Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chicago's Meatball Marathon

-The Top Meatball sammy's in the city and beyond

Last Holiday season I introduced what I hope becomes a regular feature here on chibbqking. We went on a chase for Chicago's best chili cheese dog which is one of the city's many signature foods and one of the best during the winter. Well Christmas 2010 is here and with that we go on a marathon run to find Chicago's most magnificent meatball sandwich. Just like chili cheese dogs, meatball sandwiches are a great wintertime eat and found throughout the city and its suburbs. Unlike the CCD chase from last year which was done in a couple weeks, this is a project that has been in the works for months on end now. So because of that I have no scoring system but with that I also tried many spots not featured in this post because I didn't deem them worthy of being in Chicago's best meatball sandwich discussion. So with that we head out thru the city and travel north, south, east and west outside of it in search of the granddaddy of all meatball sandwiches.

Note: This is just my first installment. If I missed a place or you have a spot that you love for meatball sammy's in Chicagoland then please post about it in the comments section and let us know. Good Looks.

Index (abc order)

Fontano Subs
Little Joes
Lo Los
Nottoli Imports

Nottoli & Sons

So all of these places listed above serve up what I consider to be one of Chicagoland's best meatball sandwiches. I would say that in my recent lifetime (last 10 years) I have had them from at least 35+ spots if not more and consider myself to have had as many as any. But it would be impossible to try them all and if I did, I don't think I'd ever want a meatball again so the reason I have nine spots is because I am leaving out the would be 10th entry, waiting to find it. Many of these spots featured in this post have been on chibbqking before and those stories are linked in the index. Most of the other spots have their stop in the spotlight coming soon and will be featured as the days go by so do stay tuned. Please take note that all of these sandwiches are top notch and I would stop in for one at any of the spots again, but I have listed them in my preferred order. Now onto the meatball's.

Chicago's Top Meatball Sammy's (In preferred order)


In Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood

The funny thing about this whole marathon is that I ran it to try and see if there was a place that had a better sandwich than my then favorite spot for one which was Lucia's. Well guess what? it still is. It's also the closest of all these stops to me. That however is not why Lucia's is my current heavyweight champ of Chicagoland. On the menu the meatball is called Robert's special and it comes with the usual of melted cheese, marinara and choice of hot or sweet peppers. A plus on the points for offering it in six and nine inch options. Why is it my favorite? Well the main and most obvious reason is I think they have the best meatballs. Most all places serve good bread as is the case here. With those meatballs also comes a very easy to handle and not super messy sandwich. Just the right amount of marinara which isn't too sweet and keeps the sandwich together and some hot peppers with heat and you got my favorite meatball sandwich in Chicago. Utah, two!

Lucia's meatball sandwich

Lo-Lo's Sub Shop

Located in Elmwood Park

I found Lolo's while taking a cruise while on a quest to find something else. Located in Elmwood Park on Diversey just off Grand it's a little neighborhood Italian joint with great food at very fair prices. The storefront caught my eye with the statue of the guy holding the menu of that days specials and when I went in it only got better when I saw a few policemen enjoying lunch. Soon I would be too. Before we get into the meatball let me just point out that Lo Lo's does alot of things right and they also have a very nice Italian sub as well as pastas and other good eats.

Italian sub from Lo Lo's

But the best thing on the menu at Lo-Lo's just might be the meatball. When I had my first one there I knew right away it was going to challenge for top 'ball. Just like the rest of the best, Lo Lo's has great meatballs in their sandwich. It helps and prevents a mes that they break the balls in half before going into the sandwich so this way they don't slide out. I forget if it's standard or an option but I get my sandwiches with garlic bread. This my friends is what takes them to another level. The garlic bread paired with meatballs, cheese and marinara is a superfans sandwich, no doubting that.

Meatball sandwich from Lo Lo's

Filichia Food & Imports

In Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood

Filichia Food & imports is somewhat new to the neighborhood. I had drove by it on Western many of times and then one day read a post over at LTH praising the meatball amongst other things. It wasn't long before I made my way over and had them put together what the rec' said was the best meatball sandwich in Chicago. The owners said they modeled their meatball after a place they tried in Brooklyn that they said was a life changing experience. The secret to this place and now Filichia's sandwich is that it's made with a creamy ricotta. Believe it or not the meatballs aren't the star of the show on this sandwich. What takes it up a notch is the gooey cheese and perfect made in house red sauce that gets ladled on top. The bread is fantastic and the price at $4.50 is a steal. We will eventually have a post on Filichia's other offerings.

Meatball from Filichia

Nottoli & Son

Located far west on Belmont

You'll have to check back next month for a full review of Nottoli & Sons but in the meantime I am here to praise their meatball sandwich. This is a little spot I always stop at whenever I drive by or find myself in the neighborhood. Sine 1947 this family has been serving Chicago with both deli and grocery goods all of which are priced great and of top quality. Today though it's all about the meatball. Housemade meatballs are stuffed into very fresh delivered that day bread and then followed up by a nice splash of tasty marinara and cheese and peppers to make one the city's best variations of the sandwich we chase here today. Check it out!

Nottoli & Son's meatball sammy

Tore's Beef & Sausage

On Western ave between Diversey and Elston

Tore's has been in my yearly rotation for some time. Already featured over at "What's Your Beef?" that review can be seen HERE. I originally went to Tore's and always got my beloved beef sandwich. However as the years went by the place was sold I think once or twice and the beef went downhill in my opinion. It's not inedible and still very respectable but I was put on to the meatball by a guy who's knows his shit. The beef is still homemade at Tore's as is alot of the other stuff including the meatballs. This is a massive sandwich and was one of if not thee messiest of all the meatballs I ate for this. Three large balls are stacked inside the bread which doesn't stand a chance after a little while so eat this over the counter.

Tore's meatball sandwich

Fontano Subs

In Chicago's Little Italy

Yet another place that's always been in my steady rotation. Fontano's is a great little sandwich shop and small grocery located off Taylor street on Polk street in the Little Italy/UIC area. It's been a locals favorite for a long time and has been featured on here before. Check out the review of some of their other sandwich offerings HERE. Sure they got some great cold cuts over there and in case you didn't know the hot sandwiches are damn good too. Like the meatball which comes with some ginormous balls literally squeezed into the fresh bread and then loaded with melted cheese, red sauce and tons of hot peppers. This isn't a sandwich you eat when in a suit or dressed to impress. It is no doubt one of the messiest, most magnificent meatballs out there. I enjoy these very much when in full glutton mode.

Fontano's meatball sub

Nottoli Italian Foods

Located on Harlem in Chicago's Norwood Park neighborhood

Another one of my favorite places to shop also happens to serve up a mean meatball. You may remember a past post on this Nottoli from last year. That review can be seen right HERE. Your going to want to check that out since this place has so much goodness in it and that includes the meatball sandwich. Named the best in Chicago by the Hungry Hound himself, who's been around as much me, so I gotta say he knows whats up. It's hard to find a bad meatball sandwich at any of the Italian grocers in Chicagoland who serve them. These places take pride in their product and make their foods from old family recipes that have pleased generations of people. This is the case for the meatball sandwich which is done to perfection each and every time.

Nottoli Imports meatball sandwich

Little Joe's

Located in Countryside

Little Joe's is one of my favorite beef joints in all of Chicagoland. Originally featured over at "What's Your Beef?" that review can be seen HERE. Well as it turns out Little Joe makes up quite a tasty meatball sandwich too. I cant say for sure but I believe it is a special on a certain day so maybe call ahead if your going there and planning on trying what I consider to be a really comforting sandwich. Served on the same fresh bread they use for the beefs, you get two nice sized homemade meatballs with a nice sauce and both sweet and hot peppers. Actually this family run spot has a bunch of good stuff on the menu and those that live or work near it have a great lunchtime option.

Little Joe's meatball sandwich

Rex Italian Foods

Located in the suburb of Norridge

Rex Italian Foods is another one of the Italian grocers along Harlem ave. It has a full report coming on here soon. It's actually a place that specializes in Silcilian goods both packaged and fresh food items made in house. They have a really great selection of foods ready to eat in their display case as well as a really nice sandwich menu. I always get something else when I go here but was very satisfied the day I tried their meatball. You can only use so many descriptions to describe a meatball sandwich so let me just say that this was a damn fine example of one.

Meatball sandwich from Rex Italian Foods

Lucia's Gourmet Italian
1825 West North Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 292-9700

Lo Lo's Sub Shop
7501 West Diversey Avenue
Elmwood Park, IL 60707
(708) 453-2209

Filichia Food & Imports
959 North Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 697-8061

Nottoli & Son
7652 West Belmont Avenue
Chicago, IL 60634-3197
(773) 589-1010

Tore's Italian Beef & Pizza
2804 North Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 486-2600

Fontano Subs
1058 W Polk St
Chicago, IL

Nottoli Italian Foods
5025 North Harlem Ave
Chicago, IL 60656-3501
(773) 631-0662

Little Joe's
20 E. Plainfield Road
Countryside, IL 60525
(708) 352-9696

Rex Italian Foods
4431 North Harlem Ave
Norridge, IL 60706-4709
(708) 457-0177


Ben said...

Thanks for the exhaustive post. I live right by Lucia's, never expected it to be that good. Lot of new spots to check out on your list.

Airball Simpson said...

Nice post. I noticed you reviewed Lo Lo's, another Elmwood Park joint located not too far from Johnnie's... If you're ever in the area, I suggest Pete's Red Hots on Ridgeland and Roosevelt. They have the best Polish I have had from any Vienna vendor in Chicago - I am 100% Polish and live in Warsaw, Poland, so I know my sausage... and Pete's is the best in Chicago. Would love to read your review of this classic fast food slanger.

Jim said...

Nice report on meatball sandwiches Titus.

Little Joe's does their meatball sandwich on Wednesday's.


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