Hailing from humble beginnings in a renovated Mississippian gas station, McAlister's Deli has revolutionized the concept of fast food with healthy fare recognized by Parents in 2009. Premium ingredients, such as Black Angus roast beef and black forest ham, pile upon stuffed potatoes or artisan bread, sating hungers and silencing stomachs before they recite bank-account numbers. As patrons wait for servers to deliver meals, they sip signature sweet tea, swirled together onsite daily from pure cane sugar and a rainforest-certified black-tea blend as dictated by a closely guarded recipe.
The Village of Park Forest lays claim to being one of the first postwar planned communities. In 1948, as World War II veterans were looking to make peacetime lives, the village’s pioneers built affordable housing and an accessible road system for a diverse, welcoming community dotted with green parks and tail-finned trees. Today those trees have grown into a mature canopy, and the village has taken steps to maintain its legacy while seeking to reinvent itself for the modern era. In 2000, the Metropolitan Planning Council awarded the village a Burnham Award for its downtown redevelopment. The revitalized downtown area features a variety of spaces where community members can come together, including its Dining on the Green meeting and banquet facility, which overlooks the village green's verdant pasture decorated with ornamental flowers, a gazebo, and sculptures that do not animate and roam the streets with each full moon.
Mario Dovalina and Edwin Ptak established the original Pepe's Mexican Restaurant in 1967 in order to satisfy diners craving authentic Mexican dishes. With more than 40 locations in the Chicagoland area and northwestern Indiana and traditional eats that are sold across the United States and even in Mexico, Pepe's appeases a wide audience with its hearty options. Appetizers such as chips and fresh guacamole made daily or chili con queso ready bellies for veggie burritos bursting with seasonal vegetables. Flat-screen TVs broadcasting sports games or ballerina-wrestling matches dot the spacious walls at many of the chain’s casual eateries, keeping diners in their seats long after their shrimp, pork, or vegetable fajitas are finished.
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.
In 1988, Auntie Anne's founders Anne and Jonas Beiler purchased a Pennsylvania farmers'-market stand, where they experimented with dough until they created a pretzel that seemed to strike the perfect chord with their customers. Today, at their more than 1,350 locations worldwide, the pretzel makers still hand roll the original recipe but have added to the menu with inventive options such as the eight signature dipping sauces. The team constantly explores new uses for the pretzel dough, such as wrapping it around hot dogs and slicing it into bite-size nuggets. To transform the snack into a meal, they accompany it with specialty drinks, including frozen-lemonade desserts.
When not twisting dough, Auntie Anne's team partners with the national charitable organization Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which raises funds to fight childhood cancer. Auntie Anne's also reaches out to the community through fundraising opportunities.
Live jazz music swirls throughout Flavor Restaurant on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings each week, blending with the sweet and spicy aromas of Southern breakfast and dinner specialties. The restaurant conjures made-from-scratch dishes from family recipes, and specialties include Grandma Haywood's blackened catfish and eggs, pecan-stuffed chicken, and sweet-potato pancakes with mandarin-orange butter. Breakfast triumphs over the sun on select jazz nights, when diners can conclude their evenings with menu items typically reserved for sunrise. The dessert menu punctuates meals with Southern classics including New Orleans bread pudding, and adds Southern kicks such as peach cobbler.