By Kelly Youngblood
Portillo’s is set to open in Champaign on Tuesday, May 23 but, thanks to my husband who scored us two Golden Hot Dog tickets, we got to enjoy a free sneak peak training meal at the restaurant Thursday night.
Now, I’ve been a faithful fan of this Chicago institution since our first visit last year, so I had high expectations when we walked through the doors.
Even though it was the very first day Portillo’s started serving customers at their new Champaign location, I have to say, we weren’t disappointed.
To sum it up, the experience was great — and I’m not just saying that because we got our food for free. (Nice bonus though!)
Really, it was the same delicious food and great service I was accustomed to seeing at the Chicago-based Portillo’s restaurants. That’s a pretty big accomplishment considering the Champaign restaurant had been open just a few hours when we visited.
We arrived about 7 p.m. to a full parking lot and a restaurant packed with people, but we barely got in line before they took our order. I had the Garbage Salad with cheese fries and my husband had the Maxwell Street Polish Sausage with onion rings.
I decided to go with a salad because I’d never had one before and I heard they have great salads. (It was, in fact, very yummy.) They are also known for delicious hot dogs, burgers, Italian beef sandwiches, and chocolate cake — all of which I have tried before and can personally recommend.
Once our order was taken and rung up, we went to our respective pick-up lines; there’s one for salads and one for everything else. About 10 minutes later, we were sitting down to eat — not a long wait considering the number of customers at the time.
When you’re at the pick-up “window”, the employees usually say fun stuff like, “Number 179, it’s your time to dine” or “Number 146, time to get your fix.” It’s a nice touch in my opinion but I’m just a sucker for a good rhyme. In any case, it seems as if the employees are having fun and I think customers can appreciate that.
If you go through the drive-thru, expect it to be a speedier experience than you are used to. A team of employees comes outside and takes orders at your window. Often times, you order, pay, and get your food delivered by an employee and completely bypass the drive-thru window.
I’m always amazed by how many people I see working at Portillo’s both behind the counter and in the drive-thru. I’m guessing that’s why they can serve up food so fast.
The Champaign restaurant, which is 9,000 square feet, features a fun ambiance with a 50-60’s diner theme, two drive-thru lanes, seasonal outdoor seating, and an outdoor mural highlighting the historical Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul. It also sells beer.
Portillo’s in Champaign, located at 2306 N. Prospect Ave., is set to open on Tuesday, May 23 at 10:30 a.m. Portillo’s founder Dick Portillo will be at the opening to meet customers.
FULL DISCLOSURE: If we had to pay for our meal, it would have cost us a little over $20 but we were the recipients of the Golden Hot Dog tickets so our meal was free.