Portillo's Hot Dogs/Barnelli's Pasta BowlRiver North
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This building, flashy both inside and out, is perhaps the capstone of owner Dick Portillo's famous chain of stores offering what he calls "the finest in Chicago street food." Portillo began in 1963 in west suburban Villa Park, operating out of a trailer. He now has 28 locations, mainly in suburban Chicago, although he has expanded to Florida. The River North location features Portillo's signature hot dogs, Italian beef, Polish sausage and so forth, as well as Barnelli's menu of salads, pastas, pizzas and ribs. Besides the food, this sprawling, two-story building highlights an eclectic collection of Chicago memorabilia of the 1930s and '40s. "I had a lot of fun designing the place," Portillo said. Across from the period lamp posts that greet your arrival to the dining plaza, a representation of a Chicago neighborhood complete with a second-story barber shop, clothesline and a mannequin unloading freight, catches your attention. Portillo has assembled items such as the clock face that once was on the Stuart-Warner Building, razed in 1993; the 1938 Blackhawks' Stanley Cup banner from the Chicago Stadium; a 1928 Thompson submachine gun, and a 1930 Chevrolet. Intentionally tinny saloon hall music plays in the background. Very casual, it draws from locals, tourists--even beat cops--spanning all ages. A back room plus the upstairs space are available for parties. An outdoor cafe used in nice weather is jammed with local professionals for weekday lunches. Portillo said his hot dogs have won awards, "which is saying something, because Chicago has numerous beef places."