Looking for a truly unique dining experience? Starved Rock Country has you covered. From top-rated al fresco patios with panoramic views, to unexpected chef-driven foodie destinations in picturesque small towns, this stretch of North Central Illinois is a must-visit for adventurous eaters looking to find a new hidden gem.
Red Dog Grill
411 Great Loop E. Drive, Ottawa
Located just a few miles from downtown Ottawa, perched above a picturesque marina on the Illinois River, you’ll find the Red Dog Grill. This seafood and American fare establishment has been wowing visitors with its brews, views and delicious food since they first opened their doors in 2015. Nestled inside the Heritage Harbor Marina Resort Community, the progressive restaurant is perhaps best known for its large bay windows, sprawling covered patio and expansive view of the marina it overlooks, but it’s the innovative menu that keeps guests coming back. Red Dog Grill also offers a terrific selection of cocktails, craft beers and wines, both inside the restaurant and at their nearby Tiki Bar.
The Veranda at Starved Rock Lodge
One Lodge Lane, Oglesby
If you’re looking for a bite to eat in Illinois, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant with a more awe-inspiring view than the Starved Rock Lodge’s Veranda. Providing guests with a remarkable panorama of the flowing Illinois River and the titular Starved Rock, The Veranda also boasts a full menu of delicious food and refreshing, hand-crafted drinks. The relatively new addition to the lodge gives guests an elevated view of the Illinois River, rolling tree canopies and the distant bluff of Starved Rock, while they enjoy an al fresco meal prepared by the lodge’s talented team of chefs. Open every day for lunch and dinner, this is a must-stop dining destination if you’re planning an excursion to Starved Rock.
Pine Hills Restaurant
1665 N. 2501st Road, Ottawa
This 18-hole, semi-private course, designed by Thomas Bendelow (known for laying out legendary courses like Medinah and Olympia Fields), is more than just a destination for those looking to hit the links. Pine Hills is also home to a popular restaurant offering the largest gluten-free and vegan-friendly menus in the area. The full-service dining room serves up award-winning pizzas and delectable dinner rolls using house-made dough, alongside freshly made-to-order dinners, sandwiches and sides. And as a highlight at Pine Hills Restaurant, you’re treated to a stunning panoramic view of the gorgeous golf course.
311 N. Main Ave., Ladd
Rip’s Tavern, located off I-80 in the small town of Ladd, has been a magnet for fried chicken fanatics for several generations. The unassuming tavern has made appearances on culinary television shows, been favorably written up in major food blogs, and built a dedicated fan base who drive from states away just to enjoy the truly classic fried chicken. So, what separates Rip’s from other fried chicken destinations? Authenticity and atmosphere. While the entire food industry and supply chains have changed drastically over the last 90 years, Rip’s has been dedicated to keeping every ingredient and prep step strikingly similar to what was implemented in the 1930s. All this effort is on full display in the final product. Each piece of chicken has a substantial crust to it, that lends a pleasant crunch to every bite. One taste and it is clear why Rip’s legions of fans rave about this fried chicken.
601 First St., LaSalle
LaSalle’s Uptown Grill is renowned for its polished take on classics, often lauded as being one of the best places to grab prime rib in the Chicago area on Friday and Saturday nights. Its charbroiled steaks are cut and aged in-house; the seafood, shellfish, and oysters are notable. But in addition to offering great food and a full service bar and lounge (complete with an extensive list of over 100 wines and 12 craft beers on tap), Uptown Grill is home to one of the most exciting music venues in Starved Rock Country. On select nights, the stage at Uptown’s Playlist Theater hosts popular touring acts. Past guests have included Alejandro Escovedo, Robbie Fulks, The War and Treaty, and Loudon Wainwright III.
129 S. Main St., Sheffield
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Café 129 is anything but a small-town diner. Helmed by a Culinary Institute of America graduate and chef instructor at Scott Community College, Cafe 129 is dishing out upscale food served with a side of small-town atmosphere. It focuses on fresh ingredients, and you’ll find a modestly sized fixed menu filled with tempting options, alongside an always evolving selection of daily specials. Reservations are strongly encouraged on Fridays and Saturdays; Cafe 129′s intimate dining area offers compact tables and a counter where customers can eat, and get a great view into the kitchen.
Prime Quarter Steak House
250 Backbone Road, Princeton
Dating back to the 1970s, the Prime Quarter cornered the market during the grill-your-own-steak craze and has been popular ever since. Start out with the huge, unlimited salad bar before picking out your steak from the glass showcase. Cook it yourself over their indoor wood grills or have one of their chefs do it for you. Texas toast and a giant baked potato round out the meal. Excellent desserts and a large wine list complement the rest of the meal. You’ll find friendly service and reasonable pricing at the Prime Quarter in the west end of Starved Rock Country.