HotBox Pizza’s cooks adorn three varieties of hand-tossed dough canvases with six savory sauces, cheeses, and 26 toppings to create a menu of dine-in, takeout, and delivery pies. The signature HotBox combines double spicy pepperoni and banana peppers, and Big Al’s Fredo fights off pernicious poultry cravings with a combination of chicken, roma tomatoes, fresh spinach, and banana peppers. Aspiring pizza architects can blueprint their own pies by laying down traditional, thin, or multigrain foundations and selecting from six varieties of sauce-carpeting. Doughy disks simmer with mozzarella, ricotta, Wisconsin cheddar, or fontina cheeses to hold down up to four toppings such as pepperoni and artichoke hearts. Circle-eaters can also save room in their knapsacks or hollow shoe-heels for fresh salad and bundles of breadsticks that come with nacho-cheese, pizza, ranch, or garlic sauce, and wash down stubborn bites with refreshing slurps of soda.
The sun sets over the Chicago skyline, burnishing the tops of the edifices and casting their reflections on Lake Michigan. But instead of lounging on a boat in the water, guests are sitting in the bright blue dining room of AJ's Burgers & Beef, gazing at a mural of the city's downtown buildings. As natives of the Chicago suburbs, the owners wanted to bring big-city eats to this college town, for which they've earned several awards from local publications. To this end, Vienna beef hot dogs are piled high with bright green relish, yellow mustard, sport peppers, and celery salt, and italian beef sandwiches are soaked in au jus and topped with giardiniera for a more authentic Windy City meal than a grilled pair of Air Jordans. Signature plates include crispy seasoned waffle fries and an Angus-beef burger slathered in housemade garlic sauce.
There's plenty of room for storing popsicles within Marco’s Pizza's freezer, as the chefs opt for fresh ingredients when crafting the pizzeria staples on their menu. Their hands turn white with flour as they roll out dough for classic and thin-crust pizzas each day, all while breathing in the savory wafts of tomato sauce bubbling over a flame. To create the special-recipe sauce, the chefs assemble imported spices and three breeds of vine-ripened tomatoes. A blend of three cheeses, also never frozen or preserved between the pages of a thick book, top slathers of sauce and provide a soft bed for toppings such as steak, feta, and banana peppers.
At School House of Chili, which is located on the campus of Purdue University, cooks simmer seven varieties of chili. Recipes range from the vegetarian chili, which contains black beans and sweet potatoes, to the Tailgate chili, which contains brisket, ground turkey, and bacon. The restaurant's build-your-own chili bowl concept allows diners to choose a base—rice, mac ’n’ cheese, and Fritos are a few options—before adding on a choice of chili and toppings such as sour cream or habanero peppers. Chili dogs, nachos, and sandwiches round out the menu, and sips of beer wash it all down.
On Sunday mornings, Baja Peninsula's cozy interior is home to diners eating dishes of homemade corned-beef hash crowned with poached eggs and stacks of lemon-ricotta pancakes topped with fresh strawberries and whipped butter. At midday, guests graze on steak quesadillas with sour cream and fresh pico de gallo and twirl forkfuls of shrimp fettuccine alfredo into giant, edible knots. In the evenings, Baja Peninsula's chefs lovingly churn out roasted herb chicken breast, seafood risotto dotted with jumbo shrimp, and slabs of cheesecake made fresh daily.
Misty and Josh Barnett, owners of Three J's Pizza, named their pizza joint after their three kids, Jeremiah, Joslyn, and Josiah. The family-minded eatery serves everything from the 10-topping Jaegar pizza to pastas, meatball sandwiches, homemade breadsticks, and cinnamon sticks. The kitchen staff even encourages customers to submit their own creations, whether they're topping combinations for pizza or blueprints for meatball-made houses.