A group of bloggers from across the U.S. and Canada have teamed up to profile some favorite local eateries as part of a "Blog Hop" presented by the Collective Bias Social Fabric Community. I threw my hat into the ring to represent Lake County, Illinois - a vast area in the far Northern Suburbs of Chicago, and the semi-hidden home of Rock Father HQ. In fairness, there's no way I could pull off an assortment for the whole county (too many towns, too many great places), so I zeroed-in on 10 Favorites - each holding a special place in my heart for an assortment of reasons. Are they "the best?" That's subjective, but these are some personal favorites... and you'll find that I lean toward a specific type of Chicago-style fare...
An appropriate start for my first list of local eateries, Austin's is a place where you can grab a steak or a burger, then check out a great concert. The food is good, and the rock is mighty. I've seen bands like CLUTCH and HELLYEAH there (even blogged it), my friends from DIRGE WITHIN have rocked the place, and a host of others have taken the stage. Upcoming shows include SCOTT WEILAND (STONE TEMPLE PILOTS, VELVET REVOLVER) and country star CHRIS CAGLE.
BULLDOGS Grill (Grayslake & Wauconda)
While the Wauconda location came first, it's Grayslake that we've made occasional stops at. Occasional because the burgers are GIGANTIC, and everything comes in huge portions. A retro-themed restaurant with a pop-culture infusion, Bulldogs is cool - and so is their Ice Cream, brought in from Wisconsin.
Pictured Below: Bulldogs in Grayslake - Addie gets a Vanilla Ice Cream Cone, Daddy gets the Hillbilly Fries and the Double-D Burger [Note: NOT consumed in one sitting].
HILLSIDE Restaurant (804 Barron Blvd, Grayslake, IL)
A basic, no-frills family restaurant that's been around forever, this is a favorite for my oldest daughter, Addie. She loves the "Mickey Mouse Pancakes," and tends to mention them everytime we drive by the place. My favorite: The Gyros Omlette.
JIMANO'S Pizzeria (Locations around Lake County and Beyond)
I'm a pizza snob. I've had countless pies from countless restaurants and carry-out joints, and Jimano's (formerly Jimmy's) is my local favorite. I like the Double-Dough, while my wife prefers the Thin Crust. Their Stuffed is great, too, and they offer some tasty sandwiches and pasta. For some reason, I still cannot get my almost-4-year-old to try pizza. That's a shame.
PORTILLO'S (221 E Townline Rd, Vernon Hills, IL - locations elsewhere)
Portillo's is a Chicago legend. Period. Their Italian Beef and Sausage (I get the "combo") are phenomenal, and they have a wide assortment of other items on the menu as well. The "Gangster" motif of many locations (Vernon Hills included) is a much-appreciated nod to our heritage here in Illinois, and Chicagoland in particular. With the addition of their Barnelli's Pasta Bowl into the mix, I'm always tempted to try the pasta, but always fall back on the old favorites. The little ones like the Chicken Strips.
SAMMIE'S Chicago Style Sandwiches (Lake Villa, Grayslake, Round Lake Beach)
Sandwiches galore - burgers, chicken, Gyros, etc. - Sammie's is in the Vienna Hot Dog Hall of Fame. I've eaten at all three locations and the service and food are pretty consistent.
SCOTTY'S Hot Dogs (1016 N. Cedar Lake Road, Round Lake Beach, IL)
It's said to be the oldest business in Round Lake, so it's surprising that I've driven by this place countless times, yet never ate there until earlier this year at the recommendation of a friend. The Gyros is plentiful, and a suitable substitute for my beloved South Side Gyros that no one in Lake County can seem to duplicate. Great prices here, and a vast menu.
TACOS EL NORTE (Various Locations)
I don't know what's up with this place and the multiple websites for each city (I've noticed several restaurant chains that seem to have "factions"), but having visited Tacos El Norte in Round Lake Beach, Gurnee, and Waukegan over the years, I find it's a great place for affordable, legit Mexican food.
WILDBERRY Pancakes and Cafe (1783 N. Milwaukee Ave, Libertyville, IL)
Wildberry in Libertyville (also, locations in Schaumburg and Chicago) has been voted "Best Pancakes in Chicago" - and for good reason - they're fantastic, as is everything else we've ever had there. Wildberry sources local and/or organic ingredients when available, and the results are impressive. Breakfast and Lunch only here, so don't come for dinner or the doors will be closed.
WILDFIRE Steaks, Chops, Seafood (235 Parkway Drive, Lincolnshire, IL)
A bit on the upscale angle, I've taken my wife to Wildfire for a "date" in the past. Located right near the Regal Cinemas and Viper Alley, it's convenient to catch a movie or a live band after dinner. I'm a meat-eater, so their steaks delight me. My wife goes Veggie, and they have plenty of options for that as well.
Pictured Below: A recent dinner at Wildfire - Salad, Filet Minion, Spinach Dip, Apple Martini.
Do you live in Lake County? Any restaurants that I should feature at some point in the future?
Share your thoughts below...
About James: A work-from-home Dad with a pair of daughters (Released in 2009 and 2012) - James Zahn is THE ROCK FATHER™.
Bringing over two decades of experience in the entertainment industry into the family realm, Zahn is an Illinois-based Entertainment Writer, Media Personality and Commentator.
He serves as a PBS KIDS VIP (Very Involved Parent), has made guest appearances as a member of the Sprout Kindness Crew, was featured in the Father's Day issue of Lake County Magazine, and is a former contributor to Chicago Parent.
Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for the likes of FEAR FACTORY, DIRGE WITHIN, PRODUCT OF HATE, ARCANIUM and others, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands.
James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Blogcritics, Fangoria, Starlog, The River Cities' Reader. Slowfish, Oil, and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360, and in 2013 he's been quoted on CNN, Babble, The Huffington Post, and The Good Men Project, in addition to making appearances on ABC News and WGN.
Learn more here.