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.
Stand facing one way in the parking lot of Niko’s Lodge and you’re in suburban Algonquin; turn the other way, and you’re in a mountain resort town. As diners pass under immense dark wood beams, they encounter a handsome pinewood bar, a roaring fireplace flanked by comfy furniture, and, drifting through it all, the fragrance of steak, rotisserie chicken, and pork ribs. Flavors tend toward hearty American favorites: barbecue, meatloaf, and decadent combinations such as a chicken-and-bacon mac and cheese, to name a few. Much of the fish is supplied by nearby rivers and lakes, and all the beef comes from upper-Midwestern Braveheart Black Angus cattle. If guests have saved some belly space, they can step outside to the fire pits to toast complimentary s’mores and destroy napkins on which they wrote embarrassing sonnets to pot roast.
From an ever-sizzling grill, Kooker's dispenses hearty American diner fare from morning until night. Daybreak eats perk up sleepy palates with selections such as omelet sandwiches piled with eggs pan-fried in real butter. On outdoor picnic-style seating, burgers, italian beef, and hot dogs nestle next to thatched piles of fries, while thick shakes and ice-cream flurries packed with crushed candy bars, fresh fruits, and snowman's tears stand by to sweeten hardhearted tongues.
Baker Hill Pancake House stuffs a menu of breakfast and lunch favorites with fresh ingredients prepared with an eye toward sound nutrition. Traditional latke toppings of sour cream and applesauce nestle up to Idaho potato pancakes ($5.95), and plump blintzes packed with cheese ($6.25) double as pillows for those rethinking their decision to rise for breakfast. Cinnamon-apple pancakes ($7.25) become even more decadently sweet with classic maple syrup or a spectrum of fruit-flavored analogs.
No matter how old you are, when a toy train pulls up bearing your lunch, you smile from ear to ear. At 2Toots Train Whistle Grill, O-scale toy trains bustle around the '50s luncheonette-style grill, delivering burgers, hot dogs, and fries to each table. These, however, are not just ordinary hot dogs, hamburgers, and chili; they're sourced from national and Chicago news journalist Bill Kurtis' Tallgrass grass-fed and pasture-raised beef, which means they're imbued with more nutrients and vitamins than beef that's been commercially-raised or fed a diet of candy corn.
But the veteran owned and operated eatery's sense of giving back doesn't just stop there. The restaurant promotes 1 Vet at a Time, a pending 501c3 that helps combat veterans secure business loans by serving as a benevolent lender.
Knights in shining armor. White horses. Fair maidens. All the magnificent trappings of a bygone era come to life at Medieval Times, where ironclad knights clash for the title of King's Champion in front of a wide-eyed audience that peppers the battlefield with cheers and jeers between bites of a four-course dinner. Each two-hour tournament channels the pageantry and spectacle of 11th-century Spain, pitting six competitors against each other inside a spacious, sand-filled arena for the honor of earning the title of champion and the favor of the royal court. A spirited musical score infuses epic onslaughts with an extra dose of tension as adversaries joust atop stallions, deflect ferocious blows, and slice through suits forged of authentic junk mail. To further immerse guests in the fairy tale, Medieval Times encourages each guest to declare their allegiance by cheering loudly for the knight in their corner.
Like royal guests centuries ago, spectators bask in the revelry while feasting upon a finger-friendly bill of fare without the aid of utensils or the "choo-choo" sounds of parents. The four-course feast includes a tomato-bisque soup starter, oven-roasted chicken with a garlic-bread side, single spare rib, and an herb-basted potato. Servers periodically fill patrons? goblets with soda or water, which adults can supplement with purchases from a full-service bar. Meals conclude with the castle's sweet pastry dessert.