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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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.
A restaurant created by a genuine corned beef factory, this little gem makes great cured-meat sandwiches, plus Italian beef & Chicago hot dogs.
Chicago's 100+ year-old Berghoff is a German-American restaurant that has changed with the times but maintains culinary traditions all but vanished elsewhere.
A remote Illinois tavern surrounded by corn fields, Wedron Office serves excellent fried chicken and bluegill. Entertainment is provided by overhead TV sets.
D&J is an inconspicuous cafe serving one of the best horseshoe sandwiches in Springfield, Illinois -- for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Specialty of the house at the Illinois Igloo: a crisp-fried tenderloin sandwich, known as a pork. Double pork (two cutlets in a bun) is magnificent.
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.
Charlie Parker's is an out-of-the-way Quonset hut diner specializing in huge pancakes and the Springfield, Illinois, signature dish, the horseshoe.