Four restaurants and a quick-stop coffee shop may have just opened this week inside the sparkling new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, but the dozens of cooks in their kitchens have been working for months testing recipes, revamping menus and perfecting plating.
The result is a winning hand of delicious fare ranging from juicy burgers and buttermilk fried chicken to dim sum and prime Angus porterhouse steaks.
Rivers Casino3000 S. River Road, Des Plaines, (888) 307-0777
While you have to enter the casino to access the restaurants, there's no rule saying you have to gamble while you're there. You do, however, have to be 21 to get in the doors, so keep that in mind and don't show up for onion rings and chocolate shakes with the kids in tow.
"We're a restaurant that happens to have a casino in the middle," says Patrick Houlihan, managing partner at Hugo's Frog Bar and Chophouse, a hybrid of Hugo's Frog Bar and Gibson's Steakhouse that offers the best from both menus.
The restaurants and Coffee Spot (offering Chicago's own Metropolis Coffee, sandwiches and pastries) rim one wall of the gaming floor in an almost food-court arrangement, yet architectural details like bold red glass walls, white subway tiles, chromatic lighting and a living wall of vines define each of the spaces.
Because the casino floor is open nearly round the clock (it's closed from 7 to 9 a.m. daily), it means you can get great food at all hours.
"I'll stay open until people don't want to eat any more," Houlihan says. "If someone's had a good night and wants to eat a steak at 1 o'clock in the morning, we'll feed him."
As workers rushed to put the finishing touches on the casino, which opened earlier this week, I headed in for an advance tasting at the four main eateries and walked away a winner. I'm not bluffing.
Hugo's Frog Bar & Chop House
(847) 768-5200; reservations recommended; 11 a.m. to close daily
Cuisine: USDA Gibson's Prime Angus Beef, fresh fish and frog legs
Setting: Steakhouse chic with a dining room that seats about 150 (including private space for 24) and another 65 or so at the bar.
Dinner selections: $10.50 to $52
Winning hand: Tender frog legs in a garlicky sauce; seared scallops with a buttery soy reduction and sweet pea purée; and the fork-tender (well, almost) W.R.'s Chicago Cut steak. All items served a la carte but the sides, especially the gargantuan twice-baked potato, will feed many and sharing is encouraged.
11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Sunday to Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. Thursday to Sunday
Cuisine: Burgers, hand-cut fries and shakes
Setting: Walk-up ordering in a white-on-white diner with wake-me-up lighting and a mix of booths, tables and counter seating
Dinner selections: $5 to $13
Winning hand: Jalapeno-topped Rivers Burger with jumbo onion ring hiding under the fresh-baked potato bun, turkey burger (kept moist with butter in the mix!) and skin-on skinny french fries. Go all in with a rich chocolate shake.
11 a.m. to 4 a.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 7 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Cuisine: Asian noodle bar
Setting: Eight tables nestle into this softly lit spot flanked by dramatic glass walls. Peek over the counter to watch the chefs make your dim sum.
Dinner selections: $7 to $15
Winning hand: Fragrant lotus leaf-wrapped savory rice (lo mai gai), crisp-skinned roast duck with steamed rice and bok choy and the steamed pork and shrimp dumplings. Double down with a cold Kirin or cup of hot Chinese tea.
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday
Cuisine: All-you-can-eat buffet with nine cuisine stations and many of the items cooked to order
Setting: Spacious room with earthy tones and natural lighting will shake off memories of strip-mall buffets.
Prices: $19 lunch; $26 dinner; $21 brunch Saturday and Sunday
Winning hand: Lady lucky smiles on the fresh spicy tuna rolls, hand-carved prime rib, individual baked macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and waffles, grilled Caesar salad and incredible meatballs. The big payout comes with cheesecake pops, strawberries and white chocolate mousse and refreshing mango gelato.