What do you get when you live all over the United States, travel in at least twenty-five states, and have food allergies? A foodie, of course! All of the above make me a picker eater with a refined palette for great food. Here are my top picks for the greater Chicago area, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Omaha, Nebraska:
This restaurant in Mannheim Road in Schiller Park, Illinois is adjacent to the Quality Inn O’Hare motel. Dining at Bella Sera is highly rated by foodies, reasonably priced (even the cocktails), varied, and very well prepared — even at midnight. The staff is very helpful, especially if your flight brings you to dine after 10pm. Warm, welcoming, and with a broad menu to satisfy everyone at a price that will leave you with some money left to spend seeing the sights of Chicago.
What’s the Occasion
If cupcakes and pastries are your speed, you won’t do any better in the greater Chicago area than “What’s the Occasion” bakery in Rockford. Cupcakes are the mainstay of What’s the Occasion with 221 flavors to choose from. From traditional favorites like chocolate, marble, and red velvet to more interesting choices like Irish car bomb, strawberry mint cucumber, and Candied Pecan Peach Chardonnay, there is something for everyone at What’s the Occasion. Pastry lover? Check out Beinarian slatkos, a flaky-crust baked version of traditional cannoli filled with luscious fruit fillings based on the dessert in Laurel A. Rockefeller’s “Peers of Beinan” science fiction series.
If you want a great Midwestern pizza, it doesn’t get any better than DaVinci’s in Lincoln, Nebraska. With several locations across the city, there is no such thing as a bad location. Service is terrific, prices are ballpark for pizza, and those choosing to dine in are given a buffet option with a delicious salad. Yes, the salad here is actually good — not just their signature pizzas and garlic rolls. In a college town filled with pizza places, this one stands out — and makes Lincoln a destination unto itself.
If fast food is more your forte, it doesn’t get any better than Lincoln-based Runza Restaurants. The signature dish is a German runza which is an enclosed bread pocket filled with beef, onions, spices, and other ingredients. But for me, it’s the juicy burgers, especially the Swiss cheese mushroom burger that makes Runza the best fast food place in the Midwest. Runza recently replaced Burger King at the student union at the University of Nebraska Lincoln so football fans — walk across campus and get yourself some great food at Runza before and after the big game. Tailgating does not get any better in Lincoln!
The Village Inn
IHop does not compare to Lincoln’s Village Inn restaurants for great Midwestern food. When they first opened in the 1980s (if memory serves correctly), they were renowned for their pancakes and the dozen different syrups offered with breakfast. Since then, what makes Village Inn so great are their PIES, especially their caramel pecan silk supreme which is a cheesecake, pecan pie, and French silk pie, all layered upon one another.
Located in Omaha’s historic Old Market district, Spaghetti Works has hands down the best pasta sauces in the United States. Whether your taste is a classic Alfredo or marinara or their special beer and cheese sauce, you’ll wish you lived in Omaha once you taste these sauces. Try all the sauces with the combination plates. You get two or three sauces served over your choice of pasta styles and unlimited refills, no obligation to choose the same sauces each time. Most meals include their equally bottomless salad bar. It’s a lot of food for an average of $10 per adult and my favorite place to dine in Omaha. My personal favorite sauces: beer/cheese and the creamy pesto.
These are not the only great restaurants in the Midwest, of course. But a trip to each of them will be a treat for the foodie and a delight to even the pickiest eater. Check them out and eat happy.