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Oct. 31, 2022

I wanted an Italian beef because of ‘The Bear.’ At Johnnie’s, it was glorious.

An Italian beef, hot and dipped, from Johnnie's Beef in Elmwood Park, Ill. It cost $7.14 for the sandwich, no sides.
An Italian beef, hot and dipped, from Johnnie's Beef in Elmwood Park, Ill. It cost $7.14 for the sandwich, no sides. (Diti Kohli/Globe Staff)

ELMWOOD PARK, Ill. — On a stormy Sunday afternoon so dark it looked like night, I stopped for the holiest of Windy City foods: Italian beef, hot and dipped.

It was glorious.

Johnnie’s Beef, a dingy, single-counter spot happily stuck in the 1960s, cooked up my order in 30 seconds and charged me $7.14 for a sandwich, no sides. (I immediately regretted not ordering shaved ice, lemonade, or fries, reportedly large enough for two people to share.) No more than 6 inches long, the beef came wrapped in two squares of translucent paper so thin that the juices leaked right through them, onto the paper bag below. Its bun was the best kind of mushy; the beef, supple; the giardiniera, just spicy enough for a kick.

Even as a Chicagoland native, I knew little about the sloppiest sandwich in America, the inspiration behind the buzzy Hulu series “The Bear” and the subject of decades of Midwestern admiration. But the beef has a habit of courting fans quickly.

By the time I’d finished mine, I’d found myself a convert.

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