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.
Though it’s been open for the past 90 or so years, Scoreboard has seen few changes beyond its name. Once known as Schweda’s Barbecue, the Lake Zurich bar and grill is still owned and operated by the same family, and present proprietor Joe Schweda has maintained much of the eatery’s original charm, including its quaint, white-washed building situated near the lake on Old Rand Road. The grill does its part to maintain a neighborhood feel, acquiring all of its meats from Orchard Prime Meats, conveniently located next door for the past 20 years. While watching a game, patrons can wash down juicy half-pound burgers, thin-crust pizzas, or one of a dozen types of sandwiches with a frothy Budweiser, Guinness, or 312 draft.
Aside from supplying eats and drinks, the Scoreboard staff also reaps karma points by hosting philanthropic events such as “Golfing for the Cure,” and by always letting women and children onto lifeboats first.
A stay-at-home mom founded Chelsea TreeHouse, a 9,000-square-foot indoor ?unplugged? play space free of any distracting video games or other electronics. The play area is outfitted with slides, swings, bridges, and a multilevel climbing structure, and basketball hoops allows aspiring players to practice slam dunks within eyesight of parents or guardians lounging in leather seating. During birthday parties, groups of kids can take advantage of amenities such as pizza, balloons, and lemonade. For everyday nourishment, TreeHouse?s full-service cafe replenishes energy with healthy bites such as veggies, yogurt, and cheese while parents enjoy more adult fare, such as sandwiches, salads, soups, and Zingerman?s Coffee.
Char-broiling slabs of beef, lamb, and elk while overlooking the banks of a wooded mill pond might sound like an unusually picturesque cookout, but this scene unfolds each day in the kitchen of Long Grove Café, where the culinary team blends flavors from Mediterranean and American cuisine. Entrees of buffalo and ostrich burgers, Greek-style fish, rotisserie chicken, and Mediterranean pastas are often prefaced by a plate of saganaki cheese, set on fire to give it a dramatic flair as it is brought to table by a masked chorus. In the rustic, wine-colored dining room, servers uncork a range of fine wines that prove Galileo's theory that "wine is sunlight held together by water."
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs grill every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Angus beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. The chefs then sandwich each slab in an artisan bun and turn it into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market. This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the chefs do, from blending handspun Häagen-Dazs shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded to 160 restaurants in five years, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
At The Waffle Gourmet, a waffle isn't just a breakfast item. It's the foundation for creatively topped desserts, sandwiches made with Boar's Head meats, and ice-cream sundaes made with more than 30 flavors. After devouring crispy chicken with a waffle or another savory option, guests can pick from sweet waffles coated in toppings such as peanut butter, Nutella, and cream-cheese frosting, or choose waffle ice-cream sandwiches or sundaes tucked in waffle bowls. The wafflesmiths also use dedicated equipment to craft their special gluten-free vegan waffle, made without wheat, dairy, soy, corn, or yeast. As diners linger to chat or use the free WiFi to check in on their virtual pet rocks, they can also sip smoothies, french-pressed coffee, and organic milk.