Ricobene’s, a resolutely old school purveyor of pizza and other Italian cuisine, has been a Bridgeport institution since 1946. This longevity is no happenstance: it has a claim to fame, the breaded steak sandwich one can find at only a few Bridgeport joints.
USA Today writer Ted Berg proclaimed Ricobene’s breaded steak sammy “the best sandwich in the world,” calling it “a perfect sandwich,” declaring that he was “unwilling to believe there is any sandwiches distinctly better than this one,” and that it’s one’s “duty to sing the gospel of breaded steak to the people.” The late, great Anthony Bourdain featured it on his CNN show Parts Unknown, proclaiming it as “something that everyone should be proud to have on their flag.”
Anticipation builds as you enter the vintage, delicatessen-like restaurant with checkerboard tile, walls cluttered with historic photos, and dark wood pillars flanking the counter. You put in your order, grab a wooden chair at a table, and wait for the meaty miracle that Eater branded one of “Chicago’s essential sandwiches.”
Believe the hype. The monstrosity of a sandwich combines breaded skirt steak folded like a New York slice, chunky marinara, ooey-gooey strings of melty mozzarella and crisp, tangy giardiniera in a Turano french roll that’s crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. It’s a massive sandwich many can’t finish in one sitting. It’s a sandwich that evokes the old Chicago: the Union Stock Yards, South Works, superfans accents.
Ricobene’s menu also features the usual roster of Chicagoland favorites: Italian beef, Italian sausage, the combination thereof, pepper and egg sandwiches, rib tips, dogs run through the garden, and Chicken Vesuvio sandwiches. The vintage joint offers many Italian dishes like mostaccioli, antipasto, and pizza galore, including by the slice and a breaded steak pizza with red gravy, mozzarella, and bite-sized pieces of the iconic breaded and fried steak.
Rosaria and Antonia Ricobene started the business 76 years ago, when they launched a produce cart just after World War II. They turned to hot meatball and sausage sandwiches in the winter months when fewer vegetables were in season.
The second generation of the restaurant’s family ownership—Sam, Frank, and Russell Ricobene—crafted the gargantuan sandwich Ricobene’s became known for. It’s sloppy, the “kind of lunch you under if you’re OK with getting a little red sauce on your shirt,” according to the bygone DNAinfo. The wrapper, the edges of your smudged lips, and the napkin will be kissed with crimson. Other South Side restaurants, including Ferro’s and Fabulous Freddie’s on 31st, have their own versions, but Ricobene’s breaded steak sandwich is the one that’s won national acclaim, and for a reason.
Ricobene’s, 252 W. 26th St. Sunday, 10am–12am; Monday–Thursday, 9am–12:30am; Friday 9am–2am; Saturday, 10am–2am. (312) 225-5555. Ricobenespizza.com.