Da beef

A Chicago favorite for 75 years, Al's Beef is finally heading to the West Coast -- thanks, in part, to the Midwestern transplants here who kept peppering the Al's website with pleas for hot Italian beef sandwiches. The first California location will open in meat-loving San Jose on Monday, April 15, with plans for a major Southern California expansion next.

The secret recipe for what's often called one of the nation's top sandwiches was concocted in 1938 by Al Ferreri and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli Sr. The shops stayed in the family until 1999, when longtime customer Dave Howey (not to worry; he's half-Italian) bought Al's to preserve this regional specialty.

Today, Howey says, the lean beef is still roasted in gravy with 19 spices and herbs, then sliced paper-thin, chargrilled and piled on a specialty roll that has a soft interior, yet a crispy crust.

"When you eat it here, it's going to be just like eating in Chicago," he says. "The bread is crucial, or the sandwich will dissolve."

Adding sweet or hot peppers is optional, though some Al's fans might disagree with that.

Also on the menu are other Chitown faves: Al's Italian and Polish sausages, Vienna hot dogs, Chicago-style tamales, French fries (you can even have them topped with Italy's famed blue, Gorgonzola), plus burgers, chicken sandwiches, wraps and salads.

Howey and his team will be at The Plant location on April 15 to demonstrate "The Stance" (how to eat the sandwich so you don't get gravy on your shirt or shoes) and hand out freebies. The first 100 customers at 11 a.m. that day will each win 52 Al's Beef sandwiches -- one a week for a year. Other food giveaways are planned for 11 a.m. every day othrough April 19.

Details: Open from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until midnight Friday-Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday. 71 Curtner Ave. at The Plant. 408-380-4876; www.alsbeef.com.

Send South Bay and Peninsula dining tips to Linda Zavoral, lzavoral@mercurynews.com.