Cheap, good lunches in Buffalo Grove, Wheeling, Vernon Hills, et al.?
First-time caller, long-time listener. I'm looking for some decent lunches not more than about $8/entree in what I'll call the midfarnorthcentral suburbs: Buffalo Grove, Wheeling, Vernon Hills, northern Arlington Heights, Deerfield, Lincolnshire, Deer Park, etc. Top-notch sandwiches would be great, as would good Mexican, Italian beef (other than Portillos, which I know and like), pizza-by-the-slice, Japanese, Liechtensteinian food, whatever. Local chains that everyone else may already be sick of are fine -- I'm new to the area and may not know them (except for the big Pizza joints like Gino's East).
Sweet Tomatoes has a place in Wheeling and you might want to try that. If you are not familiar with Sweet Tomatoes, it is a set-price all you care to eat self-serve buffet specializing in salads (all sorts of ingredients for you to make your own or select from 3-4 mixed, dressed ones offered), soups (always 4-5 different varieties, all very tasty, and 1 or 2 chilis), focaccia (3-4 different types - asiago and garlic, cheese and tomatoes, vegetables and cheese), side dishes (mac & cheese, pasta, hot veggies), and desserts (chocalate lava cake, self-serve ice cream machine, fruits, etc.) Lunch is about $8.50 plus tax (does not include soft drinks). Same menu at dinner but slightly higher price. We go for the salads and soups alone! Check out their website for street location and current menu (changes every month).
Ok, here's my take on what to do in this area. I've been working up in Northbrook right around Sanders / 294 for about a year and a half, and it's a little bit of food culture shock for me since I'm a city kinda person. I work in a big office, and have access to a few minds that I trust in the way of lunch, so I will toss out places they've recommended as well, but I will try and denote if I haven't been, or did not like it. These are just my opinions on places, ymmv, of course. One thing that you might have to get used to depending on where you're from: Up here, you gotta pay up. I'm used to a hot dog and fries being 99c. Up here, you're looking at 4.00 to start. Most of these recs will skew to thie side of best value, as I cook at home a LOT, and tend to scoff at
average food for high prices. If I can make it better at home for 1/3 the cost, it pisses me off. Ok, so I guess I'll just start, and see where this goes -
Yes, Portillo's seems to be the gold standard up this way, but I have found a few standby joints:
Cookers Red Hots
469 Lake Cook Road
Standard grease joint. Beef is ok, bordering on good. Gyros is ok, bordering on good. Their fries are EXCELLENT. Here's what I do at Cookers:
Monday is the gyros special. Order it with extra sauce, and WELL DONE fries. It will run about 5.40. Remember, ask for the fries WELL DONE.
Tuesday is the Beef sammich special. Beef w/ peppers, and fries will run about 5.50. Remember, ask for the fries WELL DONE.
I'm not a big on fries, but cookers fries are EXCELLENT. Thay are the hand cut/skin on type. Oh, and the sammiches above, are pretty big. The beef is a tad thicker cut than portillos, and definitely different, but it's still pretty good. I prefer Portillo's beef, but Cookers is not BAD at all, and the fries are fantastic.
195 W. Dundee Rd.
Buffalo Grove, IL
Many swear by the Dengeo's gyros. It's ok if you ask me. You'll be better off trying one of their half lb burgers. Fries are nothing special. About every two weeks, there is a group I work with that goes there for the 1/2 lb burgers and swears by them. ONe person I trust said the beef was just as good as Portillo's last week when he took one for the team, and tried it.
The Dog Walk
626 N Milwaukee Ave
Prospect Heights, IL 60070
This place is in that mall on the W side of Milwaukee just south of Willow. It's in the far SW corner of the entire mall. This place offers standard discount grease, but also offers one of the best "totally wrong" things I have ever had in my life: The Gyro Burger. It's basically a standard char-grilled 1/4 lb patty topped with american cheese, sliced gyros meat, gyros sauce, onions and tomato. Add hot giardiniera. Go try this thing. You will be amazed at how well it works. I was the guinea pig for this one for our office. Let's just say, that every two weeks or so, we order about 15 of them. Once one person says they are going, then everybody jumps on board. Addictive, wrong, and tasty as hell. Their french fries taste like MCD's fries before they switched to vegetable oil. This is a grease place like the one I'm used to from the hood. My normal order - gyro burger with hot giardiniera, and a pizza puff. The fries are pretty good, but again, I'd rather have a pizza puff than an order of fries, and let's face it, If you're gonna eat a gyro burger, you might as well go all out, and wash it down with a pizza puff. They also offer a sammich called a beef-o. Cheeseburger topped w italian beef, bq sauce, and giardiniera. Never had one. doubt I will. I know two people in the office who have had one, and they bopth agreed that the gyro burger was worlds better.
Ira's Hot Dogs
873 Sanders Rd
Northbrook, IL 60062
Overpriced garbage. I work closest to Ira's than the others I've listed by far. Ira's is literally a 3 min drive. I've been here for 1.5 yrs, and been to Ira's twice. Nuff said. As Always, YMMV, but I think Ira's is just horrible.
I hear people screaming about Charlie Beinlich's, and Hackney's burgers all the time. Remember, this is just my opinion. Ok here goes: I think they are both overpriced, and overhyped. I think ppl go there just because they've heard so many other people say they are the best. I've never been one to go along with the herd, especially when it comes to food. I find that too many people I know think average food is great because they can't cook for themselves, and just don't know any better. Anyway, for the 10.00 you'd spend on Beinlich's or Hackney's (and that would be MINIMUM 10.00, mind you - tax and tip not included
)I'd rather spend it at Market Square. Market square is a standard diner that serves up 1/2 lb hand formed burgers, and grills them how you ask for them. I go on Tuesdays only for the Split Pea soup. Cup of Soup, burger, fries, soft drink + tip will probably cost around 10-11 bux total, out the door. I normally do a burger, a patty melt, or a turkey rueben. (They roast turkeys in house. Turkey sandwiches are made with real thanksgiving turkey breast.) For a sit down diner type meal, this place really will hit the spot for the price. I can only vouch for the split pea soup on Tuesdays. All other soups I've tried from there are the standard food service types. My co-workers also like the navy bean, and tomato. I stick with split pea ONLY. Many of my coworkers agree that Mkt Sq is a far better value than Hackney's and the burgers are just as good if not better. A few say that Dengeo's 1/2 lb burger is even better than Mkt Sq.
Charlie Beinlich's Food and Tap
290 Skokie Blvd
Northbrook, IL 60062
241 S. Milwaukee Ave.
Wheeling, IL 60090
Market Square Restaurant
600 West Dundee Road
Wheeling, Illinois 60090-2673
I'm all about the pancakes at both Mkt square, and Rise and Dine on Milwaukee. I usually go with a plain omelet from MKT Sq. It's basically three scrambled eggs, hash browns, and two pancakes for 4.16 (tax included.) I get it to go, and pay 5.25 out the door tip included. THEY ALWAYS do carry out right. syrup, butter, hot sauce, knife/fork/S&P, ketchup napkins included with order EVERY TIME. Rise N DIne is a little pricier, and I've had some issues with carry out orders.
Rise N Dine Pancake Cafe
102 S. Milwaukee Ave Wheeling IL 60090
If you can get to Szechuan Kingdon, you will be well rewarded by their buffet, and their menu items are really good as well:
545 Waukegan Rd, Northbrook, IL 60062-1252
Other spots that I frequent more often since they are closer to me.
4145 Dundee Rd
Northbrook, IL 60062
China North (small buffet for lunch
847 Sanders Rd
Northbrook, IL 60062
Wonton Express (my current favorite outside of Szechuan Kingdom
2055 Milwaukee Ave
Riverwoods, IL 60015
I am Siam in Wheeling is the best I've come across so far. Decent lunch specials.
1 Huntington Ln
Wheeling, IL 60090
For the price, I think the best play is at Benihana. they used to have 1.00 nigiri, and 2.00 rolls for lunch pricings (which was GREAT!! bigger selection than you think) but they did away with it about 6 months ago. Now they've introduced new lunch specials with comparable deals. It's decent sushi. Rarely GREAT, but consistently decent. Also, go for ther grill side for an interesting lunch for around 15.00. Sometime's it's worth it when you get burnt out on grease. Plus, it's different, and adds a little spark of excitement in the day.
It's a Mexican wasteland up here. Just deal with it. If you like steak, I'd go get a Carne Asada platter for 7.50 at the Jimenez Grocery store on Dundee. It has a little taqueria in it that pumps out some pretty good grub. I'm also big on the carnitas offerings there. There is some seating, but it usually gets packed around lunchtime. If you are not paying with cash, you gotta pay at register, and then come back to the taqueria. The Steak Platter is really good if they cook it right. Ask them to not overcook it and they'll get the drift. They also have specials, soups, stews, and a full taqueria menu. My advice would be to go early, or call ahead, and carry out. You're better off if you know a little spanish. Carne asada platter is a pretty good deal, and good amt of food as well. Rice, beans, tortillas, grilled veggies, avocado, and a good amount of skirt steak.
For other mexican foods, you're on your own. There are a few of them around, but they are all average at best. If you want a GOOD taqueria, the closest I know of is in Des Plaines. Las Asadas on Lee street. Look it up if you are interested. It's part of the La Pasadita chain in the city on Ashland. Only other mexican joint that I would go to if I HAD to:
Monica's which is right by The Dog Walk (which I mentioned above
636 N Milwaukee Ave Prospect Heights
You are going to be addicted to Pita Inn for a while if you like Mid eastern food. Go early or late, or call ahead. It's always packed at peak times.
Lunch special. Do it. Bargain. Good.
Italian take out:
Get the Lasagna special on Wednesday if you have an appetite.It's pretty good to. 6.00 Slab of lasagna, garlic bread, meatball or sausage. I only get sausage, but that's me. I though the meatball was too salty.
Chicago's Best Pizza.
Northbrook. SE corner of Dundee and Pfingston.
Take out fare + Deli:
You should probably become acquainted with Elegance in Meats.
http://www.chicagolandcatering.com (check the Daily/weekly specials link
)It's a deli/butcher place that has hot meals M-F at lunch. Take out only. They make good sammiches, and have a decent salad bar as well. Different specials daily, and the menu is planned each week. Standouts:
Herb roasted Chicken
Chicken Fingers (huge)
You take a number, and get two sides with a meal. Big portions. You'll probably always get mashed potatoes cause theyare really good, but they also have a few other sides, including steamed veggies. Some of the stuff is REALLY good, some of it is pedestrian. I had the meatloaf once, and didn't care for it at all, but the roasted sirloin?
My mouth is seriously watering right now just thinking about it. It's a meat and potato lovers paradise for lunch. Lots of cops in there for lunch.
Deli Sandwiches (look up the names)
Chicago Bagel & Bialy
Elegance in Meats (My personal favorite for dollar per deliciousness)
Once Upon a Grill
That's all I can think of for now. I've been to a bunch of other places, and if you have a specific place you are thinking about, post, and I'll try to answer if I know anything. One place I still haven't tried but has gotten some praise is Demetris on Lake Cook Road. Greek Diner style joint which supposedly has really good lunch deals:
660 Lake Cook Rd, Deerfield
122 South Elmhurst Road
Wheeling, IL 60090
And another one I forgot:
India House in Buffalo Grove. Indian Buffet for lunch. It runs around 10.00, but it's worth it for something different and decent. It's never really spicy (which I'd prefer,) but every time I've gone, there are at least two things on the buffet that are really good.
228 McHenry Rd
Buffalo Grove, IL 60089
One addition (to gordeaux's excellent, comprehensive post) in the "breakfast foods" category is Walker Brothers. Their puffed-up cinnamony apple pancake is spectacular, and their omelets and other pancake specialties are excellent as well.
Walker Bros Original Pancake House
825 Dundee Rd.
Depending on exactly where you're located, one of their other locations (e.g. Lincolnshire, Lake Zurich) may be more convenient than the one on Dundee.
I totally concur with most of your list, and the ones that I don't, well I just never visited them *yet*! Now I've got some interesting new things to try in that area.
Agreed that the best Mexican is Las Asadas, which is only 15 minutes from Allstate, and well worth the drive! In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a better Mexican place anywhere.
Korean BBQ's: there must be 15-20 of these places along Milwaukee ave going north from Golf Rd. I never got a chance to hit any.
I didn't see Moondoggies on the list, they're OK, nothing to rave about. But still good cheap food.
Pizza: Barnaby's of Northbrook. By far, this is the best Barnaby's location I've ever been to, and one of top 3 thin crust pizzas in Chicago. They also have very decent burgers.
I'm told on very good authority that Francesco's Hole in the Wall in Northbrook is supposed to be good Italian, it's on my short list of places to go this year.
Another great Mediterranean (Israeli) option nearby is the Mizrahi Grill 215 Skokie Valley Road, Highland Park, IL, and of course, Max's Deli is right in the same strip mall 2 doors south.
At the Vernon Hills/Libertyville border on Milwaukee is Burt's Deli, a nice classic deli with solid food.
Breakfast wise, the Elly's Pancake house in Vernon Hills at Rt 60 & 45 is good.
Chinese: there was a decent carry out place near the corner of Hintz & N Elmhurst Rd next to a Convenience & a Subway, sorry, but I can't recall the name,I just remember liking the food.
Last year for two months I was working on the Allstate campus, too bad I didn't know you were in the area or I may have had someone interesting to enjoy some of these lunch spots with!
Actually, although I don't consider myself a big Gyros fan, Moondoggies is the best one I've had up this way. Rarely go there, but thanks for throwing it out there.
Just went to Cihna North on Sanders, Dundee next to Ira's and had the buffet yesterday. I was really impressed. The soups were absolutely disgusting, but the food was really decent. It's a SMALL buffet - not one of those giant sprawilng ones. Maybe had like five hot dishes, a few fried appetizer type things, and a fruit salad, that's all. The hot mustard was kicking, and they had a chile oil that was outstanding. small place, small buffet. I'll definitely be back for that. The chili oil was worth it alone.
I will laud praises for Jimenez all day long to anyone who will listen. IF you know a little spanish, you will be VERY surprised at the prices and the foods there. Cheap, and delicious.
Also, there's a new tex mex sit down N of Lake cook on Milwaukee on the W side of the street across the street from the Speedway. It's Tex-mex in all it's glory. Not good, but decent. (only if you're in the mood for tex mex though - this is NOT Mexican food.)
Smothered burritos, chimichangas, combination plates, canned tomato salsa - you get the drift.
Beinlich's or Fuddruckers if you can't get into Beinlich's. I was just there yesterday and they are still money. Expensive for a burger but worth it! As for Hackney's and Market Square, the square is good but Hackney's is hit or miss. For pizza, you have to try Lou Malnati's in Buffalo Grove, it's the original and totally awesome. For cheap slices, Pizanoz at the corner of Weiland and Deerfield rd. has monster slices all day for 2 bucks a slice. Trust me when I tell you that all you need is a slice and pop for a meal.
I also used to work at Allstate and there was a big group of us that were lunch regulars at the Costco food court in Northbrook on Willow at Patroit Blvd. If you or someone you know has a membership I would recommend checking it out, you just need one member for any sized group. High turnover and limited options ensure that the food is always fresh. Choices include cheese or "supreme" pizza by the slice, chicken caesar salad, chicken bake (this looks similiar to a calzone although I've never tried it), kosher hot dog or polish sausage. The hot dog/polish is the stand out deal at $1.50 with a 20 oz soda. The other options cost between $2 and $4 (no drink), but as you would expect from Costco, the portion sizes are very generous.