Chicagoans counting down the days until Portillo’s opens

The Windy City-based chain will open in The Village at O-Town West.

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  • | 11:39 a.m. February 3, 2021
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Local Bryan Malenius has spent his whole adult life in Florida, but his memories of growing up around Chicago never leave his mind — especially when it comes to food.

One of the food joints that holds a special place in Chicagoan hearts is Portillo’s — a staple in the food scene in Chicago and the Midwest — which will be opening a new spot March 2 in The Village at O-Town West.

“When I go back to the Chicago area to visit my mom, dad and my youngest brother, it’s always one of our first stops,” Malenius said of Portillo’s. “For all of us in Central Florida who are transplants from the Chicago area, the news about Portillo’s opening up in Orlando could not be more exciting. The week Portillo’s opens here, a lot of Keto diets and other diets are going to go out the window for a little bit — it really is that exciting.”

The chain restaurant is known for a few things, but it’s the hotdogs and beef sandwiches that stick out to those who know.

The Maxwell Street polish is Malenius’ favorite, followed by the Italian beef sandwich. To be fair, there isn’t much on the menu that he doesn’t recommend.

“The Maxwell Street polish for me just tastes like home,” he said. “First off, if you go into a Portillo’s … you can’t go wrong, because all of the tastes taste authentically like you’re in Chicago. It’ll taste like home for those of us who are from Chicago, but to those who are not, the culinary tastes of Chicago are fantastic, and they will grow to love it.”

In Winter Garden, Erin Donnelly has been counting down the days to when she can finally enjoy her favorite Italian beef sandwich, while her husband and child enjoy the hotdogs at a Portillo’s that’s a little closer to home.

When Donnelly and her family lived in Chicago, Portillo’s was always a restaurant of choice for them. But after moving to the area six years ago, the closest one they could find was out in Brandon — the state’s only other Portillo’s site.

"For all of us in Central Florida who are transplants from the Chicago area, the news about Portillo’s opening up in Orlando could not be more exciting."

— Bryan Malenius

“I’m super excited,” she said. “There is one in Brandon, Florida, and we have made it this tradition for our family now with my kids. … Every year at Christmas time near Brandon, they do this Polar Express that we take my kids to, and we always stop at Portillo’s on the way down there. So I only get to it now one time a year … so we are super excited that there’s going to be one a lot closer.”

For Donnelly, not only will she get to finally enjoy the food on a more frequent basis, but also she will get to continue another tradition of hers more easily — taking friends to sample what Portillo’s has to offer.

“It’s definitely some place that should be checked out,” she said. “We have taken friends, and we’ve gotten them hooked as well. They’ve got a lot of different options.”

Another local, Mike Granato — head football coach at West Orange High — didn’t grow up in Chicago, but he did have two good college friends who did. 

So during one summer trip years ago to the Windy City, his friends took him straight to Portillo’s. For Granato, an Italian-American, the food was right up his alley.

“I remember just standing in the line … and it was awesome,” he said. “You walk in and it has the pizzeria tables and stuff … and it’s packed, so it feels like you’re kind of at a food court. It’s one of those things you have got to go do if you go to Chicago.”

Granato gets messy with his favorite meal at the restaurant, going with a chili dog with bacon — and melted nacho cheese on top that he dips his fries into before finally eating the rest.

And with the restaurant being in Lake Buena Vista, it’s kind of in the place it needs to be, Granato said.

“It’s the perfect place for it,” Granato said. “If you told me they were opening a Portillo’s at Disney Springs, it’s like, ‘Eh, that’s OK, but that’s kind of too much in there.’ But if you can go into Lake Buena Vista without having to dive all the way into Disney property, then it’s perfect.”


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