The Guilty Pleasure: Chocolate Cake Shake Where To Get It: Portillo's, Shea just east of Loop 101 The Price:$3.19 small, $3.99 large (and they mean large) What It Really Costs: Hopeless addiction.
When Portillo's opened in Scottsdale, I had quite the reminder that a) There are a lot of expatriate Chicagoans in the Valley of the Sun, and b) Chicagoans are incredibly fond of their native foodstuffs. Never mind that Taylor Street in Tempe has an excellent Italian beef or that Chicago Hamburger Company does a spot-on dragged-through-the-garden hot dog; Chicagoans treated Portillo's opening here with a fervor not seen since the Valley premiere of In-N-Out Burger.
Portillo's has earned solid marks from me for turning out above-average (for Phoenix) Italian beef sandwiches. While there, I noticed that a surprising number of trays bore a slice of chocolate cake in addition to the entrées. Apparently, they're famous for this cake. I tried one, and . . . It's chocolate cake. Tender and moist chocolate cake, but it didn't quite live up to the hype.
My colleague Laura Hahnefeld clued me in to the better sweet option at Portillo's. Maybe "clued me in to" isn't the right term. It's closer to "couldn't stop fanatically raving about." And, boy howdy, was she right to rave. You see, one of the drink options (as with so many fast-food joints) is a milkshake. While they have standard chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, I couldn't imagine getting one of those when they will happily throw a hunk of chocolate cake into a chocolate shake, resulting in a chocolate cake shake.
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My problem with most chocolate shakes out there is that they're just too meek. The chocolate flavor is almost an afterthought. Adding chocolate cake to a chocolate shake turns the flavor knob up to 11. It's such a brilliant idea, you'll wonder why places all over town don't do it.
On second thought, I'm kind of glad I've seen chocolate cake shakes only at Portillo's. If they were available everywhere, I'd have to be driven around on a forklift. And, now that the opening frenzy has died down a little, you can get your Italian beef and chocolate cake shake without standing in a line that wraps around the block.