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Portillo's named best fast-casual restaurant in the country

The Portillo's in Merrillville is shown. The restaurant chain topped the list of fast-casual eateries in a TripAdvisor survey.

Hot dog! The widely referenced travel website TripAdvisor has named Portillo's the best fast-casual chain in the country.

In its 2018 Traveler's Choice Awards, TripAdvisor specifically recognized the Portillo's in Chicago's River North neighborhood, but the Oak Brook-based purveyor of Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef, Maxwell Street Polish and other street food favorites also has a restaurant in Homewood and a perpetually busy location at 555 E. 81st Ave. in Merrillville, where cars often wrap around the building, even with a double drive-through.

“We are honored to receive this award,” Portillo’s CEO Michael Osanloo said in a statement. “It’s a true testament to our hard-working restaurant team members and our passionate fans. We’re thrilled our guests think Portillo’s truly cuts the mustard.”

For the annual Traveler's Choice Awards, TripAdvisor crunched data from user reviews over the past 12 months to rank the top 25 fast-casual restaurants nationally.

Chains with Region locations that were honored include Five Guys Burgers and Fries at No. 7, MOD Pizza at No. 15 and Firehouse Subs at No. 17. Honorees with Chicago locations include Shake Shack at No. 3, Blaze Pizza at No. 4 and sweetgreen at No. 25.

An increasingly growing segment in the dining market, fast-casual restaurants are generally considered to offer higher quality food than fast food restaurants, but do not offer table service and are more moderately priced than most sit-down restaurants. They've proven extremely popular in suburban areas in Northwest Indiana, where more and more restaurants like Panera Bread, McAlister's Deli, Noodles and Co. and Buona Beef have cropped up in recent years.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.