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Rockford IL restaurant

I've been reading Chowhound for years and this is my first post.
I live in Rockford, IL and am often dismayed that there is not much information on locally owned restaurants in our area. Many visitors feel that we are a vast wasteland of chain eateries when in reality we have many wonderful restaurants here.

For example, this past weekend a friend and I found a new place and tried it out. Wonderful!

Sahara Palace
5621 Wansford Way
Rockford Illinois
Phone: 815-395-1112

The restaurant itself was small and lacked great atmosphere, however it was clean and the staff was very friendly, (and helpful).
Ordering and paying is done at the counter, the food is then brought out to you – the food arrived to our table quickly and was beautifully presented, (the hummos we ordered was decorated with fresh, chopped tomatoes, olive oil, parsley sprigs, and a few dashes of paprika).
We dined on a Saturday night – early on, about 6:00 and the weather was frigid; which may account for the lack of customers. There were, however, some customers calling in to place orders for carry-out.
We ordered the hummos, tabouleh, vegetarian falafil plate, and the kifta kabob dinner (the kabob came with Arabic salad and rice).I have to say that the hummos and falafil were the best I’ve ever had! The hummos was so fresh and flavorful that I had a difficult time sharing! The falafil was perfectly prepared; crispy on the outside and full of flavor on the inside – the combination of herbs and spices was amazing! I have had versions of these dishes prepared homemade by a friend who is from Jordan and the food I had at
Sahara Palace beat them hands down! The food at Sahara Palace surpasses that of the renowned Pita Inn in Skokie , IL and several of the authentic Arabic restaurants in Chicago . The tabouleh was light, crisp, and refreshing – you could tell that it was freshly made.
The kifta kabob was very tasty, a bit on the dry side, but in my experience that is the norm. The Arabic salad that came with the meal was just as delicious as the other dishes. And the pita bread, OH! to die for – so soft, warm, it was gobbled up in no time at all! The only disappointment with the whole meal was the rice that was served with the kabob dinner, it was merely plain, steamed rice. It was good for steamed rice, but I suppose I was looking for something more “authentic”.

Overall, our experience at Sahara Palace was a fantastic one. The food was simply amazing, the prices were reasonable, ($25 for all that we ordered – and the serving sizes were generous) and the staff was friendly. You cannot ask for better than that. I only hope
that people will read about the restaurant, such as I did, and decide to go! This, folks, is a GEM of a place – a long-needed addition to the hum-drum, chain-style restaurants that we have so many of in the Rockford area! Don’t let this one slip away!
By the way, did I mention that they offer a children’s menu (including chicken fingers) and carry-out services?!

If you are in the area and are a tabouleh fan, give it a try.


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  1. I am amazed by how many "national chains" have over run Rockford. The strip looks like either a "test market dream" or "foodie nightmare" depending on your point of view.

    About a year ago I was in Rockford and had to drive through downtown, it was lunch hour so I sought out a local diner. The place was literally a block or two from the court house and seemed like it was frozen in about 1954. Great sandwiches for CRAZY cheap prices. The cooks all seemed to be well past retirement age. The building was quite old too. I distinctly remember the restrooms were in a dungeon like basement.

    1 Reply
    1. re: renov8r

      That sounds like Parthenios that you lunched at.

    2. > I live in Rockford, IL and am often dismayed
      > that there is not much information on locally
      > owned restaurants in our area.

      The few times that Rockford is discussed, it's usually on the Midwest forum, rather than the Chicago Area forum where you may have been looking. For example, that's where you'll find these topics on Rockford:

      and these topics on Beloit:

      Thanks for posting - the best way to help others know what's available in your area is to post reports on local places (both good and bad)!

      2 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Your post made me laugh, you probably went to the Courthouse Cafe which has been a staple for judges, attorneys, and patrons of the courthouse since downtown became downtown LOL. They are well known for their basic comfort foods and their breakfasts.
        Come to think of it, I think Rockford is a breakfast town. Almost all of the family style type diners/restaurants serve an excellent breakfast and usually very inexpensive.
        I agree with you regarding the excess chain spots. From 90 west on State Street that is basically all you will see. There are a couple fast food places stuck in between the chains:
        Beef a Roo which is near Forest Plaza-fast food which is preferrable to McDs-salads are really good, everything made to order, very clean, but still fast food.
        Uncle Nicks which is closer to Alpine known for their gyros which are pretty good.
        There is also a Lino's Italian restaurant which is a local favorite around here (not mine) and they are always packed.
        Aunt Mary's which has pretty good food, the owner is terrific, waitstaff is okay. But it is clean and usually busy.
        Also closer to 90 is Hoffman House, one of the original restaurants when the brothers did actually own it.
        Family owned restaurants in this area are failing fast unfortunately. That is why I posted about the Sahara, I'm hoping that it will be around for a long time if satisfied customers let the word out.


        1. re: nsxtasy

          Thanks Nsxtasy,
          You are right, I was using the Chicago board. I will make sure to post on the midwest board.
          Unfortunately, most of the links you gave me were more about Beloit than Rockford, so I guess I'll just start reviewing every restaurant that I go to in the area. Hopefully I can get the word out about the good things in Rockford.

          Rockford Chow

        2. Thanks for the info.
          I live out in Marengo and often feel I am caught in the middle and find it hard to head out to Rockford blindly. I foy uhave any other great tips for Rockford and the surrounding area, please share.

          4 Replies
          1. re: grill_nutt

            Hey grill_nutt,
            I don't think you are the only one who hesitates driving through Rockford, the road grid has no rhyme or reason, there are many roads which have one name at the south end while having an entirely different name on the north end LOL.
            As someone who was raised in Rockford, moved out of state for college, married, divorced, and returned to Rockford after many years, I am slowly getting to know this city again.
            At first I thought it was a culinary desert here, now I am finding otherwise. When asked about good restaurants in Rockford I have found that most citizens will give you 3 restaurants which they rave about:
            Stockholm Inn
            These places, to me, are good but not great. Their diffinitive attribute is that Rockford loves them so they must be good. Rockford is stubborn that way.
            If you like pizza, the best I've found is a little place called Luigi's near state and Alpine the absolute best I've eaten in years. They have a dining area, not sure if they serve alcohol as I ususally do carry out.
            If you want a great meal with cocktails, great atmosphere, wonderful serve staff, and a fabulous menu try out the Olympic on Fulton and North Main- it is one of my favorites.
            If you like ribs, a sports type atmosphere, the Back Yard grill in Cherry Valley is wonderful, but be hungry because the amount of food you get is unbelievable.
            Breakfast food has to be the Sunrise restaurant on Harrison Avenue. Biscuits and gravy, denver omeletes are some of the best I've had. (My absolute favorite is in Portage, Wisconsin a little hole in the wall called "The Speedway" unbelievable food---all comfort the way I WISH my mom would have cooked.
            Another favorite is Garrett's on Perryville (it's affiliated with the Golf Shack) the appetizers are to die for (LOVE the artichoke and spinich dip) their sandwiches are inventive and delicious maybe on the pricey side but worth every penny.
            Hope these help,
            Rockford Chow

            1. re: rockfordchowhound

              The best barbecue around Rockford are out at the Smokehouse, a little bbq place attached to a gas station on the corner of Harrison and South Main. Everything is very good and you get a ton of food.

              Luigi's had a bar in the past, so I'm guessing they still offer alcohol. Their pizza is indeed very good, but I think the Capri is still my favorite pizza in town.

              1. re: worldcupfever

                I've heard the same thing about the Smokehouse, just not over that way very much. Has anyone been to Marc's Fusion Cafe on Charles St. ?

              2. re: rockfordchowhound

                Mmmm, Luigi's pizza.. I lived in Rockford for 25yrs, moved to Az last year, and Luigi's was one of my favorite pizza's in town. They had been in that back location, for as long as I can remember.
                Another of my favorite pizza's in Rockford, Villa de Roma on Harrision and 11thSt. The owner Tony and his staff make a (imo) the BEST stuffed pizza, unless you go to Lou Malneti's<<sp? in Chicago, and Villa's Stuffed pizza isn't exactly Chicago style, but is more like a BIG pie.(kinda like what Pizza Hut had back 20yrs ago called a Prizzazza, or something like that) Crust, sauce, toppings, lots of cheese, crust, sauce, cheese, topped with parm.
                Villa's stuffed pizza takes like a hour to cook, and if you get a large 5 topping, it's gotta be close to 4 to 5 lb pizza. Knife and fork required.
                Can't wait to come back and visit, and stop by Villa de Roma.

                And I found this site, looking for info on a old hamburger dive, out of business I think, that was located on S. Main St, called Mary's. She used to serve the Rockford Famous Mary Burger. I remember it was HUGE! Had to have been 3/4 of beef for a single.
                I remember when you walked in to the place there was a counter, and stools, and you would wait outside in line to get a burger and a ton of fries, served on a sheet of aluminum foil, bundled up, that looked like a 2lb Hershy Kiss. all for like $4.00.
                Anyone else remember this place? She had pics of local and even Chicago celebs, that had stacks of Mary Burgers, on the wall inside. And pics of local regulars and family members too. I miss that place

            2. So out of the blue I posted looking for restaurants in downtown Rockford, then did a search and this thread was posted--yesterday!!! Too bizarre. So any help Rockfordites?

              4 Replies
              1. re: aviva1

                Aviva, a few come to mind off the top of my head; of course, your choice depends largely on other factors: what are you in the mood to eat? are you dining solo or with others? what do you want to spend?

                Anyhow, my ideas:

                Kuma's: http://www.kumas-asian-bistro.com/
                Paragon: http://www.paragononstate.com/
                Octane: http://www.octane.net
                Irish Rose: http://www.irishrosesaloon.net/
                Brio: http://www.briorockford.com/
                Cru: http://www.cru509.com/

                After dinner, you can get good chocolates at Chocolat by Daniel ( http://www.chocolatbydaniel.com/ ) and very good beer (and pub grub and snacks) next door at Carlyle Brewing ( http://www.carlylebrewing.com/ ).

                1. re: RosemaryBread

                  It really depends on what you are looking for as Rosemary said.
                  I saw your post on the Chicago board and really don't recommend the Capri. Years ago it had fantastic food and the place was quite charming. It hasn't been updated in a long time and the last time we were there I swear they served us Stouffer's lasagne. And don't get me started on the bathrooms!
                  Rosemary has given you some good suggestions for downtown. My favorite is Brio or Cru, both perfect places for a night on the town.
                  Have fun!

                  Rockford chow

                  1. re: rockfordchowhound

                    Giordano's has best Chicago deep dish if aren't from area well worth a visit. Other unique experience is Stocholm Inn especilly breakfast.Perryville Rd has a japanese restraunt but the est are mostly large chains.

                2. re: aviva1

                  Best restaurants in Rockford (IMHO)

                  Der Rathskeller
                  Burrito Loco (on N. Rockton)
                  JMK Nippon's
                  Sahara Palace
                  Uncle Nick's (918 E. State)


                3. I was looking around the web and found a new Restaurant Directory it looks like it's growing and bringing on new restaurants pretty fast I think its worth a look it says it is for Rockford and the surrounding community and looks to be user friendly the web address is www.greatfoodrocksinil.com also there is a comment area for a restaurants you would like to see listed on there I left a couple of messages and actually got a response pretty cool anyway I hope this helps anyone looking for resaurants in the rockford and surrounding area.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Here4u

                    I love that Thunder Bay is listed on there as "fine dining". Good grief.

                  2. Is Joes Goose Island Shrimp House still open?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: DetectDave

                      I don't believe so - I know the place on Rockton is closed, and I don't think they moved.

                    2. Thanks for a great report on Sahara Palace. On your recommendation, we decided to try this place. The food was every bit as good as you said it would be. We cannot wait to go back again. Hard to believe it's in a little town like Rockford. We would highly recommend this place to anyone.

                      Sahara Palace
                      5621 Wansford Way
                      Rockford, IL 61109


                      1. I have to say, anyone mentioning Giordano's on this thread needs to re check the posting. Rockford pizza has nothing to do with deep dish or stuffed. Sam's does a pretty good Chicago style deep dish, but it is not their specialty, and Sam's in general is no longer my staple when I return to the area as it was growing up. Gerry's does a stuffed pizza, but not in the Chicago sense.

                        Francesco's does an excellent pizza, and depending on your taste does good italian dinners. I prefer it to Linos and Maria's. Many of these italian places in Rockford are now in the hands of second and third generation owners. Some are doing a good job upholding all the appropriate standards, some are not. Sam's, for example, has really gone down hill (and yes, I am specifically including the Riverside location in that statement). Gerry's has improved in my opinion, and Francesco's just outdoes them all. Capri I hear intends to improve their facilities. I can't speak for the pasta there, but my last pizza was up to par. Nunzio's has always been pretty solid for pizza, though not my favorite. Altamore's is great, but poorly located for me when I travel to town.

                        I will be in town this week for business and will have to try Luigi's. I was graduated from Rockford College in '89. Was it there then?

                        I have wanted to try the bistro places on East State near City Hall for a while. Which do you recommend?

                        Last thought. How does Papa Johns, Domino's, etc stay in business in a city like Rockford?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Pizzahound

                          I remember Luigi's being around as far back as 1991 or '92 but don't know how long before that it was there.

                          Papa Johns, Domino's and the like stay in business because of Rockford's love of mediocrity. These chains are voted "Best of Rockford" by the Register Star because they've got more advertising money to sink into the paper than Capri and Primo's do. It's just sickening, but it's the way it is.

                          Cru is about a block from City Hall, they've got a nice lunch. Kuma's is worth a visit too. As far as downtown pizza, Capri is about the only way to go.

                          1. re: worldcupfever

                            ... and don't forget KFC being voted "Best Chicken" in Rockford.

                            Thank goodness we're so close to I-90 and the rest of the world.

                        2. My two cents: We have lived in Rockford for nearly three years, after living in St. Louis. I find the food choices here mediocre with a few bright spots. The biggest shock to me was no comprehensive source for restaurant reviews. The newspaper does one review a week (.http://go.rrstar.com/gotoday/x1713650...). The site mentioned here (www.greatfoodrocksinil.com ) is defunct.

                          There seems to be a feeling here that no one ever moves TO Rockford and the locals all know where to go. Locals are eager to give recommendations, but we find that the quality varies widely, maybe due to changes in ownership/management of the "old favorites." The poster who said this is more of a breakfast town is right and we're happy about that because we are breakfast folks! We like trying new places, but lately all the new places are chains. Maybe that's because the "mom & pop's" get no attention.

                          A few favorites -- Kuma's on E State (downtown) for awesome Korean/Asian
                          Chen's on N. Main for Cantonese, but if you want "heat," go to Kuma's
                          Stockholm Inn for breakfast (the rest of the menu looks good too, we just can't go there and not order pancakes -- buttermilk or Swedes
                          )Aunt Mary's anytime but especially breakfast
                          JMK Nippon -- world-class Japanese, hibachi and sushi
                          Hoffman House -- newly remodeled to take it from 1970 to 1980, but the best Reuben and good salad bar
                          And, don't judge me solely on this, but if you must go "chain," go to Thunder Bay!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ridealong

                            Thunder Bay is a very limited chain. It's part of a group called Heart of America that also owns The Macine Shed, Johnny's Itlalian Steakhouse and a number of hotels in a few Midwestern states. We ate at Thunder Bay in Rockford this summer and found it just OK.

                          2. My family had a reunion on Rockton, IL and one of the highlights was to have breakfast at the Stockholm Inn. I had never had Swedish pancakes but I can highly recommend them. We had a seperate room for twenty of us. Service was great and the food was excellent. Give them a try.


                            1. I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned Marie's Pizza on Charles St. They make a great pizza every time! I see Luigi's mentioned quite a bit. Never had it but I will now.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: gastroloco

                                Is this Charles Street location owned by Maria's on the west side of Rockford?

                                Maria's Italian Restaurant
                                828 Cunningham St
                                Rockford, IL 61102-2866
                                (815) 968-6781

                                1. re: ngtybtnice

                                  No, they are not owned by the same people. Marie's is another family ownned business and they do great pizza consistantly.