From onion loaves to chocolate cake -- a guide to iconic suburban eats

  • Life is short, eat dessert first. Especially when it's chocolate cake from Portillo's.

    Life is short, eat dessert first. Especially when it's chocolate cake from Portillo's. Courtesy of Portillo's

 
 
Updated 7/3/2020 9:58 AM

"Life is short -- eat dessert first."

Now that's a maxim diners can embrace, especially when options include a towering slice of Portillo's famed chocolate cake.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But that treat is just one of the many well-known, well-loved dishes favored by suburban diners -- and dearly missed by those who move away. The list includes Chicago-style hot dogs, onion loaves, deep dish pizza and other items.

Some were created at suburban eateries. Others originated in Chicago and migrated north and west when restaurateurs relocated.

We take a look at where diners can find some of the 'burbs' best-loved and most iconic fare.

Hackney's

Among this eatery's claims to fame is its French-fried onion brick served at two Glenview locations.

One of the post popular items at Hackney's in Glenview is its famed onion loaf. Fans include comedian Jim Gaffigan.
  One of the post popular items at Hackney's in Glenview is its famed onion loaf. Fans include comedian Jim Gaffigan. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

No less an authority than comedian Jim Gaffigan, who spent his childhood in Elgin and Barrington, revealed during a Daily Herald interview that he counts Hackney's signature onion loaf among his most vivid childhood memories.

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Gene & Jude's

No seats. No ketchup. No pretense. No nonsense. That's the promise of this River Grove hot dog stand that claims to serve the best hot dogs in the country. It opened in 1946 at Polk Street and Western Avenue in Chicago and, in 1950, moved to a modest brick building on River Road. The menu remains unchanged except for the essentials: Vienna Beef hot dogs served with mustard, onion relish and peppers; plus tamales, french fries and soft drinks.

Superdawg

High school sweethearts Maurie and Flaurie Berman opened their original drive-in restaurant in Chicago in 1948 and a second location on Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling in 2009.

The signature dish at Superdawg is the titular hot dog served over a bed of french fries and accompanied by a juicy pickle.
  The signature dish at Superdawg is the titular hot dog served over a bed of french fries and accompanied by a juicy pickle. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

In addition to the titular hot dog -- topped with golden mustard, tangy piccalilli, kosher dill pickle, chopped Spanish onions and a hot pepper, accompanied by the trademark Superfries -- the menu includes a Romanian/Hungarian/Polish sausage version and assorted Superburgers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Portillo's

A favorite of "Will & Grace" star and Glen Ellyn native Sean Hayes, Portillo's was founded in 1963 in Villa Park and has locations in Addison, Arlington Heights, Batavia, Bloomingdale, Crystal Lake, Deerfield, Downers Grove, Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Elmhurst, Glendale Heights, Gurnee, Naperville, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, St. Charles, Streamwood, Vernon Hills, Villa Park and Willowbrook among others.

Portillo's Italian beef is one of the suburbs' most-celebrated sandwiches.
Portillo's Italian beef is one of the suburbs' most-celebrated sandwiches. - Courtesy of Portillo's

If you go, you'll want to sample the famous double-layer chocolate cake, which is slathered in creamy chocolate frosting. Eat it before -- or after -- the popular slow-roasted Italian beef sandwich.

Bob Chinn's Crab House

The "jet fresh" seafood for which this Wheeling mainstay is renowned includes Alaskan king crab legs and garlic rolls. Both contribute to the nearly 1 million customers who dine annually at the Milwaukee Avenue restaurant, which after nearly 38 years remains among the top 100 grossing restaurants in the country.

Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket

The original recipes that made this former lunch counter famous remain in use today at the homestyle restaurant in Willowbrook that occupies a onetime stretch of the famed Route 66. House specialties include fried and roasted chicken as well as such comfort fare as pork chops, baby back ribs, mac and cheese, corn fritters and cheese curds.

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria

Lou Malnati and his wife Jean opened their first pizzeria in 1971 in Lincolnwood, where his signature deep-dish creation quickly became a top-seller. Among the most popular offerings is the Lou, which includes spinach, garlic and Roma tomatoes topped with three cheeses on a garlic buttercrust. Add a Malnati salad and you've got a few meals.

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria is famous for deep-dish pizza, including the signature Lou.
Lou Malnati's Pizzeria is famous for deep-dish pizza, including the signature Lou. - Daily Herald File photo

You'll find restaurants in Addison, Aurora, Bloomingdale, Buffalo Grove, Carol Stream, Carpentersville, Cary, Downers Grove, Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Elmhurst, Geneva, Glenview, Grayslake, Lake Zurich, Libertyville, Mount Prospect, Naperville, Northbrook, Palatine and Schaumburg among other cities. And that's just in Illinois.

Franks for the Memories

The family-run Franks for the Memories in Mundelein claims to have introduced Buffalo wings (which originated in Buffalo, New York, in 1964) to the Chicago area in 1984. Today, Jim Schultz Jr., son of founders and Buffalo Grove natives Jim and Carol Schultz, runs the restaurant that daily serves up Buffalo-style chicken wings with a side of celery and blue cheese dressing.

Walker Bros. the Original Pancake House

In 1953, three siblings founded snack shops in Evanston. Seven years later, two of the brothers established a pancake house in Wilmette. Additional restaurants subsequently opened in Arlington Heights, Glenview, Lake Zurich, Lincolnshire and Schaumburg, among other locations. At every one, the apple pancake remains a house favorite.

Walker Bros.' traditional apple cinnamon pancake could double as dessert instead of breakfast, especially when paired with French vanilla ice cream (for an additional $2.50). Filled with fresh apples, it's topped with Korintje cinnamon sugar glaze. Best of all, a frozen version is available to take home.

• Know or love other iconic suburban foods? Send your suggestions with desciptions to Barbara Vitello at bvitello@dailyherald.com.

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