The Old Northwest Territory is home to culinary talent like no other. Make note of these exemplary establishments for the next time you’re craving something delectable.
Local and family-owned establishments work hard to craft fresh, mouthwatering dishes unique to our region, dishes that span diverse settings, cultures and flavors. For any newcomer – and even for locals, too – it can be hard to choose where to go and what to taste.
Whether you have days to explore or just a few hours, these locally owned restaurants supply a good sample of our region’s distinctive flavors.
For a Classic Diner … Johnny Pamcakes
3700 E. State St., Rockford. BkLD M-Sat 6am-8pm, Sun 7am-2pm.
This family-style diner has been a Rockford favorite since 2008. Every meal on the expansive, old-fashioned menu is made to order, and yes, breakfast really is served all day. For a real taste of local flavor, try the Swedish pancakes.
For a Coffeehouse … Meg’s Daily Grind
1141 N. Alpine, Rockford; 3885 N. Perryville, Rockford; 1280 S. Alpine, Rockford; 3301 N. Mulford, Rockford, BkLD. Hours vary by location.
The four locations of this neighborhood coffee shop serve fresh blended, organic, fair trade and flavored coffees. Fill up with pastries, light lunches, desserts, espresso, teas and cold drinks, including fruit smoothies and blended iced coffees. Locations offer drive-thru service and a relaxing, studious atmosphere.
For a Brunch Buffet … Starved Rock Lodge
Illinois Routes 178 & 71, Utica, Ill. BkLD daily, Br Sun 10:30am-2pm. Reservations recommended.
On Sundays and select holidays, the main dining room at Starved Rock Lodge hosts a popular breakfast buffet starting at 10:30 a.m. Feast on classic and updated breakfast and lunch staples while surrounded by beautiful lodge decor and amazing views of the state park.
For a Seasonal, Locally Sourced Menu … Fresco at the Gardens
318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford. BkL Daily 7am-3pm.
Anderson Japanese Gardens added a whole new reason to visit in 2015. Inside the visitor center, this extension of Franchesco’s Ristorante serves up a lunch and breakfast menu focused on fresh, organic and locally sourced ingredients in made-from-scratch seasonal dishes and drinks.
For a True Deli … 640 Meats
6410 E. Riverside Blvd., Loves Park, Ill. L M-Sat 8:30am-6pm, Sun 10am-5pm.
Butchers cut meat right behind the counter, so you know the cuts are guaranteed fresh. This deli offers an array of boxed lunches, sandwiches, fruits and vegetables, meat box specials and home-baked treats. Stop in for lunch and leave with a special cut for dinner.
For a One-of-a-Kind Ambiance … Fifth Alarm Firehouse Pub
120 N. Union St., Byron, Ill. LD Daily 11am.
What was Byron’s first firehouse and city hall is now a dining destination honoring the town’s first-responder heroes. Enjoy the classic American pub fare, agave nectar margaritas and daily specials in the presence of firehouse memorabilia, including firehouse uniforms and vintage photos.
For a Pick-Me-Up … Wired Cafe
414 E. State St., Rockford. BkL M-F 6:30am-5pm, Sat 8am-2pm.
This small cafe is a hidden gem along downtown Rockford’s bustling State Street. Wired Cafe is a go-to favorite for coffee, tea, baked goods, quiche, sandwiches, soups and a full espresso bar featuring Monin syrups. Enjoy the free Wi-Fi or stop in for local art displays and First Friday events.
For a Meal with a View … Maxson Riverboat & Riverside Restaurant
1469 IL Route 2, Oregon, Ill. LD M-Sat 11am-8pm, Br Sun 10am-3pm.
Choose how you’ll take in the gorgeous panoramic views of the Rock River at this historic dining and sightseeing attraction. The riverside dining room and deck offer a calm view from the river’s shoreline. The paddle wheel riverboat carries up to 149 passengers for private events or mealtime cruises. Enjoy burgers, sandwiches, steaks and seafood.
For a Date-Night Spot … JMK Nippon
2551 N. Perryville Road, Rockford. L T-F 11:30am-2pm, Sat to 2:30pm; D M-Th 5-9:30pm, F-Sat to10:30pm, Sun 4-9:30pm.
This sleek Japanese restaurant and sushi bar creates an immersive trip into the world of Japanese cuisine and Asian fusion cooking. Popular for celebrations and couples outings, the 300-seat destination is divided into a Teppan-yaki side and a Masa cafe side. Both are set in a serene atmosphere, complete with outdoor rock gardens, koi ponds and Japanese architecture.
For Carryout & Delivery … Maciano’s Pizza
6746 Broadcast Pkwy., Loves Park, Ill.; 5801 Columbia Pkwy., Rockford. LD Sun-Th 11am-10pm, F-Sat to 11pm.
If you’re on a time crunch, Maciano’s Pizza delivers on service and taste. This Italian restaurant creates a range of freshly made pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, salads and desserts with prompt, friendly service for dine-in and carryout. Party packages and catering options are also available.
For a Special Event … Goldmoor Inn Fine Dining
9001 N. Sand Hill Road, Galena, Ill. D Th-M 5:30pm. Reservations required.
In 2007, this intimate bed-and-breakfast added a culinary kitchen and 5,000-square-foot dining room to combine the personal service of a B&B with the elegance of fine dining. Now this top-rated destination hosts weddings, classes and special dinners with a diverse menu of made-from-scratch cuisines, global wines and breathtaking views of the Mississippi River.
For a Family-Style Meal … Bravo Pizza & Italian Restaurant
376 Prairie Hill Road, South Beloit, Ill.; 13555 IL Route 76, Poplar Grove, Ill. LD Sun-Th 11am-10pm, F-Sat to 11pm.
Sicilian-born Joe and Francesca Ocello have been serving authentic Italian cuisine since the 1970s, but Bravo Pizza offers the couple’s most refined home-cooked meals. The warm atmosphere is set by murals of Italian scenery. Pastas come in special family portions, perfect for sharing.
For Craft Beer … Rockford Brewing Co.
200 Prairie St., Rockford, (815) 277-9427. LD Sun-W 11am-10pm, Th to midnight, F-Sat to 2am.
Inside the Prairie Street Brewhouse, Rockford Brewing Company carries on the name and traditions of the city’s original small craft brewery. The 16 taps and two beer engines serve up an ever-changing range of made-in-house beers, including IPAs, lagers, stouts and saisons.
For the Wine Selection … Tavern on Clark
755 Clark Dr., Rockford, (815) 708-7088. LD Sun-Th 11am-10pm, F-Sat to 11pm.
This upscale dining establishment pairs pub-style food with one of the largest bar menus in town. A temperature-controlled Cruvinet wine system pours wine by the glass and guarantees the taste of a fresh-opened bottle.
Other offerings include signature and craft cocktails, 60 craft beers and 30 bourbons.
For a Weekend Drive … Cannova’s Italian Cuisine
1101 W. Empire St., Freeport. D T-Th, Sun 5-9pm; F-Sat to 10pm.
Between Rockford and Galena, Cannova’s is a perfect pitstop to refuel on award-winning Italian food, friendly service and live entertainment. Plan ahead to reserve a seat for special evening entertainment, including jazz quartets, folk groups, dinner theatres and co-owner Pat Beckman’s piano performances on select Friday and Saturday nights.
For a Steakhouse … Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint
Ironworks Hotel, 500 Pleasant St., Beloit, (608) 313-0700. D Sun-Th 4:30-9pm, F-Sat to 10pm. Bar open late.
Delectable steaks aren’t the only reason to visit this Beloit mainstay. The upscale dining establishment delivers riverfront views and a glimpse into Beloit’s industrial past. White-cloth tables, leather seats, vintage photos and hardwood floors complement the timeless menu of seafood, pasta and steak.
For a Supper Club … Butterfly Club
5246 E. Co. Road X, Beloit. LD T-Th 5-9:30pm, F 4:30-10pm, Sat 5-10pm, Sun noon-8pm.
Open since 1924, The Butterfly Club carries on the down-home, classic supper club culture with a casual ambiance, American fare, a well-stocked bar and live entertainment. Banquets and private parties are welcome, and the back deck allows for outdoor dining during summer months.