What To Eat in Illinois
There’s Chicago – home of deep-dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, all-beef red hots dragged through the garden, world-class corned beef sandwiches, South-Side soul-food BBQ, and such vintage steak house meals as chicken Vesuvio and shrimp de Jonghe – and there’s the rest of the state, which is a whole other kind of eating bonanza. In the Illinois River Valley, taverns serve masterful fried chicken with ravioli on the side; Springfield is home to its own kill-or-cure four-alarm chilli (two L’s!) as well as to the megacaloric kitchen-sink meal known as a horseshoe. Along old Route 66, look for Cozy Dogs (the original corn dog) as well as smashed crispyburgers with lace-thin edges.
A Chicago original since 1947. Cooked in a high-walled round pan, deep dish pizza verges on being a casserole, its thick, biscuity cornmeal crust loaded with mozzarella cheese and chunked tomatoes. Big sheets of fennel-spiked sausage are a common option.
A shaft of muscular bread filled with thin-sliced beef in garlicky natural gravy, Italian Beef is the king of street food in Chicago. Optional garnishes include "sweet" (roasted peppers), "hot" (giardiniera relish), or a length of char-cooked sausage.
Created in Springfield, Illinois, in the 1920s, the horseshoe is a giant plate of food that has gone far beyond its original resemblance to equine footwear. Local taverns and diners pile shoes with hamburgers, pork tenderloins, fried chicken, whitefish or just vegetables along with about a kilo of French fries and a flood of cheese sauce. They're popular at breakfast, too, made with bacon or sausage and hash browns, and cream gravy as a substitute or supplement for the cheese sauce. Morning horseshoes frequently are available in downsized versions known as pony shoes.
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Saturday-night splurge meals are Merichka's specialty, but the Roadfood lure is Poor Boy Steak -- an under-$10 sandwich sopped with margarine & garlic.
Is this the best Chicago sandwich ever? Johnnie's Italian beef delivers juicy garlic kick; add vibrant giardiniera and you'll hear angels sing.
Green Gables is a middle-of-nowhere tavern / grocery store / restaurant serving central Illinois' scrumptious smashed crispyburgers.
Char-grilled burgers and fries topped with Merkts cheddar cheese as well as classic Chicago red hots make Paradise Pup a best bet.
Verucchi's is an Illinois River Valley supper club serving Italian-American classics as well as fine Italian fried chicken with the local-favorite pasta, ravs.
A Vienna Beef workers' cafeteria open to the public. Chicago dogs are perfect and fresh. Corned beef sandwiches are piled high on good rye.
Serena Cafe is a gathering spot for local farmers to dig into large plates of biscuits & gravy or scrambles for breakfast and tenderloins and burgers for lunch.
In the crossroads town of Leonore, Illinois, Smitty's Tap is the place locals go for gigantic tenderloin sandwiches, broasted chicken, and $2 cans of beer.
Tempo is a 24/7 Chicago cafe with a full menu. It is best known for mighty omelets served in silver skillets on wooden trivets.