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.
Starved Rock Lodge’s The Veranda
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. This relatively new addition to the lodge gives guests an elevated view of the 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 (who was known for laying out legendary courses like Medinah and Olympia Fields), is more than just a destination for those planning 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. Best of all at the Pine Hills Restaurant, you’re treated to a stunning panoramic view of the gorgeous golf course.
Red Dog Grill
411 Great Loop East 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 first opening its 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 panoramic 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 its nearby Tiki Bar.
601 First St., La Salle
La Salle’s Uptown Grill is renowned for a 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. The charbroiled steaks are cut and aged in-house, while the seafood, shellfish and oysters are prepared fresh every day. 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 also 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. Upcoming highlights include a set of shows hosted by Miles Nielsen and Kelly Steward. Past guests have included Alejandro Escovedo, Robbie Fulks, The War and Treaty, and Loudon Wainwright III.
311 N. Main Ave., Ladd
Rips Tavern, 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 that drives 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.
129 S. Main St., Sheffield
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Cafe 129 is anything but a smalltown 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 off-the-beaten-path atmosphere. Relishing the focus on fresh ingredients, 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.