Portillo’s Chicago-style fast food comes to Madison

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Portillo’s Chicago-style fast food comes to Madison

Friendly staff and the 50's styled decor make the new Portillo's restaurant in Madison a fun place for families to eat

Friendly staff and the 50's styled decor make the new Portillo's restaurant in Madison a fun place for families to eat

Raven Fabal

Friendly staff and the 50's styled decor make the new Portillo's restaurant in Madison a fun place for families to eat

Raven Fabal

Raven Fabal

Friendly staff and the 50's styled decor make the new Portillo's restaurant in Madison a fun place for families to eat

Raven Fabal, Multimedia Editor

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Named after the founder Dick Portillo, a U.S. Marine veteran, this popular chain of restaurants began in 1963 as a simple hot dog stand called “The Dog House” near Chicago.

The business prospered and grew, eventually being renamed “Portillo’s.”

A replica of the original hot dog stand is part of Portillo’s exterior decor and even includes the 1963 prices posted on the front of the building.

I visited the recently opened restaurant on Madison’s east side for the first time on March 7.
Portillo’s is American fast-casual food, specializing in serving Chicago-style foods such as hot dogs, Maxwell Street Polish, and Italian Beef sandwiches. Pricing is comparable with other casual restaurants in the area and provides a very good value for the prices charged.

Ordering is easy, with four lines at the back of the cavernous interior. When extra busy, employees will come to you while you are still in line, to write your order down on paper bags. Cashiers verify and ring up the orders and give a numbered receipt along with any change. The paper bag/order slip then runs all the way back to the front of the restaurant via the carefully orchestrated production line, which sports individual stations for fried goods, charbroiling/grilling, salads, hot dogs, soups, sides, and drinks.

Finished order numbers are called out over loudspeakers and once picked up, diners may proceed to the booth or table of their choice, and there is plenty of room for comfortable dining. This place has been going full tilt since they opened, but even packed full of hungry customers, the wait is surprisingly short, and there is never a shortage of places to sit.

Portillo’s restaurants pride themselves on delivering fresh food in a fun, friendly environment and they accomplish that in spectacular fashion. The interior is copiously decorated with kitschy, 50s retro props, and signs. Music is the same, classic Motown or ‘50s rock.

I tried the grilled portobello sandwich, which was thick, juicy and delicious. Two big mushroom caps were grilled perfectly, on toasted focaccia bread with mozzarella cheese on the bottom bun and pesto sauce on the top. The sides I sampled (onion rings and fries) were crunchy and freshly made from real onions and potatoes – no chopped pressed and formed veggies here.

The chocolate cake was like the best homemade cake you can imagine, and in a way, it is! All of Portillo’s cakes and breads are baked fresh on-site! The strawberry shortcake may have looked a little flat, packed into a plastic bowl as it was, but cleverly concealed inside that unfortunate packaging was fluffy white cake and lots of strawberries in a sauce, covered with loads of whip cream.

On the whole, I highly recommend Portillo’s for a fun, delicious break from the ordinary.

Portillo’s Madison location, in front of East Towne Mall, is easily accessible and on the bus line. The spacious interior is comfortable for individuals or groups and is family friendly. The drive-through service is fast and accurate, thanks in part to Portillo’s unique policy of having real order takers greet people at their cars to take orders which are then delivered to the pickup window.

Whether you order online, and pick up in a hurry or take your time for a leisurely lunch or dinner, Portillos is a fun place that offers something for everyone.

 

 

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