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.
Rip's is the best fried-chicken destination in the chicken-rich Illinois River Valley. Crunchies -- bits of insanely yummy fried skin and batter -- are a bonus.
Pequod's zesty, saucy deep-dish Chicago pizza is known for its “caramelized crust” cheese rings.
Tufano's is an old school Italian restaurant with casual setting and low prices. Lemon chicken is a Chicago city icon.
Dipped in batter and deep-fried when ordered, the Cozy Dog has vivid crunch and succulence. It's an Illinois Route 66 landmark.
Charlie Parker's is an out-of-the-way Quonset hut diner specializing in huge pancakes and the Springfield, Illinois, signature dish, the horseshoe.
Some of the best pies in Chicago, the Midwest -- best anywhere! -- are baked and served at the storefront restaurant Hoosier Mama.
The donut, the whole donut, and nothing but the donut. That's what Chicago's Firecakes is all about: some of the best donuts anywhere.
Plump Polish sausages with crisp skin; succulent hot dogs dragged through the garden; fine skinny French fries: Byron's Dog Haus is a great taste of Chicago.