Eye On Illinois: As Illinois reopens, let’s build a road map to amazing meals

What’s for dinner?

With Illinois “fully open” as of Friday and the state pushing its $6 million “time for me to drive” tourism campaign, meant to encourage Illinois road trips, there’s lots of talk about reengaging with favorite activities and destinations, such as a full-capacity Cubs or White Sox game, roller coasters and water parks, world-class museums and more.

Taking nothing away from those discussions, I want to focus on a specific subset: What Illinois restaurants are worth the journey? And even more directly, what menu items truly stand out?

I’m posing that question to readers with an eye on sharing responses as space allows over the next several weeks. But to get the culinary gears turning, we’ll start with a few from my personal list.

No trip to northeastern Lake County is complete without a stop at The Shanty in Wadsworth. Anything made with Lonely Olive Tree olive oil is fantastic, but on a menu rife with signature dishes the most accessible standout is an appetizer: whiskey shrimp, flamed in a Jack Daniel’s cream sauce and served over garlic toast points with sautéed vegetables. (And don’t skip a stop at the adjoining Captain Porky’s Seafood & Barbeque.)

I don’t think deep dish pizza gets any better than Pequod’s. Although I’ve only visited the original Morton Grove location, the Chicago restaurant also gets rave reviews. Toppings are a personal preference, but despite 22 options, the sausage and mushroom combo remains my favorite.

A close second is the deep dish at The Silo in Lake Bluff (try the seafood or four-cheese macaroni and bacon), but in the interest of variety, consider the Idaho nachos. You choose to have chili or taco meat tossed with nacho and cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, all topping a bed of sidewalk fries (which are deep-fried baked potato pieces sprinkled with Parmesan, available as a stand-alone item or topped with cheddar and bacon).

Arthur’s Garden Deli has restaurants in Rock Island, Sterling and Dixon, but the one that suits my driving habits is in Rock Falls, and I always order the No. 8 sandwich: ham, pepperoni and mozzarella. These subs are served hot by default, a treat no matter the outside temperature.

Other dishes I would go out of my way to order again include the soups made from scratch at Baby Bull’s in Pontiac, the fresh cookies at Klein’s Market Bakery in Galena and the margherita flatbread at The Lone Buffalo in Ottawa.

There are dozens of other favorites, and your tastes may vary. But in the spirit of celebrating the things that make Illinois worth exploring, I want to hear from you: What’s for dinner, breakfast or dessert? It’s time for us to drive – and dine.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.