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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The hot-oil chili that is a specialty of Springfield, Illinois, comes in six degrees of heat at Joe Rogers, from MILD to FIREBRAND. The latter is ferocious.
Original Rainbow Cone sells American ice cream that is light-hearted and nostalgic. Get a cone with all five signature flavors.
Fatso's delivers the elevated fast food experience without elevated prices. Wonderful burgers, fried shrimp and char-dogs dressed Chicago style.
Bari is a Chicago neighborhood bodega with legendary Italian Beef Sandwiches, Italian Subs, and house made meatballs.
Italian ice, created with real fruit and great skill, makes Annette's a worthy destination in Chicago. Citrus flavors are especially refreshing.
Tufano's is an old school Italian restaurant with casual setting and low prices. Lemon chicken is a Chicago city icon.
A large, friendly diner / coffee shop along old Route 66 in Illinois, Shannon's is a place for hearty breakfast, lunch, and dinner with truck-stop ambience.
Pequod's zesty, saucy deep-dish Chicago pizza is known for its “caramelized crust” cheese rings.
D'Arcy's Pint is a family-friendly pub specializing in the unique horseshoe sandwich -- a huge kitchen-sink meal unique to downstate Illinois.