March 15, 2010

15 Mar

9 am

2 S’mores Pop Tarts

12:30 pm

Portillo’s

Italian Beef Sandwich

1 bottle of Snapple Kiwi Strawberry

Anytime I craved a latte, I know that a Starbucks is within a mile radius of me. I now take it for granted as a necessary sustenance for life. Water, oxygen and Starbucks lattes are infinite resources that will provide for us when oil eventually runs out. We don’t think about our consumption of these resources. But if you’re being strangled by a mob hitman, then you might miss oxygen. If you’re in a desert and get thirsty, you might miss water. And if you’re stuck in a Godforsaken place like Laguna, New Mexico, a town of 428 people that I was stuck in for eight hours several years ago, then you miss Starbucks. I don’t even like their coffee. But the years of being weened on them geared my tastes for their burnt and acidic coffee. It’s insidious really. I never realized how ubiquitous Starbucks was to my life until it was forcibly removed from me in a 428-person town. After a while, if a drug lord offered me a Starbucks latte in exchange for smuggling condom-wrapped cocaines in my stomach a la “Maria Full of Grace,” I would’ve thought about it. If I had to go even longer, I would have gone gay for condom-wrapped cocaine for a latte.

Portillo’s, a hot dog chain, is like Starbucks in the Chicago. While Starbucks insures that most of America (except Laguna, NM) go about their days with their regular coffee fix, Portillo’s makes sure Chicagoans don’t go more than five miles without a helping of hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. Like Starbucks, Portillo’s isn’t the best example of their chosen cuisine. But it is good enough to be a regular stop if a craving for an Italian beef came along. When I lived in Chicago, I took Portillo’s for granted. One can only eat so many beef sandwiches piled into an Italian roll, dipped in seasoned gravy and topped with oily hot peppers. Plus, there were better options (I was fond of Mario’s in Northbrook, which was four blocks from where I lived). But once I moved to LA, the Chicago-style hot dog and Italian beef sandwich were the two things I missed the most. Whenever I went back home, I’d load up on as many Italian beefs and hot dogs as I could. I understood why Oprah, another Chicagoan, struggled with her weight. You HAVE to eat when you’re home.

Lucky for me, the only Portillo’s outside of Chicago is located within driving distance of Los Angeles. One is in Moreno Valley in Riverside, the other is by Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park. It takes about an hours drive to get to either locations, an hour of excruciating, torturous LA traffic (and there is always traffic). So Portillo’s sits just close enough to think about, but far enough to taunt me regularly. Whenever I am in Orange County though, I always make it a point to go. I once went right after a dinner party and I last went after downing two hot dogs at an Angels game, thereby eating two meals, 5,000 calories, 8,000 grams of fat and an entire salt licks worth of sodium in three hours. It’s not just me who’ll go to great lengths. My brother met a former Chicagoan who drove two hours from Ontario to go there. And another Chicago native I met a couple of weeks ago would pick up giant bags of food for her family whenever she was around. I also bought $25 worth of food for myself, family and friends. Thankfully, Portillo’s never adjusted their prices for inflation. Everything on the menu is under $5, except the large Italian beef, and that should not be eaten by one person.

There is another Chicago eatery in LA, Taste Chicago in Burbank which is owned by actor Joe Mantegna. Their Italian beef is credible, their hot dogs less so. I went there regularly after it opened, but it couldn’t cure my homesickness completely. Portillo’s on the other hand, does. It’s the only proper Chicago hot dog in LA: Vienna beef sausage, mustard, green relish, onions, pickles, tomato, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt nestled into a poppyseed bun. Their Italian beef is a bit dry, but it’s my usual order from Portillo’s. It’s the only place west of the Mississippi (the Uno pizza chain pales to the original in Chicago) that can offer an honest taste of my hometown.

6 pm

1 tuna melt on wheat

bag of potato crisps

1 bottle of Tazo iced tea

9 pm

handful of potato crisps

1 bottle of blackberry soda

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