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.
Grill Marx's menu is composed of dishes made with fresh ingredients, such as meats culled from Tischler's Market in Plainfield, and using filtered reverse-osmosis water. Appetizers include the hand-pattied Louisiana-style crab cakes, which are sweetly kissed with a cajun remoulade mayo ($9), and the BLT baked clams, which play peek-a-boo under a blanket of tomatoes, bacon, and herb cracker crumbs ($9). Noontime noshers can wrap mitts around a bevy of juicy burgers and sandwiches, such as the black eye, a double-layered rib eye topped with mozzarella on an egg bun ($9), or stab forks into Strawberry Fields Forever ($9), a baby spinach salad decorated with fresh strawberries, mandarin oranges, candied pecans, and lemon poppyseed dressing. Evening entrees include lemon chicken parmesan sidekicked with artichoke hearts and fresh spinach ($15), and an 8-ounce hand-cut filet mignon plated with sliced portabella mushrooms ($24). Grill Marx augments its atmosphere with seasonal beers on tap and the invisible rays of WiFi.
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.
Cuisine Type: Mediterranean and Indian Casual Dining
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Number of Tables: 11–25
Parking: Parking lot
Most popular offering: Fusion Plate
Delivery / Take-out Available: Takeout Only
Outdoor Seating: Yes
Pro Tip: It takes time to prepare fresh food so call ahead to reserve seating for groups of 4 or more.
Madi's chefs recreate the food they grew up with for a new neighborhood of diners. Their childhood favorites include simple things such as spiced lentil soup and more complex dishes including roasted kebabs and curries. Shafique, the restaurant's head of operations, recommends the butter chicken with biryani in particular, a dish he says sets the entire menu apart from the competition. He suggests following up the signature dish with some kulfi, a creamy ice cream in flavors of mango or pistachio.
If a visit to one of Southern Belle's restaurants feels a lot like coming home, it might have something to do with the hearty family traditions behind the kitchen's down-home breakfast and lunch dishes. “My father was in pancake houses all his life,” says owner Steve Fotos. Today, many of the same recipes used by Steve's father help populate a menu of hearty comfort foods that includes a poached-egg and sausage benedict smothered in country gravy and french toast stuffed with cinnamon apples, strawberries and pecans, or blueberries and bananas. But while the country-fried-steak or smoked-sausage skillets are tempting, the expansive menu offers options for diets of all kind, pairing fluffy egg whites with strawberries, granola, and multigrain toast and swapping out regular maple syrup for bottles that are low-calorie, sugar-free, or simply sealed shut. Photos of farms and pastoral images smile down upon diners as they dig in and gently remind them to inquire about the restaurant's seasonal specials, which range from summertime salads with sun-ripened veggies to bowls of homemade wintertime chili.