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Jul 8, 2013 12:42 PM

Eating between Chicago and Iowa City

I'll be making this drive in the next few days (then returning to Chicago a couple weeks later). I'm arriving at MDW at 4pm on a Friday. Any suggestions for a reasonable dinner stop off of 88 or 80 (and do you recommend on route over the other)? I've made this drive a few times before, but usually when it was too late to stop. I remember once stopping off (I think) the toll road at an enormous supermarket with a great bulk selection maybe 2 hours outside of Chicago -- any idea what this might have been? if it was a chain, it was one I didn't recognize from the west coast.

I'll be stopping on my return to MDW, so lunch suggestions are appreciated as well. Open to any kind of food -- thanks.

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  1. There are some things in the Quad Cities near I-80

    There's the Machine Shed, which serves country style midwest cuisine.

    A little off I-80 there's Cafe Indigo. I've eaten there for dinner and was happy, but can't say anything about lunch. There's also the Red Crow, but that's not open for lunch.

    There's Thunder Bay. It used to be a fish place that I wasn't a fan of, but they've turned over their menu and I've heard good things about it from a couple people since then.

    There's the Iowa 80 Truckstop, but I don't know that I'd recommend that.

    The trouble is that along I-80 in the Quad Cities it's mostly chains, specifically near the Brady Street exit and off Exit 1 on I-74.

    1. Honestly, you'd be better served to eat in Chicago or Iowa City instead of trying to stop off of 80 or 88 in the boonies - I make this drive quite a bit and it's pretty much no-man's-land on 88 through Illinois. I can't speak as much to 80, so will let someone else comment there.

      Your big issue is that you're going to get into Chicago right at rush hour on a Friday, which is going to be brutal. Attempting to take any road into the city will be a major pain. You're better served to stay south and just hop on 80 and go from there. A general consensus favorite near MDW would be Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe: There will be some decent Mexican options nearby, with Zacatacos getting pretty good reviews (full disclosure, I haven't eaten there). If you want Polish, there's a popular spot - Szalas - also not far from MDW

      If you happen to get back into Chicago early on your return home and have time to stop off, I'd suggest heading to Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown and getting pretty much anything on their menu (except American-style Chinese food), with my favorites being the Szechuan Wontons, Chengdu Dumplings, Dry Chili Chicken, Dan Dan Noodles and Hot Pot. From there it's easy to hop back on the interstate and head to MDW. If you plan instead on eating in Iowa City, there is a pretty good Iowa City thread you could check out.

      1. 80 is as bleak as 88 (but you save $20 in tolls). Honestly, if I can't make it to either IC of Chicago I stop at a rest area and grab something from the vending machine or go to Culvers for a burger and malt.

        3 Replies
          1. re: TerriL

            There's a Culver's off I-74 in Davenport, which is close to I-80.

            A little usage of Google maps shows on in Stirling if you go I-88, and another one in Princeton if you go down I-80. I have no idea about where these places are.

            1. re: vitus979

              I was thinking the one in Princeton - it's very close to the interstate. IIRC everything in Stirling is several miles from the exit.

        1. Thanks all. I have no intention of going into Chicago. I'll probably just stop mid-way (to Iowa!) for a quick bite. I've done this trip before -- rush hour always sucks, but not much choice when coming from California. Google maps says 88 to 80. Traffic-wise, is there anything to recommend one over the other?

          4 Replies
          1. re: TerriL

            Skip 88. That will cause you to run into Chicago traffic on 294. Just take 55 to 80 all the way.

            1. re: jhojati

              Hi jhojati, Google maps doesn't show an option for taking either 80 (or 88) without using 294.

              Here are the two given options:

              55 S to 294 N to 88 W to 80 W


              294 S to 80 W

              Do you use a different route to get to 55? Thanks

              1. re: TerriL

                294 to 80 is fine. It won't take you as far north as going to 88, which will avoid most of the traffic.

            2. re: TerriL

              80 has fewer tolls and they basically take the same time. Only difference is if you know there is a lot of construction on one or if there is fresh snow on the ground (tollway 88 is better IMHO). I think there are a few more places to pull off on 80 as well, I've struggled to even find a restroom off 88.

            3. I think there's a potbelly's in midway airport. I'd probably grab a sandwich there. there really is not much until iowa city. I work in the quad cities and generally find the food to be bad. Machine shed was not good. Bier stube in le Claire is ok.

              Just realized you've probably made your trip, but in case anyone else is wondering....

              1 Reply
              1. re: Pandora

                I think there's good food to be found in the Quad-Cities, but not much in the way of "quick lunch meal near I-80" that the OP is asking for. If I were doing that route I'd probably go to the Noodles and Company on 53rd Street.