Covering the Land of Lincoln

Five places in Champaign-Urbana for a solid Italian beef sandwich : Food & Drink : Smile Politely

When I moved to Illinois, one thing I noticed was that people here love an Italian beef sandwich. I did not know the greatness of the Italian beef sandwich until I tried my first Italian beef at Portillo’s (dipped beef with hot peppers) outside a mall in Chicago years ago, and it was everything. I was hooked on the Chicago sandwich.

In Champaign-Urbana, there are a lot of places with Italian beef on the menu. Last year, we asked you where you get your favorite Italian beef, and if your favorite is missing from this list, let us know. So, I want to say, yes, Portillo’s has a tasty Italian beef sandwich, but it’s a chain. For this list, I wanted five Italian beefs that are only available in CU.

I ordered the Italian beef sandwich, with no modifications, from Baldarotta’s, Baxter’s American Grille, Manzella’s Italian Patio, Papa Del’s, and Po’ Boys. Spoiler: all five were good, and I highly recommend that you take yourself on an Italian beef tour of Champaign-Urbana.

An Italian beef sandwich from Baldarotta's in Urbana, Illinois is sliced ​​in half on a plastic tray.  There is a large container of au jus beside it and a side of fries.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage

The Italian beef sandwich at this Urbana sandwich shop is a favorite of mine, and it is available in 4-, 8-, 12-, and 16-inch options. With a side of fries ($3), I ordered the 8 inch ($11) which came sliced ​​in half au jus. Baldarotta’s Italian beef sandwich had a toasted French roll stuffed with thinly sliced ​​roasted bottom round beef with a bit of chopped cherry peppers, pepperoncini, banana peppers, and tomatoes for added flavor and juiciness.

The beef was already wet before any soaks in the side of jus, and the soft hoagie absorbed the dip’s hearty oregano flavor which paired perfectly with the beef. At six ounces, this side of jus was the largest in this list, and it was freaking delicious. The plastic container was big enough to drown the sando — and I did. Baldarotta’s Italian beef sandwich was messy, drippy, and delish. The fries ($3) were dusted in seasoning and great.

Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage
300 S Broadway Ave
T-Sat 11 am to 7 pm
Sun noon to 3 pm

On Baxter's American Grille's outdoor patio in Champaign, there is a plate with a sliced ​​Italian beef with pepeprs and parmesan plus a side of seasoned fries anda cup of ketchup and cup of au jus.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Baxter’s American Grille

Only available on the lunch menu, Baxter’s Italian beef sandwich ($12) had slow-roasted pulled beef with provolone cheese, giardiniera, and parmesan on a hoagie roll au jus and a choice of side (house chips, fries, or fruit salad). The lightly toasted bread was saturated with the juices of the tender, shredded beef, but it was held together by the melted cheesy middle; the provolone had an epic stringy pull like the cheese atop French onion soup. The beef on Baxter’s sandwich was drenched in amazing Italian flavors even before a dip in the cabernet jus, and the giardiniera added a spicy layer which was delicious with the salty sprinkle of parmesan.

When the sandwich was dipped in the thin sauce, it was a totally amazing, explosive bite. The fries were good, too.

Baxter’s American Grille
100 Trade Center Dr
M-Th 11 am to 9 pm
F 11 am to 10 pm
Sat 3 pm to 10 pm
Su 3 to 8 pm

On a red-and-white checkered tablecloth, there is an oval plate with an Italian beef and fries on it.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Manzella’s Italian Patio

I am ashamed to admit that this was my first meal at Manzella’s on First Street, but I will definitely be back because this Italian beef was awesome. Manzella’s Italian beef ($9.95) had shaved Italian beef on a toasted bun and was served super hot. I added a side of fries and minestrone soup for $5. When the Italian beef sandwich was served, I was looking for my side cup of jus, but there was none here.

The bread was toasted with a crackly top, and the meat was already dipped in the kitchen. Because of the pre-dip, Manzella’s bread had textural range varying from toasted to soft to wet to sopping. The distinctive oregano, basil, and black pepper flavors in the shredded beef were so good; it tasted like a family recipe, a favorite dish handed down over generations. Overall, the sandwich was simple: just meat on bread, but the simplicity highlighted the amazing flavors of the Italian beef. Two cold pepperoncini were served on the side which was a nice addition. The fries were basic but good: well salted, hot, and crispy. With flavorful beef and perfectly soaked bread, Manzella’s Italian beef was phenomenal.

Manzella’s Italian Patio
115 S First St
M-Th 11 am to 1:30 pm + 5 to 8:30 pm
F 11 am to 1:30 pm + 5 to 9:30 pm
Sat 5 to 9:30 pm

At Papa Del's in Champaign, there is an Italian beef sandwich on a white plate with a metal cup of dipping jus with peppers on the side.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Papa Del’s

The legendary pizza factory Papa Del’s is famous for their pizza. I love the arancini, too, and, the Neil Street restaurant’s Italian beef was pretty dang good. Papa Del’s Italian beef had thinly sliced ​​beef on a toasted hoagie roll au jus, plus a bag of chips and two cold peppers included in the price of $9. This Italian beef is not only the largest on this list but also the most affordable.

Papa Del’s Italian beef sandwich had really good bread that was both toasted and soft. The top of bread was so soft that it held impressions from where I picked it up. The shaved Italian beef was tasty but dry until it was dipped in the jus. This jus had a terrific peppery flavor, and the sandwich dipped in Papa Del’s side of jus was downright delicious. This sando was a great, no nonsense Italian beef sandwich that hit the spot.

Papa Del’s
1201 S Neil St
Su-Th 10 am to 9 pm
F+Sat 10 am to 10 pm

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.


This CU gem serves all kinds of good food from barbecue to pizza to pie to po’ boy sandwiches in Urbana, and it’s probably no surprise that Po’ Boys’ Italian beef was good, too. The Italian beef ($13.25) came with big cuts of thinly sliced ​​beef on an ever so slightly toasted hoagie roll au jus plus a cup of sliced ​​banana peppers. I upgraded my side to fries for an additional $1.25. The sandwich was served plain, but I added a few of the provided peppers.

The soft bun had a nice crunch on the bread’s edge, and even though it looked dry when it was served to me, the roast beef was juicy — probably due to the delicious fatty ribbons on the beef. With visible herbs and diced onion, Po’ Boys’ side of jus was next level amazing; the cup was deep enough to give the sandwich a good soggy dip, and I needed a second cup of the jus (which was provided at no cost) because I finished it before I finished the sandwich. The sliced ​​banana peppers added a tangy brightness and a sour crunch to the savory sando. The decadent fatty parts melted into the bread, and when plunged into the jus, the sandwich tasted awesome. The fries here were straight up delicious, too: super salty like McD’s fries and piping hot from the fryer.

202 E University Ave
W-Su 11 am to 8 pm

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

Comments are closed.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More