Diners can practically hear the gulf tides lapping on a Mexican beach as they read the menu at Burrito Mex, whose myriad seafood dishes feature ingredients ranging from red snapper and octopus to oysters and shrimp. Whether fried, breaded, or drenched with spicy diabla sauce, the aquatic creations stop stomachs from rumbling loud enough to trigger lightning. Back on land, the kitchen also crafts traditional Mexican entrees such as burritos filled with carne asada steak, al pastor pork, or—for the more adventurous—tongue. To wash down their feasts, patrons can sip fruity margaritas or feel like powerful diplomats by clinking bottles of domestic and imported beer.
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.
For the third year in a row, Country Throwdown stampedes into wide-open outdoor venues with a dream team of current and future country-music superstars. With 7 million records sold and a stable of top-10 hits, rowdy honky-tonk wrangler Gary Allan headlines the festival with raucous energy. Firing off hits such as “Tough Little Boys” and “Get Off the Pain,” Allan allures with outlaw swagger and a voice as deep and rugged as Sam Elliott’s wallet. Rodney Atkins, known for monster-truck hits such as “Watching You” and “Cleaning This Gun,” performs with an everyguy grin that could charm the britches off a clothesline.
For more than 30 years, Pop's Italian Beef & Sausage has served up a Chicago-centric menu of beef sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs. Silence empty-belly rumblings with one of Pop's delectable beef sandwiches ($4.19–$6.35), such as the italian beef, heaped with mounds of succulent, thin-sliced beef soaked in special spices and natural gravy. Windy-city visitors can delight in the classic Chicago hot dog and the savory polish sausage (each around $2.29–$2.99, depending on location), each nestled underneath mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickles, and the looming shadow of oscillating skyscrapers. Other handheld fare includes the meatball and corned-beef sandwiches, which can be upgraded with a variety of extras, including red sauce, sweet peppers, hot mix (all free on sandwiches, extra as a side), feta cheese, and bacon. A fleet of made-from-scratch soups and salads is also available, and includes such options as the hearty cream-of-chicken rice soup and the large garden salad ($2.09–$3.99).
Falafelji’s development is nearly a century in the making. Owner Bilal Beiram traces the genesis of his Middle Eastern restaurant back to 1920, when his grandfather learned the trade of crafting falafel in a Middle Eastern port city. From this humble beginning, the grandfather became a globetrotting chef, later retiring and opening his own falafel shop, where Bilal started to help out at 10 years old and continued to do so during summer breaks. Inspired by his grandfather, Bilal infuses the menu of Falafelji—which means "falafel seller"—with authentic Middle Eastern flavors. The dishes, which range from vegetarian falafel sandwiches to kofta kebabs with minced lamb and beef, are available for delivery and takeout.
Outside, snow falls, wind rattles leaf-less branches, and winter blankets the landscape. Then the crack of the bat rings out. That sound of summer is available all year long at Stella's, which offers heated indoor batting cages in the winter and open-air outdoor cages in the summer. An onsite bats and gloves shop outfits players with stacks of Easton and Wilson A2000 mitts and Louisville Slugger and DeMarini bats.
As the sight of pop flies and line drives keep summer always within reach, so too do the aromas of Vienna hot dogs, bratwursts, and burgers wafting through the air. Stella's restaurant also provides ball players and their families with homemade Italian ice and soft-serve ice cream. To celebrate turning another year older or finally getting zombie Babe Ruth on the team, Stella's offers party packages that include good eats, game tokens, and batting cages.