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Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 12:01 am

Best of Springfield - Part I

Food and Drink Categories

 

Welcome to BOS
Illinois Times presents to you, proudly, one more time, the Best of Springfield, as determined by our readers and the friends BOS wannabes recruit to vote for them. We had more than 12,000 votes this year – the largest turnout ever – and 140 categories, a third more than ever before. Thanks to all the voters who worked through a long ballot. We always ask readers to vote local, and this year the voters get it – all but a few winners are local through and through. IT readers know that supporting local businesses not only keeps your money here but adds character to our community.

We asked Illinois Times staffers to reflect on the meaning of The Best issue. Here’s Nan Bulli, our classified ad representative who gets to field phone calls from those disappointed by the results: “There’s no way we’re going to please everyone. But above all, BOS recognizes the local businesses that customers love coming back to. Every year the number and diversity of votes prove that Springfield is full of business owners who take pride in their products, services and customers. It’s these businesses that make Springfield such a wonderful and unique place to live!”

Beth Irwin, our senior salesperson who has survived more Best of Springfield issues than anybody else on the planet, offered this: “The biggest thing I hear, see, feel from all of this is the pride employees and business owners have about their workplaces, small and large. They work together to shout out why they are the best, through social media and beyond. Many don’t win or get half the recognition they deserve, but their spirit makes them all winners. Even naysayers are the first in line to take a peek at the results.”

In our food categories we noticed new local restaurants, together with the established eateries, offering more options for unique food and creative menus. There are more healthy food offerings to provide some balance to this horseshoe-crazy town. We made our music and entertainment section much bigger this year, with numerous new categories, giving attention to the important “all-ages” sector that sometimes gets overlooked, as well as the “best sound technician,” who is overlooked no more. For all the categories, be sure to check out the runners-up. These are the up-and-comers some readers have discovered but not everybody knows about yet.

In the next few days we at IT will be writing notes to ourselves about what we can do differently and better next year. Please give us your suggestions, especially any new categories you’d like to see included. Now, settle in and enjoy our reader picks for the Best that Springfield has to offer.

–Fletcher Farrar, editor and publisher

BEST FISH FRY
Carter’s Fish Market

1900 South Grand Ave., 525-2571
Ever noticed that little building on South Grand Avenue with the long line of cars backed up into the street? That’s Carter’s Fish Market, and voters say it’s the best place in town for fried fish. They’ll give you a heaping helping (one voter described it as “mounds of food”), and it won’t cost much.
Runner-up: Firefighters Postal Lake Club

BEST BUFFET
Hibachi Grill Supreme Buffet

2309 S. MacArthur Blvd., 698-6033
The peak, it seems, is past. Ryan’s Steak House. New Buffet City. International Buffet. Old Country Buffet. Buffet King. Best Buffet. Heritage House. All gone. Not so long ago, Springfield’s plate overrunneth with all-you-can-eat places, but no longer. Now, just three buffets, all opened within the past five years (and one just last month), remain. But contrary to what some AYCE aficionados might believe, it’s about quality, not quantity, and Hibachi Grill Supreme Buffet, which this year took the crown from Golden Corral, proves the point. We especially like the cooked-to-order stir fry station that guarantees a piping hot, fresh meal made exactly how you want it.
Runner-up: Golden Corral

BEST THAI RESTAURANT
Magic Kitchen

115 North Lewis Street, 525-6975
4112 North Peoria Road, 525-2230

While Best Thai is one of our fastest growing categories – our readers nominated nine local eateries – it should be no surprise that Springfield’s first restaurant to serve aromatic specialties from Southeast Asia is still at the top of the charts. Opened in 1983 by Dang and Gay Amorasak and sold to Soumaly and Sang Thongsithauong in 1995, Magic Kitchen enjoys a reputation for tasty and reasonably priced Thai treats. While you can certainly find standard dishes like pad thai and chicken satay, why not take a risk on something less common like the lemon grass soup? Whatever you do, be sure to leave room for desserts like sticky rice with ice cream and tropical fruit. Magic Kitchen’s hours vary by location. Peoria Road is one of Springfield’s few BYOB establishments but leave your plastic at home – it’s cash only.
Runner-up: Little Saigon

PHOTO BY DAVID HINE

 

BEST HORSESHOES
D’Arcy’s Pint

661 West Stanford Avenue, 492-8800
Ask just about anyone around where to send an out-of-towner for a horseshoe and they’ll likely point you to Stanford Avenue and D’Arcy’s Pint. In one of our most commanding victories, D’Arcy’s received more than double the votes of all other contestants combined. The “Famous Shoes” come smothered with homemade cheese sauce – regular or spicy – and your choice of meat or veggies on a tall slice of Texas toast. Our favorite is the Irish Cheesesteak, a mouthwatering mound of sirloin topped with mushrooms, onions and peppers. Comments like “no comparison,” “is there any competition?,” “no question,” and “NO contest” make it clear…when it comes to Springfield’s signature plate, D’Arcy’s Pint is the best around.
Runner-up: Dublin Pub

BEST ROMANTIC DINING
Bella Milano

4525 Wabash Ave., 547-0011
Send the kids to grandma’s house. You need a break. With an elegant, quiet atmosphere and soft lighting, Bella Milano is great for date night. Sit in one of the booths near the perimeter and feel the stress melt away as you gaze into your lover’s eyes…or into that beautiful plate of artichoke dip.
Runner-up: Nick and Nino’s Penthouse Steakhouse

BEST ORIGINAL MENU ITEM
Buffalo Chicken Horseshoe – D’Arcy’s Pint

Tell anyone from out of town that you’re ready to chow down on a buffalo chicken horseshoe and you’ll probably get a funny look. Say it in Springfield, and we’ll know you’re at D’Arcy’s Pint. D’Arcy’s already took this year’s prize for best horseshoe, and it’s well earned – they have 13 regular and 5 signature variations! But the best of all just might be the buffalo chicken, a towering sculpture of hot and spicy breaded chicken soaked with an extra-large helping of white cheese sauce atop a mound of crinkle-cut French fries. This year’s runner-up is another variation on a Springfield tradition: Corner Pub & Grill’s horseshoe pizza – because who can resist a mix of our two favorite foodgroups!? It’s a sight to behold: one pizza topped with all the fixins. And yes – there’s cheese sauce. A horseshoe’s not a horseshoe without cheese sauce, even if it’s on a pizza. Extra large napkin recommended. Honorable mentions in this category include Bentoh’s’ Salmon Salad, and several of Obed and Isaac’s creations, like their fig pizza and lamb burger.
Runner-up: Horseshoe Pizza – Corner Pub & Grill

BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Bella Milano

4525 Wabash Ave., 547-0011
We know not everyone is big on salad, but Bella Milano’s signature Milano’s Salad is superb. With a sweet and savory vinaigrette and bits of fantastic prosciutto ham, the salad alone is worth a trip. As for the main course, we prefer the old standby favorites: fettuccine alfredo, tortellini or ravioli. Pro tip: save room for dessert, and wear pants with a loose waist band. You’ll thank us.
Italian restaurant runner-up: Saputo’s

PHOTO BY TREVOR MILLER

 

BEST ILLINOIS BEER, BEST OUTDOOR DINING

Obed and Isaac’s

500 S. Sixth St., 670-0627
Our favorite beer at Obed and Isaac’s is either 8.1 or 7.4. Oh, wait: You mean there are names – Ditzy Blonde Ale, Long Nine IPA, Upside Brown Ale – written next to the alcohol percentages on the chalkboard next to the entrance of Springfield’s signature brew pub? Yes, and you can’t get fresher suds anywhere. Nestled on a quiet side street within easy walking distance of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Hoogland Center For The Arts, Obed and Isaac’s is a perfect place to enjoy a meal from spring through fall. We recommend the leg of lamb sandwich.
Runner-up Illinois beer: Rolling Meadows Brewery
Runner-up outdoor dining: D’arcy’s Pint

BEST CRAFT BEER SELECTION
Obed and Isaac’s

500 S. Sixth St., 670-0627
While the rest of the U.S. began enjoying the revival of craft brewed beer in the mid-1980s, Springfield was waiting patiently for the trend to trickle down. And our patience has rewarded us: Obed and Isaac’s opened in 2012, offering the sweet nectar of beer brewed on-site in their now-popular gastro pub. Our favorite brew at Obed’s – as most folks around here have taken to calling it for short – is their Ditzy Blonde, a crisp, golden beer that feels perfect for a warm summer day on their patio. Check out some of their darker beers, too, like the Long 9 Black IPA, which manages to blend hints of coffee or dark chocolate with citrus notes. It goes great with their delicious lamb burger, which will help you maintain your balance when you finally (reluctantly) stand up from your table.
Runner-up: Brewhaus

BEST BBQ
Smokey Bones

2660 S. Dirksen Pkwy., 528-6410
So maybe they’re not exclusive to Springfield, but Smokey Bones has quite a following here. Even more than the food, voters lauded the attentive and friendly wait staff, with whom many voters appear to be on a first-name basis. For a barbeque joint, Smokey Bones has a surprising diversity of options on its menu – everything from the obligatory rack of ribs to tomato linguine. If you can save room for dessert (which is frankly quite unlikely), the miniature apple pies are a solid choice, served with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with caramel.
Runner-up: Hickory River Smokehouse

BEST SOUL FOOD
Clay’s Popeye’s BBQ

1121 E. South Grand Ave. - 522-0386
The sauce, made from a recipe more than 100 years old the proprietors say, is smoky and full of tang, just like it should be, The menu is simple and the prices ridiculously low. The lunch special costs about the same, or even less, than a fast-food meal. The rib tips are particularly good. Go early, because the place closes while most restaurants are still getting ready for the dinner rush.
Runner-up: Carter’s Fish Market

PHOTO BY TREVOR MILLER

 

BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT
Xochimilco

2941 West Iles Avenue, 546-3116
3210 Northfield Drive, 544-9206
6901 Preston Drive, 483-1006

It was a close race this year, but when it comes to Mexican, the readers have spoken: Xochimilco ranks above the rest. Those who voted pointed to the longtime establishment’s authentic dishes, good prices, weekly specials and friendly wait staff. From inspiring comments like “I LOVE XOCHIMILCO!!!” “THE place for Mexican food!” and “I drive from out of town just to eat here,” it’s clear that Springfield is en fuego for Xochimilco. House specials include all kinds of fajitas and 13 combination plates, while kids choose from seven $5 meals. Be sure to save room for traditional Spanish desserts like the sopapilla or the tantalizing xochimi – a deep-fried chimi stuffed with cheesecake and served with ice cream.
Runner-up: Casa Real

BEST MARGARITA
Xochimilco

2941 W. Iles Ave., 546-3116
3210 Northfield Dr., 544-9206
6901 Preston Dr., 483-1006

Been a long week, and it’s only Monday night? Xochimilco’s margaritas will make it better. They come frozen or on the rocks, and you can get them in a variety of flavors like lime, strawberry, mango and more. Careful, though. They’re deceptive; you’ll barely taste the booze until you try to stand up and realize you’re having more fun than you realize.
Runner-up: La Fiesta

BEST PIZZA
Gabatoni’s

300 East Laurel, 528-9629
How can anyone resist a no-frills old-school eatery by the railroad tracks that features a classic bar, a sassy staff and a picture of poker-playing dogs? Not only does Gabatoni’s have the atmosphere down, they know a thing or two about pizza. Crisp, ultra-thin crust and oven-cooked dough swept with corn meal combine with a sweet sauce and ample toppings to put Gab’s on the BOS docket once again in 2013. A handful of specialty pies next to a list of usual toppings mean you’re sure to build a satisfying meal for the whole family. While there’s nothing fancy or modern about the options, you can’t deny that Gabatoni’s is still the best old place for a slice of za in all of Springfield. Pizzas come in sizes of 7, 12 and 16 inches.
Runner-up: Gallina’s

BEST STEAK
Texas Roadhouse

2540 West Iles, 698-5700
Last year, just 11 votes separated the top two in our “best steak” category. This year, the margin was even smaller, as just 8 votes made the difference. But for the second consecutive year, Texas Roadhouse takes the top spot. Readers say the wood-clad steakhouse by the mall “always cooks steak perfectly” without a piece of fat left on the bone. From strip to T-bone to prime rib, Texas Roadhouse is sure to satisfy even the most demanding meat lover. After two years on top, we’re still not sure what their secret is, but it may be that the New York strip is aged longer or that the ribeyes are marbled deep inside. Feeling especially hungry? Try the porterhouse, which weighs in at a whopping 23 ounces!
Runner-up: Alexander’s Steakhouse

BEST ILLINOIS WINE
Hill Prairie Winery

23753 Lounsberry Road, Oakford - 635-9900
Readers didn’t specify which variety is the best, but Hill Prairie certainly offers plenty of options, from traditional whites and reds made from grapes to stuff like Prairie Berry, made with blackberries and blueberries. It being that time of year, we recommend a bottle of Autumn Spice. Thankfully, you don’t have to drive to Oakford to get it. Check County Market or Famous Liquors on Wabash Avenue.
Runner-up: Walnut Street Winery

BEST SEAFOOD
Chesapeake Seafood House

3045 Clear Lake Drive, 522-5220
After placing second last year, Springfield’s north side seafood spot dethroned its Red Lobster rival in the 2013 edition of BOS. There aren’t many places in town where you can dine in an 1850s mansion, and Chesapeake lets you do so while feasting on the freshest and most succulent seafood around. At lunchtime, try the lobster and shrimp ravioli topped with Alfredo sauce. At dinner, appetizers like fried clams or escargot come before whole catfish, oysters, lobster tail and other special catches. Chesapeake is open with a lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and for dinner from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday hours are 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Runner-up: Red Lobster

BEST WAITPERSON
Dan Sparks – TGI Fridays

2100 W. White Oaks Drive, 698-1900
Last year, we introduced you to Dan Sparks and his loyal following of customers at TGI Fridays. One year later, Sparks is still doing his thing, serving regular customers and newbies who appreciate his quick service and friendly demeanor. He’s a happy-go-lucky and educated guy (master’s degree in business) who just loves working at the restaurant. He celebrated a decade in red and white stripes earlier this year.
Runner-up: Kate Catalano, Brewhaus

BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT
China Star

1899 East Sangamon Avenue, 789-0800
China Star stands alone atop the category again this year with their pleasing menu ranging from Thai favorites (panang curry) to Szechuan and Hunan hits (shrimp or chicken with cashews) to Cantonese delights like Happy Family – a combination of lobster, scallops, crabmeat, shrimp, beef, chicken and pork. Our readers proclaim that China Star still has the “best noodle dishes in town,” thanks to an expansive menu that boasts 150 offerings to order online at springfieldchinastar.com or enjoy in person between 10:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. daily (11 p.m. on Fri. & Sat.). Reservations are available, and lunch prices (served from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.) start at just $5.15.
Runner-up: Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet

PHOTO BY TREVOR MILLER

 

BEST JAPANESE RESTAURANT
BEST SUSHI

Osaka Japanese Restaurant

1665 Wabash Avenue, 726-8037
When it comes to Japanese fare in Springfield, Osaka stands out from the crowd. The perennial favorite is back atop the BOS in multiple categories this year. And for good reason – Osaka does many things well. The Japanese/Thai fusion hotspot is all about entertainment and presentation. In one room, hibachi chefs juggle, slice and dice while they cook at your table. Next door, Osaka serves up the most delicate and delectable sushi in town (the Godzilla roll is our favorite). The best thing about Osaka might be its atmosphere – the smart and slightly upscale locale feels right whether you’re wearing a jacket and tie or something more casual. While most diners come for the raw fish or floor show, Osaka has one of the city’s best creative drink menus of sake, infused martinis and specialty drinks. Their garlic-loaded Bloody Mary made with jalapeno vodka beats most others…and there’s even something called the Lake Springfield.
Runner-up Japanese restaurant: Kiku
Runner-up sushi: Happy Sushi


BEST CHICKEN WINGS
Buffalo Wild Wings

2808 North Dirksen Parkway, 670-0048
4420 West Wabash Avenue, 546-9453

Where else? If you’re looking for good wings, cold beer and every live sporting event, head over to one of two Buffalo Wild Wings locations in town. With 60-cent wings every Tuesday and Thursday, the neon lights of B-dubs beckon us. Do you do traditional or boneless? For us, the best flavor is in the traditional basket no matter if the meat is smothered in sauce like Asian Zing and Jamming Jalapeño or buried in dry rubs like Salt & Vinegar or Parmesan Garlic. And while it might not seem the obvious choice for dining with kids, BW3 has high-backed booths to capture noise and cheap interactive games to keep the little ones contained and happy during a night out on the town.
Runner-up: Westwoods Lodge

BEST LATE-NIGHT EATS
Steak n’ Shake

1580 Wabash, 787-0392
4211 Conestoga Drive, 698-9439
3184 S. Dirksen Parkway, 529-5823
2465 North Dirksen, 492-5925

Where else but SNS? Few places in town are open late, but with its four locations across the capital city, diners in search of a place to satisfy those late-night cravings can’t go wrong with Steak ’n Shake. The diner, created in Normal, Ill., in 1934, has thin steakburgers and thick milkshakes, perfect for any late-night excursion. Whether you’re there for the good food or the always entertaining people-watching, the servers in black-and-white are sure to keep the coffee coming into the wee hours of the morning. Take note, however. While most locations are open 24/7, the Wabash location closes at 1 a.m. on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Runner-up: Denny’s

BEST SUB
BEST DELI / SANDWICH SHOP

Head West Sub Stop

1124 West Jefferson, 793-9101
530 East Capitol, 789-9101
3311 Robbins Drive, 726-9202
1281 Toronto Road, 585-7990
2432 Denver Drive, 744-7990
7032 Kings Mill Court, 670-0111
450 State Street, Rochester (inside Phillips 66 Station)

We’ve watched this capital city company grow over the years (their new Rochester store is #7), and our BOS voters say they still have the best subs in town, whether for dine in, carry out or delivery. With 9 regular and 11 specialty subs, plus a kids’ menu, Head West is hard to pass by. Try the reuben (specialty sub A) and ask for it toasted – you won’t be sorry! Head West has a simple menu packed with fun items like brownies, Ben & Jerry’s, Jones Soda and Odwalla products. Their Pick 2 (a half sub, salad, or soup) for just $6 is one of the best deals in town. Make time to head west!
Runner-up sub: Monty’s
Runner-up deli/sandwich shop: Feed Store


BEST SUNDAY BRUNCH
Mariah’s Steakhouse

3317 Robbins Road, 793-1900
BOS voters chose Mariah’s this year for its awesome buffet, delicious food and warm atmosphere. And did we mention the food? There’s almost not room to list all you can choose from in the $20 all-you-can-eat smorgasbord every Sunday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. First stop – the stations. As in omelet station, waffle station and meat-carving station. From there, move on to pick from scrambled eggs, French toast, hash brown casserole or biscuits and gravy. In the mood for something light? Try a house or Caesar salad. Something heavier? How about fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy or veal cannelloni? Owner Bassam “Sam” Al-Khayyat even offers fried walleye and apps like potato skins or artichoke spinach dip. Top it all off with Cheesecake Factory desserts and homemade bread pudding.
Runner-up: Le Peep

BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Five Guys Burgers and Fries

2501 Wabash Avenue (White Oaks Mall), 546-8230
Simple is good, and that’s why we like Five Burgers and Fries. The burger menu is the essence of uncomplicated: hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger, bacon cheeseburger, all with either one or two patties. Choose from a list of 15 free condiments and that’s it. Your burger comes wrapped in plain foil inside a plain brown paper bag. The skin-on fries taste homemade and everything is fresh. The only thing frozen on the premises is the ice from the self-serve soda fountain.
Runner-up: Red Robin

BEST CHILI
Joe Rogers’ Chili Parlor

820 South Ninth Street, 522-3722
Not many Springfield food haunts are so famous that they have to include shipping options on their website. Then again, Joe Rogers’ “The Den” is not your average spot. An original recipe created almost 70 years ago still drives hordes of Springfield residents and international tourists to the South Ninth Street location each year. Regular customers know how to order their chili, whether mild, mild with a touch, medium, hot, or firebrand. There’s extra meat, no meat, extra oil and everything in between. Although Joe Rogers moved from its first location at 1125 South Grand in 1997, one tradition remains: anyone who eats the ultra-spicy firebrand (and survives) still gets their name on the wall. Give it a try Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cash only.
Runner-up: Steak ’n Shake

BEST GYROS
Gyros Stop

2907 S. MacArthur Blvd., 698-6463
This is getting ridiculous. Six consecutive years of serving the best gyros in Springfield? Believe it, and the voting this time wasn’t close. That’s not to say that there aren’t other places that serve perfectly fine gyros, but Gyro Stop is a step beyond, with always fresh ingredients and plenty of them. A Gyro Stop gyro would be a bargain at twice the price.
Runner-up: Yanni’s

BEST BURGER
Five Guys Burgers and Fries

2501 Wabash Avenue (White Oaks Mall), 546-8230
From the super-friendly staff, to the fresh-cut fries, to the free peanuts, to the amazing burgers, what’s not to love from one of Springfield’s newest and most anticipated chains? Five Guys (amid an explosion of more than 750 locations in the past 10 years) took over White Oaks Mall’s former movie theater location earlier this year and the place has been hopping ever since. The menu is simple – you’ve got burgers, dogs, sandwiches, fries, and shakes – but the taste is deluxe. Dieters be warned: the sloppy burgers served at this red and white joint are downright addictive.
Runner-up: Krekel’s

BEST RESTAURANT WHERE KIDS EAT FREE
Charlie Parker’s Diner

100 North Street, 241-2104
One of Springfield’s most well-known restaurants (featured on many shows like “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”) is also home to one of its best-kept secrets – kids eat free! Mike and Cindy Murphy purchased the famous Quonset hut restaurant in 2009, and their kids’ meals are FREE for kids 3 and under with a paid adult meal. Your little one can pick from French toast and bacon, mac and cheese and applesauce, mouse cake and bacon, and chicken fingers and French fries. And if your kiddo is over 36 months, fear not! The regular price is only $3.25.
Runner-up: Steak ’n Shake (weekends only, valid with $8 adult purchase)

BEST BREAKFAST
Charlie Parker’s Diner

700 North St., 217-241-2104
Springfield offers a lot of choices for breakfast, but Charlie Parker’s has the day’s first meal all figured out. They’ve been featured on numerous national and regional TV shows, and their breakfast horseshoe is truly a delicacy. (You want gravy or cheese sauce? How about both?) The best part is that you can have breakfast all darn day. Looking for adventure? Try their four giant pancakes challenge, in which they bring out four flapjacks the size of pizzas. If you eat them all, it’s on the house. Good luck, though; we’re fairly certain no mortal man can best that beast.
Runner-up: D&J Café

BEST PORK TENDERLOIN
Sportsman’s Lounge

229 West Mason, 492-1110
One glance at our voters’ comments, and you’ll be heading to West Mason to order a tenderloin at Sportsman’s Lounge. “Hangs over the plate!” “Great breading!” “So good!” and “Yum yum yum,” they say. Thin but not too thin, perfectly cooked and cooked to order (fried or grilled), this $9 specialty is a clear-cut crowd pleaser in Springfield. Be warned: it takes up the whole plate. Better grab an extra bun for $1. And remember, we are in Springfield – you can try it as a horseshoe! The Lounge is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon-Thurs. and Sat. and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fri.
Runner-up: D’Arcy’s Pint

BEST RESTAURANT OFF THE BEATEN BATH
Abe’s Hideout

200 Main Street, Mechanicsburg, 364-9386
If you’re searching for great grub, don’t forget to explore outside of Springfield city limits! You’re bound to discover many of our more hidden gems, like Abe’s Hideout and Saloon just off exit 114. Our readers proclaim: Abe’s is worth the drive, and they have a strong list of standard fare like chicken tenders, burgers, cheese fries, and wings as well as chicken, steak and seafood. Many voters suggest the house soup – cream of tomato, served daily. Abe’s is open every day. Kitchen hours are Sunday – Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday – Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Runner-up: Fire & Ale, Sherman

BEST DOWNTOWN DINING (Tie)
Maldaner’s

222 S. Sixth St., 522-4313
Obed and Isaac’s
500 S. Sixth St., 670-0627
These two restaurants have different aims, but both are equally fantastic, depending on your mood and the occasion. For an upscale lunch or dinner, it’s tough to beat Maldaner’s, no matter where you go. From the signature beef Wellington to the rack of lamb to the morel mushroom pie come springtime, it is all very, very good, and there is an extensive wine list plus top-shelf liquors to help things along. Obed and Isaac’s is both a restaurant and a pub, but the good kind, without blaring television or neon beer signs covering the walls. A great place to grab a sandwich, burger, flatbread pizza or salad.
Runner-up: Augie’s Front Burner

BEST VEGAN / VEGETARIAN DINING

Holy Land Diner

107 West Cook Street, 544-5786
Afaf Rashmawy’s locally famous lunch buffets roll out every Monday through Saturday with dinner versions on Friday and Saturday. The herbivores in town will want to try the mix of Greek and Lebanese food on Saturday night, as that’s when Rashmawy serves up vegetarian offerings. From lentils, to hummus, to couscous and tabbouli, Holy Land has you covered. In addition to the popular buffet, Holy Land’s regular menu has a nice mix of vegan and vegetarian fare including salads, apps and sandwiches. If you’re not sure what to try, start with falafel, try the dolmatis (grape leaves) or just ask the owners! Look for Holy Land Diner around town at various farmers markets and other food events.
Runner-up: American Harvest Eatery

BEST INDIAN RESTAURANT
Gateway to India

3115 Chatham Road, 726-6890
While many readers admitted they lack the culinary courage to sample Indian food, others say the owners and servers at Gateway to India welcome questions and are happy to suggest menu items first-timers will enjoy. Those who take the plunge will be rewarded with savory kabobs seasoned with mint and cilantro or flavorful fried samosas (pastries) stuffed with meat or vegetables. Those unfamiliar with Indian offerings may want to start with the lunchtime buffet where you’ll find an ever-changing array of items like naan (oven baked flat bread), korma and other curries, tandoori chicken and mango ice cream.
Runner-up: Flavor of India

BEST DESSERTS
BEST BREADS AND PASTRIES

Incredibly Delicious

925 South Seventh Street, 528-8548
There’s just one problem – you have to choose. Every time we step inside this beautiful Seventh Street sanctuary, we start an inner battle over what to order. The sweet and crumbly mixed berry tart? A handmade cinnamon role with cream cheese frosting? Or perhaps just a whole cake would do. Incredibly Delicious has long been recognized by BOS voters for its stunning sweets, but this year it takes the cake (ahem) for its breads and pastries, too, punting Panera Bread from the top spot. Patrick and his friendly team bake their own fresh bread using dough made from scratch. Stop by and load up on several variations from French, to challah to pepper parmesan.
Runner-up: Cold Stone Creamery (desserts) / Panera Bread (breads and pastries)

BEST MEAL UNDER $10
Steak ’n Shake

Multiple locations
You gotta love Steak ’n Shake. Consider the Royale Steakburger, the best breakfast sandwich to hit the fast-food scene since the Egg McMuffin, and you can get it all day long. The five-way chili eats like a true sit-down meal, and you don’t have to go to Cincinnati, where this concoction is de rigueur. Horseshoes? Check, at least at the Jerome location. Salads? They have those, too. And nothing gets cooked until you order it. We like that.
Runner-up: Café Moxo

BEST ICE CREAM
Cold Stone Creamery

124 S. Sixth St., 523-6666
Two words: birthday cake. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Cold Stone Creamery. Their Birthday Cake Remix ice cream sundae tastes just like the real thing – maybe even better. In fact, it even has cake batter swirled into the ice cream. Get it in the chocolate-dipped waffle bowl, and don’t even think about calories. Plus, Cold Stone is open until 10 p.m. on work nights and until 11 on weekend nights for those after-dark cravings.
Runner-up: Baskin Robbins

BEST MARTINI
Osaka Japanese Restaurant

1665 Wabash Ave., 726-8037
We don’t know what they do for martinis in Japan, but we like to imagine that they put as much care and hard work into their drinks as Osaka Japanese Restaurant does. Osaka infuses their liquor with delicious flavors like honey dew cantaloupe, jalapeño pepper, vanilla and pineapple. In fact, the rainbow of flavor-soaked booze jars lined up in their bar is so beautiful that it’s almost a shame to drink their contents. Almost. Whether you like your martinis with vodka, bourbon, rum, tequila or sake, Osaka probably has a drink that fits your taste. Enjoy a stiff one with a plate of their scrumptious sashimi or sitting at one of their entertaining hibachi tables, and you’ll feel like all is right with the world.
Runner-up: Ross Isaac

BEST BLOODY MARY
JP Kelly’s Pub

300 E Adams St., 753-7933
It’s hard to get more “Irish pub” than JP Kelly’s. They proudly fly the Irish flag out front and even display their emptied Jameson whiskey bottles behind the bar. So what’s Irish about a bloody mary? Not much, unless you start drinking them at 10 in the morning. That’s where JP Kelly’s Saturday morning Bloody Mary Bar comes in. (As if we needed another reason to hit up the downtown farmers market on Saturdays.) In place of the traditional, boring stalk of celery, their bloody marys feature a skewer of snacks sticking out the top: peppers, cheese, pineapple, shrimp and more. We haven’t been adventurous enough yet to try their Hot Pepper Vodka or Bacon Vodka varieties, but rest easy knowing you can wash it down with the draft beer chaser that comes with your bloody mary.
Runner-up: The Curve Inn

BEST RESTAURANT WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS BUYING
Bella Milano

4525 Wabash Ave., 547-0011
Bella Milano is one of those places where you can eat pretty well for not much money, or you can go hog wild and blow your whole paycheck on a feast fit for a king…or several kings. College kids, take note: It’s a great place to take your visiting parents when dad is in a generous mood.
Runner-up: Nick and Nino’s Penthouse Steakhouse

BEST BAR TO PLAY DARTS
The Curve Inn

3219 S. Sixth Street Road, 529-5806
Not all of us play darts, but if we’re going to do so, it’s nice to have a dedicated space instead of being shoehorned in between tables and having to worry about putting someone’s eye out. The Curve Inn calls itself a “darts bar,” but you don’t have to be a pro to throw a few quills at Curve.
Runner-up: Mowie’s Cue

PHOTO BY TREVOR MILLER

 

HOTTEST BARTENDER

Marla Sparks – Crowne Plaza

We’re beginning to think Marla Sparks has a fan club. She won this award last year, too, and she got 120 votes this year. You’ll find Marla at the top of the Crowne Plaza, in the Mahogany Bar and Grill. She makes a killer drink and even better small talk. But don’t get any ideas, fellas – especially those of you who left crude comments with your votes. She may be really sweet and fun to talk to, but she’s taken. You can still leave her a nice tip, though.
Runner-up: Will Decker – Norb Andy’s

BEST BAR TO SHOOT POOL
Mowie’s Cue

1277 Toronto Road, 529-7616
It’s no wonder Mowie’s Cue was voted Best Bar to Shoot Pool; they have rows of pool tables and a well-stocked bar to back them up. Drinks are cheap, and league nights are always a hoot. Go for the pool; stay for the fried food and fun.
Runner-up: Floyd’s Thirst Parlor

BEST BAR FOR CHEAP DRINKS
The Curve Inn

3219 S. Sixth Street Road, 529-5806
There’s something almost patriotic about being able to tie one on for not a lot of cash. It’s practically an American right. One of the nice things about The Curve Inn is that even the good beers are priced attractively. (No offense to those of you who like watery grog.) A measly 10 spot will still get you a couple of brews and a burger if you go on the right night. Just remember to save enough for a tip.
Runner-up: Brewhaus

BEST BAR FOR SUITS
Boone’s Saloon

301 W Edwards St., 679-3752
Located conveniently just steps away from the Capitol complex, it’s no wonder Boone’s Saloon was voted best bar for suits. When lawmakers are in town, you’ll find Boone’s hopping with legislators, lobbyists, journalists and hangers-on of all stripes. During the warm months, the beer garden at Boone’s offers a fantastic view of the Capitol dome, lit by the soft evening sun. Couple the view with a cold beer and some of their BBQ nachos or sweet potato fries, and it’s enough to make you temporarily forget what goes on in the Statehouse.
Runner-up: Obed & Isaac’s

BEST BAR TO FIND A DATE
The Curve Inn

3219 S. Sixth Street Road, 529-5806
If you’re looking for love at a bar, The Curve Inn is as good a place as any. It’s usually packed when there’s live music or a darts league night, and the crowd tends to range pretty wide in age and lifestyle. A voter comment for Curve in this category said, “Watch out for Reggie.” We’re hoping that’s a joke, and we’re sure Reggie is a great guy.
Runner-up: Floyd’s Thirst Parlor

BEST SPORTS BAR
Brickhouse Grill & Pub

3136 W. Iles, 546-2745
217 S. 5th St., 679-1500

We don’t know much about sports. So when somebody wants to watch the big game, we don’t mind throwing back a few cold ones at Brickhouse, because it doesn’t feel like a sports bar. Sure, it has the obligatory flat screens tuned to every sports game possible, but the atmosphere is more Irish pub and the menu is more upscale bistro. What other sports bar offers an Ahi tuna steak salad, pesto chicken sandwich and hand-breaded portabella mushroom appetizers? And don’t worry, macho men: they also offer more traditional sports fan fare like burgers, wings and cheap beer.
Runner-up: Corner Pub & Grill

BEST BEER GARDEN
The Curve Inn

3219 S. Sixth Street Road, 529-5806
The only thing better than sipping a cold beer after work is doing it outside with your friends. The Curve Inn’s beer garden is large enough to hold a foot-stomping band and a rowdy crowd, and they have outdoor heaters to extend the party just a bit longer than summer usually allows.
Runner-up: Obed and Isaac’s

BEST CHEF
Jordan Coffey, American Harvest Eatery

3241 W. Iles, 546-8300
Not yet 30, Jordan Coffey isn’t just the best young chef in Springfield, he’s the best, period. So say our readers who, presumably, know Coffey both from his days at Augie’s Front Burner and at American Harvest, which opened in 2011 with Coffey as executive chef. He’s not just the best in the city, he’s one of the best in the region and so has been chosen three times to compete in the prestigious young chef’s competition organized by L’Chaine des Rotisseurs, which claims the distinction of being the world’s oldest gastronomic society.  Coffey didn’t win this year, but his meal that featured braised lamb shank with sweet onion soubise, green lentils, candied guanciale and sauce bordelaise sounds scrumptious.
Runner-up: Sean Keeley of Ross Isaac’s

BEST MEAT MARKET
Humphrey’s Market

1820 S. 15th St., 544-7445
This venerable purveyor of fine meat and produce has been a favorite in town for close to 80 years. Still in its original location, a major component of Humphrey’s appeal is the nostalgic feeling of actually going into a family-operated specialty store to buy food. Younger readers may or may not realize that once upon a time this kind of store was the rule, not the exception.
Runner-up: Country Market

BEST LOCALLY SOURCED MENU,
BEST WINE LIST

American Harvest Eatery

3241 W. Iles, 546-8300
If you want to see where your American Harvest food comes from, head on down to the farmers market or drive the rural roads around town. Owner August Mrozowski and chefs Jordan and Aurora Coffey are bringing a local approach to food, using farmers from almost 20 nearby locales. These locally grown products from Rochester, Virden and elsewhere in the 217 are lovingly turned into masterpieces perhaps best sampled at special dinner events that AH’s Facebook page bills as “culinary journeys,” or memorable evenings full of “laughter, conversation and reminiscing” that can last up to three hours. With its rapidly growing fanbase and penchant for locally sourced ingredients, it’s no surprise that American Harvest Eatery is also our readers’ pick for Best Wine List of 2013 for their wide selection of local vintages. Chef Aurora Coffey says their wine selection is growing and was built to showcase “as many local items as possible.” Popular selections include those from New Berlin’s Danenberger Family Vineyards like their Desagace series of dry wines. The Desagace Rouge, made with syrah, Marquette and arandell grapes is available by the glass or bottle and sold only at American Harvest. See if you can catch its leather and truffle notes.
Runner-up locally sourced menu: Engrained Brewing Company
Runner-up wine list: Hill Prairie Winery

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