When Debbi Fields opened the first Mrs. Fields in 1977, it wasn’t all sunshine and cookies. Between her lack of business experience and the unorthodox business model—selling only cookies—not many people believed in her. More than 30 years and a global franchise later, it’s safe to say the doubters are eating their words, at least when they're not busy stuffing their faces with one of Debbi's signature semisweet chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin and walnut cookies.
The wild popularity of Mrs. Fields's cookies can be attributed to the richness of their basic ingredients: real butter, whole eggs, and special blends of chocolate. Classic flavors include chewy fudge, peanut butter, and white chocolate macadamia, and seasonal flavors complement the lineup throughout the year. Select varieties can also be made into cookie cakes of various sizes and shapes that add a delicious twist to any celebration or milk-truck spill.
The tortilla-savvy chefs at El Ranchito Express curate classics such as tostadas, tacos, huaraches, and Mexican seafood dishes with catches from shrimp to red snapper. Plates brim with meats, including choices steak, chorizo, and traditional cuts of lengua. Sips such as horchata and Jarritos sodas wash down dinner, and tongues weary from assisting chin-ups can treat themselves to traditional fried desserts and cakes.
The Plush Horse began making ice cream in 1937, and clearly hasn’t skipped a beat since then—the nostalgically decorated treat shop recently nabbed a spot on Gayot’s Top 10 Chicago Ice Cream Restaurants of 2012. More than 40 ice-cream flavors, from standbys such as cotton candy and brownie batter to limited edition and seasonal flavors such as root beer top cones, crown banana splits, and blend into shakes and malts. And that’s just the ice cream—The Plush horse also scoops and serves sorbet, yogurt, sherbet, and gelato for those who want lighter treats, are on special diets, or screamed for ice cream excessively at a young age. Sweetness also comes in the form of coffee drinks, custom cakes and pies, and fruit smoothies.
Sixty years has seen Tastee Freez transform from a cozy two-man operation to a gargantuan national franchise, with more than 100 locations decorating the United States like sprinkles. The menu is casual but diverse, ranging from cheeseburgers and corn dogs to frothy shakes and 97% fat-free ice cream, which can be customized with candies and fresh fruit. Patrons may also request one of Tastee's signature Freezees available in flavors such as oreo, butterfinger, and reese's pieces.
Sandy's Sandwiches prides itself on feeding customers high quality bread, but not too much of it. Instead, they focus on serving up more meat, more cheese, and whatever other toppings make up the customer's sandwich of choice. With the Big Bet BLT, it's bacon, sliced avocados, and ancho-chipotle sauce; in the Chicken Melt Sub, it's swiss cheese and honey mustard; while the Chicken Salad Sandwich is topped with baby spinach and creamy pesto. Other sandwiches include massive eats such as the Colossal Corned Beef with horseradish dijon on marbled rye, or the Big Hammer, made with enough smoked ham and swiss cheese to put Thor to sleep. The menu also includes hot dogs—the Chicago Dog, the Striped Dog, and the Bacon Chili Dog—and wraps such as the Straight Veggie Wrap with roasted red pepper and artichoke hearts.
Danny’s Cafe warmly serves what co-owner Carl Dote described as “Italian peasant food” on Danny’s Check, Please! feature. Their cooking aims to comfort, from generously stuffed artichokes to their signature fried-meatball sub. The hefty sandwich, highlighted on WGN, comes to fruition after staff members hand-form fresh meatball mix into patties and pile on fried peppers. Co-owner and chef Paula Dote told ABC’s “Hungry Hound” that when she and her husband bought the restaurant, she wanted to make exactly what she made at home, and indeed, she uses recipes from her mother and mother-in-law in all of her cooking and homemade volcano experiments. She ladles vodka sauce and crumbled sausage over homemade rigatoni, and layers provolone, parmesan, mozzarella, and ricotta in the four-cheese lasagna. Pork neck bones, one of Danny's more unique dishes, are served twice a week and praised by Hungry Hound for the tender meatiness resulting from hours spent simmering in spiced tomatoes. The eatery has also spawned relatives—appropriately named “Cuzzin’s Cafe”—that serve similar dishes in Des Plaines and Orland Park.