In 1977, Eddy Ho came to America with the dream of opening his own restaurant. In the 35 years since, he has lived that dream three times over, founding a trio of establishments that spotlight the showiest styles of Japanese cooking while commemorating the year of his transpacific crossing. Whether it's filet mignon, chicken, and seafood chopped by a flurry of clicking blades on hibachi grills or a sleek roll of sushi assembled by deft hands, each entrée arrives in a dining room decked with hints of traditional Japanese architecture, including subtle geometric patterns, crimson accents, and painstakingly manicured flora. Glasses of imported Japanese beer and sake stand ready to accompany each meal, helping diners toast to good fortune or play a glass harp rendition of their college fight song.
Each meal at Walker's Charhouse is an artistic process. Chefs cut every piece of meat fresh by hand each day before lowering it onto the broiler or the grill. They specialize in fresh USDA-choice angus steaks, but their refrigerators also brim with Lake Superior whitefish and Atlantic salmon, ribs, and pork chops. Near that crowded ice chest, they prepare each sauce, dressing, soup, and dessert with care.
Following the dishes into the small dining room, one stands beneath walls chronicling the charming history of Naperville, including Christmas 1957 when the town got its first puppy. When not preparing burgers, steaks, and seafood, the staff of Walker's Charhouse has found time to support local churches and schools and partnered with other businesses in 2010 to send aid to victims of the earthquake in Haiti.
Traditional Japanese recipes and cooking styles continue to inspire the chefs at Shinto Naperville. Mushrooming bursts of flame erupt from stainless-steel hibachis as they sear diners' orders tableside. In between shuffling platefuls of scallops or 28-day-aged filet mignon across the steaming surface, the chefs entertain their hungry audience by juggling utensils, tossing small pieces of food into guests' waiting mouths, and correctly guessing everyone's least favorite astrological sign. Measured doses of house-made teriyaki sauce or herb-infused butter lend even more flavor to the carefully caramelized entrees. Meanwhile, the chefs behind the sushi bar avoid grills entirely as they roll specialty maki with premium ingredients, including tempura lobster and jalapeño.
When Rowena and Joe Salas bought the Hotel Baker in downtown St. Charles nine years ago, they knew they were taking on the pressure of not only being business owners but caretakers as well. The landmark hotel’s founder, Colonel Edward J. Baker, built it in 1928 as an economic and communal anchor for his hometown.
“We have a responsibility to the city,” Ms. Salas says. “People here know the hotel’s story and we want to be true to the original vision.”
The Salases have protected the hotel’s legacy, carefully preserving its Spanish romantic revival architectural style while updating its amenities and polishing its décor. But they’ve also made their own mark by reconfiguring much of the ground-level space and making room for Rox City Grill. The Main Street eatery has itself become a fixture in downtown St. Charles’s revival as a destination for nightlife and entertainment.
Like the hotel under the Salases’ stewardship, Rox puts a modern spin on a classic setting. The business-casual grillroom makes a comfortable venue for dining on the prime steaks and fresh fish prepared with creative flair by Executive Chef David Hassan. Dinner crowds clamor for the 20-ounce bone-in angus rib eye and the pan-seared tilapia, served with crushed yukon gold potatoes and lemon butter. The starters menu changes with the seasons and is printed upside-down during a lunar eclipse, but it usually includes popular stalwarts such as tenderloin sliders and the jumbo-shrimp cocktail.
On weekend nights, Rox gets especially lively with live piano sing-alongs in the lounge and a bustling mix of locals and hotel guests mingling over martinis and wine chosen from the extensive cellar. The restaurant is closed Monday and Sunday, but the lounge remains open to serve drinks and the starters menu seven nights a week. Weekend patrons at Rox are also likely to spot Joe Salas himself, dining with friends or clients and keeping an eye on the new legacy he’s creating in the heart of St. Charles.
At St. Charles Place Steak House, plates of USDA Choice steaks and upscale seafood complement white tablecloths, leopard-print chairs, and hardwood walls covered in vintage posters. Chefs round up clams, lobster, and crab for seaside starters, such as the signature oysters rockefeller, and toss fresh salads with both seafood and slices of grilled chicken breast or filet mignon. For entrees, half-pound tenderloin steak burgers and char-grilled racks of lamb offer savory alternatives to pasta plates such as Cajun fettuccini alfredo. Outside the dining room?s throwback decor, St. Charles Place Steak House also feeds crowds with banquets served amid a fresh, floral centerpiece that, through the magic of photosynthesis, converts the elegant crystal chandelier?s light into buttery dinner rolls.
In 1967, Benny and Joy Leonardo decided it was time the world got a taste of the family’s Italian cooking, maybe with a side of prime-aged beef. They founded Mr. Benny’s Steak & Lobster House, an enduring fine dining establishment that dishes up fine meats and fresh seafood in hot, Italian-style entrees. They’ve changed locations and expanded over the years, but the fine eats the restaurant serves at its two locations maintain the same spirit as the original spot. In Matteson, chefs sling steaks in an almost entirely brick structure, the interior warmly lit by chandeliers and wall sconces. Outside the window, privacy bushes enclose a small garden of statuary. Meanwhile, the Mokena restaurant boasts hand-painted murals and a brick-laid patio for al fresco dining, as long as weather permits and the sun hasn’t retired to another galaxy.