WARNING: Proceed with caution if you are hungry, as this story may cause salivation, cravings and “hangriness.” From professed foodies to those who just simply love the thrill of finding a new delicious gem, these restaurants should make their way to your must-eat list immediately. They may not look like fancy four-star restaurants when you pull up, but the food they are cooking up is nothing short of magical. Maybe like a book, we shouldn’t judge a restaurant by its cover…errr, building.
1. Joe Roger's Chili Parlor, Springfield
People love their chili, especially when the Illinois weather turns cold. So hunker down and warm your chilled bones with what The Chili Parlor boasts is Springfield’s favorite chili since 1945.
If you want the ultimate in comfort foods get a generous helping of mouthwatering chili over your juicy burger or dog. Those with simpler taste buds may opt for mild, but if you are someone for whom fire-alarm hot sauces were invented then try the Firebrand chili, if you dare. And don’t forget to order a quart to take home (you know you’ll want it!).
2. Bernadotte Cafe, Ipava
Ipava is the place to be if you're craving homemade from-scratch meals at a steal of a price. While this café might call one of the smallest towns in Fulton County home, it’s still teeming with loyal customers. Love the mashed potatoes and homemade pies that grandma used to make? You can get all that and more at Bernadotte. They even stay open on holidays so that everyone nearby can feel like family. Just remember to carry some cash with you, as this little gem is cash only.
3. Dell Rhea Chicken Basket, Willowbrook
It’s 1946 and Dell Rhea is serving road warriors off Route 66. They are tired, hungry and just want a delicious pick-me-up before hitting the road again. This famous fried chicken was served in a basket so customers could hop out of the car, run up to the counter and return to their cars with a heaping basket of hot, finger-licking fried chicken and perfectly paired sides.
4. Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe, Darien
Don’t let the fact that Chuck’s is cozied up next to a strip mall in Darien dissuade you from entering. There’s a reason this restaurant has been visited by
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Check, Please! They are even the 2015 Diner’s Choice Winners on Open Table. See what all the hubbub is about when this Mexican, Cajun-Creole, and old-fashioned southern cooking meld together to create melt-off-the-bone BBQ and tear-inducing Cajun salmon cakes.
5. The Longbranch, L'Erable
Don’t let this little red general store-esque building deceive you. The only business in the tiny hamlet of Clifton, The Longbranch is run by two chefs, Nicholas and Lindsay Bohn, who were trained at Le Cordon Bleu. This is no greasy spoon! While you may find some of your favorite down-home comforts like fried chicken or corn fritters don’t be surprised if you’re knocked off your feet by gourmet dishes like garlic Parmesan crusted ribeye or the sweet chili glazed grilled chicken breast. Are you drooling yet (or at least turning on your GPS)?
6. Gene and Jude's, River Grove
There is no better pastime then enjoying a baseball game and a hot dog. Once a Wrigley Field favorite in 1945, these hot dogs then found a River Grove storefront to call their home. It’s believed that Chicago has some of the best hot dogs in the country, and Gene and Jude’s is at the top of the heap. You don’t have to take our word for it, but perhaps you may trust Rachael Ray’s. In the March issue of her magazine she named this no-frills hot dog stand the No. 1 hot dog in the US. Don’t be fooled by Gene and Jude’s impersonators. There is only one!
7. Paradise Pup, Des Plaines
When you drive through Des Plaines you may be greeted with a bright yellow awning and Vienna Beef umbrella-lined picnic seats. You’ve made it to Paradise Pup, a Guy Fieri-approved joint for burgers chargrilled to perfection and famous three-layer French fries. Be prepared to wait in line and have cash on hand, but you’ll forget all about these minor inconveniences the moment you take a bite of that burger and enter food nirvana.
8. Charlie Parker's Diner, Springfield
If you just can’t get enough of those old classic diners then it’s time you headed to the state’s capital to enjoy a juicy burger, generous breakfast or a hearty bowl of chili before you set out on the road. Charlie Parker’s diner is sure to delight with its black-and-white checkered floors, red vinyl booths and wall of records from old artists. Don’t forget your saddle shoes and poodle skirt!
9. The Shanty, Wadsworth
Sitting right on bustling US-41 with its dark wood panels this building might be easy to miss, but if you are a professed seafood lover then you better make a pit stop in Wadsworth. The friendly service, generous portions and fair prices will have you believing you found a serious diamond in the rough. Enjoy the tequila and orange grilled salmon or the coconut shrimp, and find out what the Travel Channel and NBC Around Town have been talking about.
10. Stockholm Inn, Rockford
Yes, this restaurant might be in an unappealing strip mall but the beautiful Swedish décor and delectable homemade foods are enough to entice anyone in. Enjoy authentic Swedish pancakes and a steaming cup of coffee for your Sunday brunch or marvel over the magic of their Swedish meatballs. Feed your comfort-food soul and be sure to visit the gift shop to take some Scandinavian treats home with you.
11. Calumet Fisheries, Chicago
Yes, there is a seafood shack on 95th street in Chicago and it’s definitely worth the trip. Calumet Fisheries, which is found at the 95th Street Bridge (the same bridge the Blues Brothers jumped off in the 1980’s film), has been smoking fish in-house since the 1940s. Load up on smoked trout or salmon, or sit outside on their simple picnic tables and enjoy some finger-licking fried shrimp.
These are just a few restaurants in Illinois to whet your appetite. If you’ve found another delicious gem that readers should know about, be sure to share in the comments!