a terribly dry feeling in your mouth, and you have to choke it down with a drink. Don't start your Portillo's experience with this order.

19. Tamale

One of the things that make the Tamale on the Portillo's menu unique is that it's one of the original food items that was served at "The Dog House" hot dog trailer in 1963. The Tamale has been in the Portillo's family for quite some time. The casing is made using a blend of seasoned cornmeal, which holds ground beef with garlic and seven secret spices that are meant to elevate the flavor to an amazing level. Unfortunately, this decades-old item is just plain disappointing.

You'd think something that managed to stay on the menu for such a long time would be one of the best options to order. Perhaps when "The Dog House" started out, it had a slightly different recipe that made these a fan favorite, but nowadays, the end result is far from appealing. The cornmeal casing is far too dry in your mouth. The juice from the meat does give it some moisture so you're not desperately reaching for a drink afterward, but overall, the texture is a turn off and not even the seasoned beef can save it.

18. Plant-Based Garden Dog

Plant-based meat is quickly making its way into menus all over the country. Plant-based meat is an appealing option for vegetarians, vegans, as well as people who are looking to avoid the cholesterol and fat found in some meat proteins. Portillo's offers customers avoiding a carnivorous lifestyle a Plant-Based Garden Dog, but people following a meat-free diet may want to look elsewhere on the menu. 

While many companies claim that they've created plant-based food items that rival the flavor of actual meat, many times, that's just not the case. That's the problem here. The dog is topped with all the same ingredients as a Chicago-style hot dog: Mustard, relish, celery salt, chopped white onions, sliced tomatoes, a pickle spear, and sport peppers. While the ingredients are all there to lend a ton of flavor, the actual hot dog fails them. The flavor somewhat (emphasis on somewhat) resembles an all-meat hot dog, but not enough to make this item worth ordering.

17. Breaded Whitefish Sandwich

Portillo's might be known for its hot dogs and beef sandwiches, but it does offer an option for those seeking a meal from the sea. Not everyone always wants to turf; sometimes, they want to hit the metaphorical waves and surf. Well, they have an option to do just that with the Breaded Whitefish Sandwich. A wild-caught whitefish filet is fried and placed on a brioche bun with lettuce, American cheese, and tartar sauce. However, you might want to swim back to the land rather than treading water with this option.

The textures of this sandwich all work well together, but the lack of flavor is what makes this dish avoidable. The fish is well fried nicely, and it has a good crunch, but the flaky inside really doesn't taste like anything. You end up relying completely on the tartar sauce to give the fish any sort of flavoring, which is a letdown. The brioche bun adds a slight sweetness, but it's still not enough to make this a surf-worthy item.

16. Baked Mostaccioli

When it's time to truly fill your belly with food, few things do the job better than pasta. A hearty bowl of pasta will always grab that beast of an appetite and satisfy it completely. So, if you're looking for a carb-heavy option to quell your belly rumbling at Portillo's, you might consider ordering up the Baked Mostaccioli. This item is absolutely filling, but it can also be a little bit off-putting.

The dish consists of a hot bowl of mostaccioli pasta with either marinara or meat sauce, topped and layered with grated mozzarella and Asiago cheese before it is baked in the oven. While the flavors of the cheese and the sauce work well together, much of the time, the actual pasta is overcooked and incredibly tough to chew. The pasta in the middle of the bowl typically has a warm and soft consistency, but the little tubes that surround the middle are a little bit too hard to enjoy.

15. Penne al Arrabbiata

When you're looking for a dining experience that'll wake your palate up and keep your taste buds on their toes, a little spice is always nice. A kick of heat adds a lovely additional sensation to a dish, and if you find yourself at Portillo's craving something spicy, you can opt for the Penne al Arrabbiata. However, if you're the kind of person who really wants a fiery kick in the mouth, you might find yourself underwhelmed.

The heat in this pasta dish is derived from the sauce. This dish consists of a bowl of penne pasta with spicy marinara sauce ladled over the top. The whole thing is topped off with fresh basil and grated Parmesan. It's not that the sauce is unappetizing; it's actually pretty good. It just doesn't pack the heat that people with a high heat tolerance are likely looking for. The Portillo's website suggests ordering the dish with Italian sausage for an extra layer of rich flavor. While this dish is a solid option, it still isn't quite flavorful enough to be truly enjoyable. 

14. Chicago Combo Bowl

When the urge to unleash the carnivore within you strikes like a bolt of lightning, the only thing that'll fulfill that urge is a ton of protein. And not lean protein, either. You want something rich and hearty. Well, at Portillo's, the Chicago Combo Bowl is one option that'll have the carnivore inside you jumping for joy. If you order this dish, you'll get a bowl of both Italian beef and Italian sausage, along with your choice of either sweet or hot peppers, along with the option to top the whole thing off with grated mozzarella or cheddar cheese.

This bowl is full of flavors that work well together. You can choose between sweet or hot peppers, so you can decide whether you want a nice burst of sweetness to counteract the richness of the meat or a kick of spice to take you on the trip into an inferno. The biggest issue with this bowl of meat is that it's very rich. The beef and sausage are both pretty heavy, and by the end, you almost wish the meal was accompanied by a salad to offset the almost inevitable meat sweats that occur afterward.

13. Penne Diavolo

When you see a word like "diavolo" (the Italian word for "devil") in the name of a dish, you expect it to lead your taste buds down a treacherous road into the fires of hell. The Penne Diavolo at Portillo's dares you to dance with the devil to see if you can withstand the flames. This dish consists of penne pasta tossed in a spicy cream sauce with sundried tomatoes and fresh spinach. Sadly, the flames you expect to dance across your tongue never really reach the burning point you crave.

The penne pasta is cooked nicely, which gives it a slightly al dente bite without making it too tough to chew. The sun-dried tomatoes lend a burst of sweetness to the pasta, and even though the spinach doesn't offer much flavor, it does give you some roughage, and that's always a good thing. However, the supposedly "spicy" cream sauce doesn't really deliver on the whole spicy aspect. Also, the consistency is a little thinner than you'd want in a cream sauce.

12. Bacon Double Cheeseburger

You can do a lot to a basic burger if you're looking to transform it into a way more epic eating experience. There are so many different ingredients and flavor combinations you can stack on that patty of meat to make the burger a handheld treat you'll dream about for days after you finish devouring it. Portillo's offers one behemoth of a burger in the form of a Bacon Double Cheeseburger.

Now, there's nothing particularly unique going on with this burger, but the addition of bacon and the extra patty make this worth ordering, especially if you're in the mood for a burger. The two patties in this burger are topped with thick-cut bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. The burger patties are juicy, and the condiments give the whole sandwich a pleasant creamy texture. The vinegar in the pickles helps offset the richness overload from the double-patty extravaganza, as well.

11. Chopped Salad

You gotta get those greens in when you can. You might not always want a plate of veggies when you're hungry, but your body will always thank you for it. Plus, after some greens, you have a great excuse to move on to something a little less healthy. So, if you're perusing the Portillo's menu in search of a salad that'll form a nice starter to a rich meal, look no further than the Chopped Salad.

There are a lot of moving parts in terms of the flavors and textures of this salad, which makes it much more appealing than your basic garden salad. Romaine and iceberg lettuce are tossed with diced chicken, crispy bacon, tomatoes, green onion, red cabbage, crumbled gorgonzola cheese, and ditalini pasta mixed with a homemade house dressing. 

The chunks of chicken could be a little juicier, but there's so much happening in this salad that it isn't a huge drawback. The gorgonzola cheese gives each forkful a pungent kick, the bacon is crunchy and salty, and the ditalini pasta adds a uniquely soft texture that you rarely find in salads.

10. Jumbo Chili Cheese Dog

When it's time to tackle a hot dog, you want your dog barking loudly, and that means adding more flavor to the hot dog than what the bun and dog offer. You gotta hit that meat with a punch of tasty fixings. At Portillo's, one way to ramp up your hot dog game is to order the Jumbo Chili Cheese Dog. If you're in the mood for a hot dog, you might as well go the jumbo route.

This hot dog is topped with cheese, a heaping portion of chili, and diced white onions. The hot dog itself is rich and juicy, and that only takes every other ingredient up a notch. The cheese adds a nice creaminess, and the diced onions add a zesty crunch. But, it's the chili that steals the show. The chili is seasoned really well, and when combined with the salty beefiness of the dog, it makes for a super satisfying experience.

9. Char-Grilled Maxwell Street Polish Sausage

Chicago's Maxwell Street birthed this particular style of Polish sausage over seven decades ago. Portillo's founder, Dick Portillo, used to spend a lot of time around this area as a boy, and when he launched his restaurant, he knew he had to put the item on his menu for all to savor. So, he offers guests the Char-Grilled Maxwell Street Polish Sausage. Now, everyone who visits Portillo's can experience the wonderful flavors Dick did as a young kid.

The Polish sausage is topped with a hefty amount of yellow mustard and grilled onions. Even though the ingredient list is short, the flavors are large and in charge. The Polish sausage itself is far richer than a hot dog, and it has a wonderful smokiness to it, along with a nice kick of garlic. All that meaty richness is then offset by the tang of the yellow mustard and the sweetness in the grilled onions.

8. Chocolate Cake

We have to thank the sugar gods for blessing the dessert world with chocolate. It's available in so many different forms, and you can even pair it with savory foods to elevate the flavor of a dish. Chocolate pretty much reigns supreme in the dessert landscape, and it's hard to picture a world without it. If you're a chocolate fanatic (like so many other people out there) and you don't order a slice of the Chocolate Cake after a meal at Portillo's, then you'd be doing yourself a disservice

This is one dessert bad boy that doesn't hesitate to treat your palate with some of the richest chocolate flavors you've ever experienced. The slice is double layered, so it looms tall on the plate. The slice is topped and layered with a super thick coating of even richer chocolate icing. It's a vortex of chocolate flavor that you'll collapse into with a smile and never want to leave.

7. Chicago-Style Hot Dog

When you're visiting an area of the country you haven't been to, there's no better way to get an authentic feel of the place than to order the same cuisine the locals love. So, when you find yourself in the Windy City, you gotta go for the deep-dish pizzas and the Chicago-style hot dogs. Portillo's wants every customer to have a genuine Chicago experience, which is why it offers customers the authentic Chicago-style Hot Dog experience.

This hot dog has a boatload of ingredients on it, and they all come together for a fantastic experience. The dog is topped with mustard, relish, chopped white onions, sliced tomatoes, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and a sprinkle of celery salt on a steamed poppy seed bun. 

All of the veggies do a fantastic job of never allowing the dog to feel too rich. But, it's the pickle spear that really helps offset the beefiness while also adding a juicy element. According to the Portillo's website, Chicagoans refer to this style as "dragging the dog through the garden."

6. Chocolate Cake Shake

So, you're sitting at a table in Portillo's, letting the delicious meal you just ate nestle itself comfortably into your stomach, and now you're trying to figure out which dessert to order. You take one look at the enormous slices of chocolate cake, and suddenly, an odd thought crosses your mind: "If only that slice of cake was drinkable." Definitely a pretty weird thought. Well, Portillo's took that thought and turned it into a reality in the form of the Chocolate Cake Shake.

The shake is created exactly the way you'd think. An entire slice of chocolate cake is stuffed into a blender along with some milk for one heck of a decadent drink. Who knew slurping chocolate cake out of a glass could be so delicious? If you're a milkshake enthusiast (or really anyone in the mood to try a super unique dessert), this chocolate elixir of thick sugary goodness has your name written all over it. However, be warned: You might never want to eat chocolate cake with a fork again.

5. Beef-n-Cheddar Croissant

When it comes to sandwiches, some will argue the bread is the most important part. Of course, it matters what you put between the two slices: You don't want some mishmash of disastrous flavors and textures. But, it's the bread that transports all the delicious fillings to your mouth. The bread is the ship carrying the cargo, and that ship had better be built with high-quality material. Few types of bread are tastier or have more textural appeal than croissants. That's exactly what makes the Beef-n-Cheddar Croissant at Portillo's an awesome menu item.

There are only three ingredients at play here, but three is all you need. If you order this item, you'll get a super delicate croissant full of rich buttery flavor and a wonderful flaky texture stuffed with Portillo's famous thinly sliced Italian beef and melted cheddar cheese. It's like an infinitely better version of a Hot Pocket. It's a rich and gooey pocket of delicious tastes. Once you have taken a bite, you don't want to ever put it down. 

4. Strawberry Shortcake

Just because you're planning to order dessert after a delicious meal at Portillo's doesn't mean you have to choose something super decadent that's going to test the elasticity of your stomach. No one wants to leave with a bellyache, which is why the Strawberry Shortcake is an ideal option for those craving something that is sweet but also light. 

This shortcake is layered with angel food cake, so right away, you know not to expect a dense consistency that will coat the inside of your mouth so heavily that it takes a gallon of liquid to wash down. The cake is layered with freshly cut strawberries for a sweet burst of fruity flavor, and the whole thing is topped with sweet and creamy whipped mascarpone cheese. None of the textures or flavors overwhelm the others, and each bite is super light, really sweet, and it doesn't make you feel like you've overdone it on the sugar. This is a great way to wrap up a meal.

3. Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Since the beginning of the culinary event known as the Chicken Sandwich Wars began, there has been a relentless showdown between chains. It seemed like every fast food joint in America was trying to outdo the rest in terms of chicken sandwiches, and people all over were going wild over all the options. Portillo's didn't participate in the battle; however, its Spicy Chicken Sandwich could have rivaled (and likely defeated) all the other contenders out there.

This chicken sandwich isn't complicated, but it has everything it needs to come out on top. It is made from a chicken breast coated in a crispy spicy breading, lettuce, and tomato drizzled in a hot Giardiniera sauce. The chicken breast has an amazing crunch on the outside and incredibly juicy meat inside. 

The lettuce and tomato are super fresh, but it's the hot Giardiniera sauce that places this sandwich on a throne. It's creamy with a hefty kick of spice, and even a little hint of sweetness, so the balance is fantastic. This is a chicken sandwich that won the war without even showing up.

2. Slab of Ribs

There are times when eating a meal with decorum is necessary, but there are other times when you kick decorum right out the window and get messy with your food. You want your fingers and mouth covered in sauce, and a stack of napkins piled high right next to you. When that urge to shove cleanliness aside hits, ribs complete the job with purpose. At Portillo's, you can order up a Slab of Ribs and prepare for a delectable dining experience.

There's something about the word "slab" that implies you're in for a messy experience. The ribs at Portillo's are seasoned with a flavor-packed secret spice blend before being slow-cooked for three hours. This gives the meat an astoundingly tender consistency, letting it fall right off the bone. The ribs are then chargrilled for 10 minutes and basted in homemade barbecue sauce. Between the incredibly juicy fall-apart meat and the zesty kick of tangy barbecue sauce, this is one slab of meat that deserves a spot on everyone's table.

1. Italian Beef Sandwich

In order to get the real Portillo's experience, it's imperative that you order one item on the menu: The Italian Beef Sandwich. Portillo's is known for this item, so passing on it would just be plain blasphemous. The Italian beef used in this sandwich is slow-roasted for four hours, so it turns out unbelievably juicy and tender. It's then sliced thin and served on freshly baked Turano French bread. 

The flavor of the beef here is outstanding; every bite erupts with rich juices that splash your palate with immense flavor. The sandwich is typically drizzled with beef gravy on top. However, you can opt to get your sandwich "dry" (little to no gravy) or "dipped" (the whole sandwich is dunked in gravy).

If you get it dipped, you'll need to eat it with a knife and fork because the bread becomes too soggy to hold, but this makes for a volcanic eruption of mind-blowing flavors that's worth its weight in gold. 

Portillo's suggests adding either sweet pepper or hot giardiniera peppers to crank this sandwich from a 10 to an 11. Whichever pepper you choose, sweet or hot, the result is unbelievably delicious. This sandwich alone is a reason to visit Portillo's.