Originally opened as the Top Hat Drive-In in 1953, Sonic has grown into a burger-franchise mecca that today operates out of 3,500 locations across the country, making it the nation’s largest chain of drive-in restaurants. Sonic specializes in made-to-order American classics—including burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, and marshmallow Ford Thunderbolts—which customers order and receive without ever having to leave their cars. Unique menu items include toaster sandwiches stacked on thick slices of texas toast, as well as the brand’s signature tots and fresh limeades.
Sonic’s numerous awards include a 2011 Zagat survey ranking it among the top five fast-food restaurants in three categories: Best Value Menu, Best Milk Shake, and Best Drive-Thru. The benevolent eatery has also donated more than $2 million to public schools throughout the country through their program Limeades for Learning, which helps to fund educational projects and retirement plans for classroom guinea pigs.
Customers enjoy VB to Go’s classic Italian-American entrées in the comfort of their own domiciles, nestled next to sides of salad, steak fries, and bread that come standard. The giambotta is a mélange of sausage, black olives, and an Italian grandmother's garden's worth of veggies bathing in a light tomato sauce ($11.95), and battered slices of eggplant parmigian arrive draped in mozzarella ($10.50). Sixteen-inch specialty pizzas house hearty portions of toppings, with Windy City classics such as italian beef, giardiniera, and mirrored shavings of the Bean ($17.75). Pasta dishes swathe savory aliments such as the ricotta and spinach that meld inside stuffed shells ($9.25) or the shrimp and spicy tomato sauce that accent the capricciosa ($12.95).
Pescatore means “Italian fisherman,” according to Vito Barbanente, Pescatore Palace's owner and chef. He lives far from any sea and seldom pulls anything out of saltwater, but having spent his life transforming catch into cuisine, he might well have earned an honorary place among the ranks of said seafarers. In his signature dish, he tops market-fresh fish of the day with a grilled medley of octopus, calamari, cuttlefish, and shrimp. He also harvests land ingredients, rounding out his seafood-rich menu with veal chops, housemade gnocchi, and metal forks instead of tridents.
Mirage Restaurant plates an extensive menu of meats, pasta, salads, and more for overnight guests and casual passersby. Lay lunchtime claim to George's burger, a midday meeting of broiled ground sirloin with raw onion and crispy bacon on grilled dark rye ($7.75), or take in fresh fare with the Mirage salad, made of baby greens coddled by gorgonzola cheese, sliced apples and radishes, toasted pine nuts, and sweet raspberry vinaigrette ($8.75), which can be bulked up by chicken ($2.20 extra) or salmon ($4.20 extra) for those in need of a protein punch before going dolphin-lifting. Dinner's array of fresh game and sea-game come in a pasta disguise in the seafood carbonara, splashed with sautéed Gulf shrimp and sea scallops ($12.95), or augmented by applesauce with the center-cut pork chops ($10.95).
Distinguished by its blazing open stone oven, Chicago Fire Oven and Visibility Bar crafts an inventive and flame-licked menu of modern American fare. Hungry mouths can peruse a variety of hearty entrees, soups, salads, and burgers before ordering the white pizza ($8.95 for an 8”; $16.50 for a 14”) to experience a balance of fire-infused pizza crust, arugula, italian sausage, and ricotta, provolone, and mozzarella cheeses. Cedar-planked salmon ($17.95) is accented with lemon-laced caper-dill aioli, and a juicily marinated and char-grilled half chicken ($15.50) takes up residence on a brick beside lime-cilantro jus.
Imagined and founded by country singer-songwriter Toby Keith, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill combines Southern-style eats with mason jars full of beer, plus daisy-duke-clad waitresses pouring top-shelf whiskeys. This all takes place beneath complex light and sound systems for the restaurant's full-on concert stage. The staff keeps the calendar stocked with events, hosting sports nights, poker tournaments, karaoke, and live bands such as Due West and Colt Ford. Performers croon, their guitars twang, and the lights dim to shades of purple, blue, and red—colors scientifically proven to make mediocre dancers look like Russian ballet stars.
When both the plasma-screen TVs and stage lie dormant, the entertainment continues aboard the bar's mechanical bull, appropriately dubbed “Toby.” Even ordering a drink comes with the thrill of sidling up to the 85-foot, guitar-shaped bar, originally intended to be strummed by a giant robot Elvis.