While the food at Luke's Italian Beef, 6741 N. Thornydale Road, doesn't promise to be friendly to the waistline, it does promise to fill you up, said co-owner Chris Amadori.

"No one has ever left here hungry," Amadori said.

The restaurant was started by Amadori's stepfather, Luke del Principe, who opened the first one in Chicago on Harlem and Addison streets in 1963.

It was more than just a love for Tucson that brought him to the southwest where he eventually opened the first Luke's on 22nd and Craycroft 22 years ago.

"He met my mom out here," Amadori said. "And he just liked it. He originally wanted to come out here to retire," he added, laughing.

But instead of retiring, del Principe opened three more restaurants in Tucson, restaurants in Phoenix, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

"We're supposed to be opening one in California," Amadori said. "I don't know where we are with that."

Del Principe has managed to keep the Tucson business in the family with his children, stepchildren and grandchildren running each of the restaurants.

"I started working at the store before I was even 16," said Amadori, who has been running the Thornydale location since it opened a year-and-a-half ago.

"I could cook good as it was, and I just wanted to carry on the tradition," he said. "I co-own it with my parents until I pay them back."

Until then, Amadori will continue to work in the restaurant making sandwiches for his loyal patrons who frequent the place for lunch or dinner.

"It gets crazy in here," Amadori said, looking around at the sparse, post-lunch afternoon crowd, grateful for a break from the mad dash of people on their lunch breaks.

"Especially when there are only two of us here," as was the case Friday afternoon. "That doesn't help at all."

But even short-staffed, Amadori said customers can always expect fast service.

"Everyone gets moved out of here quick," he said.

And for those from Chicago, or for those who have ever had a traditional Chicago hot dog, they can expect to find a little taste of home, Amadori said.

Their Chicago Dog, voted best in Tucson for the past four years by the Tucson Weekly, has a couple of secrets behind its sleeve that makes it the best, Amadori said.

"It's actually skin-on, in its natural casing," Amadori said. "That gives it the best flavor."

And forget plain old ketchup and mustard, this dog comes equipped with a poppy seed roll, Gulden's spicy mustard, onions, pickles, tomatoes and sport-peppers to give it authentic Chicago taste, Amadori said.

"People from Chicago who come here say it tastes just like back home," Amadori said. "In fact, there are quite a few people who say it's better."

And anyone who is a Chicago aficionado will appreciate the restaurant's dcor, complete with several Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls posters to honor the best professional basketball player ever.

The restaurant also has booths with tables covered with pictures of the Luke's family to make patrons feel at home.

Amadori said he has several regulars who come into the restaurant every week to either dine in or carry out food if they're in a hurry.

"I'm glad you don't have New York hot dogs here 'cause they're not as good as Chicago dogs," said one regular on her way out the door.

But no matter what your taste, Amadori said patrons can expect "excellent food at a great price."

"Guys come in and order fries, a dog and a drink and keep it under four dollars," Amadori said.

For first-timers, Amadori said he usually recommends the Polish or Italian sausage, the meatball sub, or their "famous" Italian beef. The Italian beef is somewhat like a Philly cheesesteak, Amadori said, but with a little Italian flair. The beef is cooked in Italian spices, and customers can order provolone cheese or bell peppers, if they so desire.

"It's kind of like a cheesesteak, but a lot better," Amadori said.

The meatballs and sauce on the meatball sub are both homemade but can be a bit tough to get down without a few spills, Amadori said.

"Sometimes people don't like the meatball because it can get kind of messy," he said.

Luke's is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Monday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Its other three locations are at 1615 S. Alvernon Way, 101 E. Fort Lowell Road and 4444 E. Grant Road.

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