Since 1976, La Majada Express has been serving Mexican cuisine that goes beyond the usual burritos and tacos (though they do those pretty well). Diners looking to try something new might start their meal with an order of guacamelon—guacamole with a shot of watermelon—or dig into Mexican chicken wings fried in cornmeal and covered in arbol salsa. For dinner, the house-specialty upside down pizza covers chorizo or adobo pork with cilantro, chihuahua cheese, green peppers, and oregano, while smokey Mexican-style ribs come smothered in a choice of spicy sauces in place of the traditional barbecue. Even the dessert menu offers up some unique offerings, including a fluffy mango mousse and a margarita pie made with tequila and triple sec and served on the rocks.
At Francesca’s Fiore, the 10th in the group of Francesca’s restaurants sprawled across Illinois's Chicagoland—as well as four other states—tongues embark on a culinary journey, sampling the cuisines of Rome, Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. Executive chef and owner Scott Harris opened his first Francesca’s eatery—Mia Francesca—on Clark Street in 1992, to the rave reviews of both critics and patrons praising it for its simple, rustic cooking, unpretentious elegance, and lack of black holes. He later hired award-winning chefs Kevin Ives and Massimo Salatino to help oversee his other restaurants and create the weekly changing menus that are often handwritten. The chefs and their teams may craft starters such as tricolor bruschetta and risotto, or heartier fare such as pizza, rigatoni primavera, sautéed chicken, and roasted salmon.
The Junction Diner was born from a child's imagination. Kate and Brad Wahl's son Connor had just turned 1 and received a wooden train set. He played for well over an hour, delighting his parents, who had been searching for something that could keep their son's attention. The next step seemed as natural as a locomotive's forward momentum: they opened a train-themed restaurant to cater to parents and their kids.
Iniside The Junction Diner, a long counter wraps around the room's center like a winding train track. Diners sit on either side, and servers move up and down the middle, carrying plates of food with playful, train-inspired names. The aptly titled "Lil Conductor's Menu" delights kids with mini burgers and cheese quesadillas, while older diners peruse "Box Car Burgers" made with certified Black Angus beef and "Junction Wraps" including the buffalo chicken, topped in buffalo sauce, veggies, and a choice of ranch dressing or blue cheese. Near the dining area, a large table with interactive model trains keeps kids busy while their parents finish meals and debate the merits of steam-, coal-, and windsail-powered locomotives.
Inventive fusion dishes, like the jalapeno- and lime-layered Mexican sushi roll, offer unexpected tastes at Bistro Sake. Other dishes, like the Unforgettable Salmon, shine in their simplicity and tradition. The restaurant's hibachi table, meanwhile, sizzles with beef and chicken, while udon noodles hoist crispy bites of tempura shrimp. Delicately lifting spicy slices of Japanese steak, or plucking pieces of fish and roe, chopsticks at Bistro Sake deliver a diverse array of fresh, authentic flavors to discerning palates.
Athena Uslander used to be a structural engineer, but today she's a baker. If you asked Athena what the two professions have in common, she'd likely say attention to detail. If you asked her customers at Athena’s Silverland Desserts, however, they'd be too busy chewing a mouthful of cookie, rice treat, or brownie to answer. Since 1983, Athena has helmed the ovens at her bakery in Elmwood Park. Her signature brownie recipe has garnered her some national attention, including an appearance on Oprah and The Today Show. Now, customers nationwide call in or hire a banner plane to put in their orders for the confections that Athena and her staff make from all-natural ingredients—free of trans fats, additives, and preservatives.