Happy House Hot Dogs boasts an environment as cheery as its moniker. Rainbow umbrellas shade picnic tables that are ringed by greenery and flowers, and a red-and-white striped awning hangs over colorful window boxes. The vibrant décor is one way the eatery stands out from other hot dog stands, which are typically made of recycled toothpicks and rubber cement. Another is the sizable menu. Customers sift through more than 40 main dishes and sides, among them the Slaw Dog, a favorite of co-owner Jan that features his homemade slaw. Another of Jan’s chosen eats, the Texas beef sandwich, overflows with thin slices of Italian beef, nacho cheddar cheese, and the restaurant’s popular chili.
John & Tony's Restaurant exudes all that is an upscale steakhouse: aged steaks, live music, and opulent décor. Master chef Carlos Hernandez dazzles tastebuds with a menu of seafood infused with the sweetness of pineapple or the zing of lemon, native Midwestern beef aged at least 21 days, and more than 11 styles of saucy pasta. Meanwhile, live music performances keep eardrums humming with the sounds of jazz, blues, classic rock, and open mic nights.
Hawthorne's Backyard's culinary architects animate the American fare, such as burgers, ribs, and roasts, depicted on the menu. An appetizer of loaded chili cheese fries, which swim in green onions and sour cream ($5.99), can prep palates for an appointment with a hearty entree. Momma's pot-roast sandwich, a pulled-pork tenderloin cooked in homemade barbecue sauce and set inside a hoagie bun, frolics across taste-bud territory ($8.50), and the backyard double cheeseburger dually satiates meat and dairy yearnings ($10.50). A full slab of signature baby-back ribs comes to tables drenched in barbecue sauce and, like a subpoena from a grandmother, is served with cinnamon apples and sweet-potato fries ($18.99).
Boston's Old North Church is famous for being the site of the "One if by land, and two if by sea" signal that announced the British's arrival during the Revolutionary War. If only everyone had sat down for a plate of blueberry pancakes, the whole thing might have been averted. Luckily, a Chicagoland building modeled after that famous locale stands ready to remedy that oversight. Despite its grand inspiration, the Olde North Pancake House feels more like a friend's living room than a historic church. Wood paneled walls enclose the cozy space, and a brick fireplace warms visitors as they sip the restaurant's signature coffee and dig into hearty comfort food.
True to its name, the Olde North Pancake House specializes in flavorful hotcakes. Those breakfast staples are cooked up from special buttermilk batter, which is poured onto the griddle on its own or filled with ingredients ranging from sweet blueberries to crunchy pecans. Other morning fare arrives in the form of delicate, jelly-filled crepes, or fresh biscuits topped with homemade sausage gravy. As the day goes on, the cooks shift their attention to lunch, serving half-pound burgers and soups. Dinner, meanwhile, brings all-you-can eat shrimp, steaks, and a special fish fry on Fridays.
Every meal at La Alianza Restaurant begins the same way. A basket of house-made tortilla chips, usually with the heat of the oven still on them, arrives at the table. That's usually where the similarities end, though. Sometimes, a bowl of spicy red salsa or fresh guacamole accompanies the chips. Appetizers may then follow, or for diners, they may opt to straight for the enticing array of entrees, which all feature a blend of authentic Mexican flavors with a bit of creative cooking. Dishes range from meaty dishes such as mesquite grilled lamb to lighter fare such as red snapper slathered in spicy salsa with a side of pineapple-infused rice. Throughout meals, the staff keep pitchers of sangria and 16-ounce margaritas flowing to wash down the hearty eats.
And when mouths aren't full of food, La Alianza’s owners encourage them to take up singing. They host participatory events in their karaoke bar, where technique matters less than enthusiasm and a killer stage name.