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Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008 03:11 pm

Best of Food & Drink

art5361

Best Chips and Salsa
Xochimilco
2941 W. Iles Ave., 546-3116; 3210 Northfield Dr., 544-9206; 6901 Preston Dr., 483-1006
You can tell a lot about a Mexican restaurant by its chips. If they’re greasy, you can bet your chile relleno will be drowning in grasa. If they’re sparse, you’ll have to tackle a waiter to get a soda refill. And worst of all, if the chips bend rather than snap, then the best thing you’ll be able to say about the dining establishment is that you never have to wait for a table: stale chips signal a restaurant that’s not very busy. None of those problems plague Xochimilco, where the chips are traditionally crisp and plentiful. Runner-up Café Brio, which now charges for its chips, offers a tri-colored variety that’s more festive, though not quite so reliably snappy.
Runner-up: Cafe Brio

Best Mexican
Xochimilco
2941 W. Iles Ave., 546-3116; 3210 Northfield Dr., 544-9206; 6901 Preston Dr., 483-1006
Bienvenidos amigos to Xochimilco. Our Best Mexican winner for…gosh, so many years that we’ve lost count. It’s almost a Springfield empire with shops at three different spots around town. Our favorite’s still the diner-like Iles location with its never-ending flow of faithful patrons and servers so good they make balancing five plates on one arm look easy. Stop by for lunch. The Speedy Gonzalez, a taco, enchilada and either rice or beans, is super-satisfying and cheap. For dinner we love the fajita quesadilla. If that doesn’t hit the spot, try one of Xochimilco’s 75-plus other entrees. Runner-up Los Agaves dishes out just as much south-of-the-border selection. Its tasty, authentic cuisine gives Xochimilco a run for its money every year.
Runner-up: Los Agaves

Best margaritas
Xochimilco
2941 W. Iles Ave., 546-3116; 3210 Northfield Dr., 544-9206; 6901 Preston Dr., 483-1006
Who doesn’t like margaritas? On the rocks or frozen with salt — Xochimilco mixes them up tangy and tart, and they always pack the perfect punch. If you’re meeting co-workers for one or two, a 12-ounce lime, peach or strawberry margarita will meet the need. But if you’ve had one of those nights, or if you’re really just lookin’ to get sloshed, order the 46-ouncer. The really ambitious or a table of family and friends can order pitchers. Los Agaves snagged the slot for No. 2 margarita hotspot. Its cantina offers similar size glasses, but also gives clientele the choice of raspberry or coconut flavors.
Runner-up: Los Agaves

Best coffee
Grab-a-Java
1702 S. Sixth St., 523-5282
3115 Hedley Rd., 698-9773

In the seemingly endless ocean of places to get a cup of Joe to go in this town, Grab-A-Java is a tugboat. No dining area with plush sofas, no overpriced CDs for sale, no obnoxious teenagers pretending to study, Grab-A-Java does one thing — make coffee, and they do it well. In addition to coffee, GAJ, which has two locations in the capital city, sells cappuccino, espresso, smoothies and several flavors of chai tea, including spiced vanilla, raspberry and decaf spiced. Trout Lily Café, a perennial IT favorite, and Brewbaker’s also performed well in this category.
Runner-up: Starbucks

Best subs / grinders
Head West Sub Stop
1124 W. Jefferson St., 793-9101
530 E. Capitol Ave., 789-9101
3311 Robbins Rd., 726-9202

This year marks the fifth consecutive win for Head West. Their secret ingredient? It’s no secret. It’s the best bread in any sub shop. In any town. On any planet. And to make matters more delectable, the stuff they put between the slices is pretty awesome, too. A single sandwich will cost you less than an hour’s wage, and if you’re like us, the leftover half will make another meal. Plus Head West carries the entire rainbow of Jones sodas. What more could you ask for?
Runner-up: Monty’s Submarines

Best Sinful Desserts
Incredibly Delicious
925 S. Seventh St., 528-8548
The food at Incredibly Delicious is like a fresh snow: part of you wants to preserve its pristine splendor, yet you just can’t resist diving in head first and frolicking around in it. In fact, one wonders whether the expression “want to have your cake and eat it, too” originated inside the historic Weber House, which houses the Springfield bakery. Last time we went by for dessert, at 10 o’clock in the morning, we opted for season-themed fare. The pumpkin cheesecake was exceptional, as was the fall fruit tart, stuffed with apples and cranberries as was the vanilla strawberry cake. Since the menu changes daily, we can’t guarantee these treats will be available, but whatever is on the menu is sure to be incredible and delicious.
Runner-up: Maldaner’s

Best baked goods
Incredibly Delicious
925 S. Seventh St., 528-8548
They like to boast that “The Name Says It All!,” but the statement isn’t entirely accurate — words alone can’t do justice to the savory delectableness of the bakery’s cakes, tarts, cookies and breads. At the risk of inflating ID’s ego, you also can’t go wrong with their quiche, rolls, brioche, coffee cakes or a loaf of their wheat raisin walnut, Kalamata olive, multigrain, pepper parmesan, challah or any one of the baked-fresh-daily breads. Their handmade croissants come in raspberry, chocolate, almond cream and plain varieties. Remember, selections change daily, so visit often.
Runner-up: Café Moxo

Best owner in residence at their establishment
Patrick Groth
Incredibly Delicious
It came as no surprise to us that readers identified Patrick Groth when we asked about owners who are part of the landscape at their restaurants. No matter what time of the day one visits his bakery/restaurant, Groth (the tall fellow wearing shorts), seems to always be right there — gliding through the dining room to the kitchen and back again. He makes running a busy bakery/restaurant look effortless, although we know it is anything but.
Two other owners who were singled out by their customers for this same honor are featured elsewhere in this edition. Peter Praia of Palermo’s Sicilian Cucina and Jimmy Oh of Bentoh’s and Jimmy Oh’s.

Best weekend breakfast
D & J Café
915 W. Laurel St., 753-1708
It appears that IT readers had a difficult time deciding the best place to go for a weekend breakfast, with D & J Café narrowly edging out Charlie Parker to take this year’s honors. D & J’s definitely makes you want to set aside time for the most important meal of the day. Friendly waitresses, fast service, delicious omelets, fluffy pancakes, fresh orange juice and cheap prices. What more could you ask?

Best Chinese food
Hunan
1101 W. Wabash Ave., 726-5760
With its sushi bar, 17 appetizers, seven soups and 66 seafood, pork, beef, chicken and vegetarian entrees to choose from, and portions larger than most, Hunan once again takes the honors of best Chinese restaurant. Hunan also serves a variety of other Chinese staples, including chop suey, chow mein, fried rice, egg foo young, lo mein and rice noodle dishes. With a tight economy, perhaps it’s the restaurant’s $5.25 lunch specials — which offer dishes such as sweet and sour pork or chicken, mushroom pork, sesame and broccoli chicken, beef and broccoli and many others (enough food for lunch and dinner) — or the nearly 60-item Japanese menu, that has customers singing its praises. Springfield’s Tai Pan and Golden Dragon took second and third place honors.
Runner-up: Tai Pan

Best catfish or walleye
Carter’s Fish Market
1900 S. Grand Ave. East, 525-2571
Carter’s Fish Market has won this category so many times, we’re starting to run out of fresh compliments to heap upon the quaint little shack. Maybe this year, instead of reminding you how wonderful the catfish and walleye taste — with a dusting of cornmeal and a dainty dunk in the fry vat — we should focus on the shrimp, which costs an ooch more but like most Carter’s servings, will feed two reasonable adults. Or maybe we should mention the sweet corn fritters, which taste so heavenly, we tend to save them for dessert. Or heck, maybe we should just sign off the computer, drive to the eastside, and stand in line, in the rain, for a taste of catfish. Bye, see ya!
Runner-up: Walleye Stop

Best fried chicken
Fritz’s Wagon Wheel Restaurant
2709 S. McArthur Blvd., 546-9888
Fried, seared, and grilled. Chicken liver, gizzards and tenders. Fritz’s Wagon Wheel Restaurant’s chicken recipes will have chicken lovers licking their fingers and sucking chicken bones even after the meat is gone. What makes Fritz’s chicken stand out from the rest? Store manager Paula Pickle says it’s because it’s hand-breaded and prepared in a cast iron skillet, producing crispy meals that leave customers coming back for more. In fact, crispy fried chicken, a quaint ambiance and friendly service has had customers returning to Fritz’s for nearly 70 years. Because it’s made to order, don’t expect to get your chicken in a couple of minutes. Fritz’s chicken is guaranteed to arrive piping hot, and it’s definitely worth the wait. The restaurant, which also serves steaks, ribs, seafood and pasta, is only open for dinner.
Runner-up: Johnny’s Restaurant

Best martini selection
Floyd’s Thirst Parlor
212 S. Fifth St., 522-2020
Unlike the upcoming election in which voters will consider the bona fides of two politicos and vote for the one they like best, you’ll want to
inaugurate all the candidates in the race for tastiest ‘tini at Floyd’s. We like the conservative Gibson, a classic martini with a cocktail onion in
place of the olive, and the progressive Smoky, which challenges the old guard by being mixed in a cocktail shaker that’s been rinsed with Scotch to give it a faint wood smoke flavor. Rounding out the field are the perennial Appletini and its running mate, the Caramel Apple, which includes a splash of DeKuyper Buttershots schnapps. Remember to vote early, often and responsibly.
Runner-up: Pao

Best chili
Joe Rodgers Chili / The Den
820 S. Ninth St., 522-3722
Let’s say you moved away from Springfield. And we don’t mean to Sherman, or Peoria, or even Chicago. We mean the Land of Far, Far Away, aka California. What would you miss? What would you crave? What would you be so homesick for that you would pay FedEx to deliver it to you? For at least one native Springfieldian, the answer is Joe Rodgers Chili. Even though the shipping costs more than the chili, this crazy man had batches of Joe’s red expressed west on more than one occasion. That’s how uniquely addictive this stuff is.
Try to find a parking place at the Chili Den near noon any weekday and you’ll see other Joe’s junkies circling for a spot, then waiting in a line that snakes from the door to the counter. After placing an order for anything from mild to hot to the not-for-amateurs “firebrand,” most customers accessorize their chili with a carton of milk, a handful of oyster crackers, a broken tamale or a splash of vinegar — all to take the spicy hotness down just a notch or two.
Runner-up: Joe’s Chili Bowl

Best sushi
Pao
2824 Plaza Dr., 546-4660
Pao was one of Springfield’s best kept secrets until recently. But word is starting to get out about the bistro, hidden away in the Gables shopping plaza. Pao features 25 types of sushi, ranging in price from $7 Bottle Rocket, consisting of sambal-basted shrimp, to the $15 Surf-and-Turf, poached lobster topped with seared filet. Don’t like raw fish? Understandable, but it should be noted that not all sushi is constituted of uncooked seafood. If you’re still not feeling adventurous, though, Pao has an extensive menu full of non-sushi offerings as well, including appetizers such as pot stickers ($5), calamari ($8), and crab cakes ($6). Entrees include burgers, pizza, chicken, pork chops, rack of lamb, veal porterhouse and steak.
Runner-up: Hunan Chinese Restaurant

Best Thai or Vietnamese food
Magic Kitchen
115 N. Lewis St., 525-6975
4112 Peoria Rd., 525-2230
Step No. 1. Duel for a spot in the narrow parking lot behind Magic Kitchen’s downtown location. Step No. 2. Fight for a table amidst the hustle-and-bustle of the lunch crowd. Step No. 3. Breathe in the capital city institution’s delicacies. Trust us, the effort’s worth it. Start with the fried tofu and peanut sauce appetizer, then move on to the Thai Red Curry. You have the choice of mild, mild-plus, medium or hot for most entrees, but heed the Magic Kitchen menu’s warning, “Thai food is spicy. Mild. Medium is hot. Hot is devastating.” Save room for sticky rice or for one of the restaurant’s 14 different varieties of pie. Choose from classic pecan or scrumptious chocolate-peanut butter. Add variety to life with trips to Little Saigon, 2007 winner and this year’s runner-up. We stop in just for a coconut freeze.
Runner-up: Little Saigon

Best horseshoe
D’Arcy’s Pint
661 W. Stanford Ave., 492-8800I
f this were a marathon, D’Arcy’s would have lapped the competition. Not only does D’Arcy’s offer its signature buffalo chicken ponyshoe, customers can opt to try other specialty shoes, including its deluxe, chili cheeseburger, chili cheese dog and supreme. Those who are not so adventurous can choose to have their shoes with ham, corned beef, turkey, bacon, veggie, breaded tenderloin, roast beef or walleye. While D’Arcy’s takes home this year’s honor of best horseshoe, IT readers believe Dublin Pub and Westwoods horseshoes will make you want to come back for more.
Runner-up: Dublin Pub

Best Burger
Krekel’s Custard
2121 N. Grand Ave E., 525-4952
These hamburgers are so delicious that Krekel’s could have just as easily been a contender in the “Best Place to Impress Out of Town Guests” category. After the first time you take visitors, they’ll insist on going every time they’re in Springfield, no matter how briefly — and you will happily oblige. Molecularly similarly to the sandwiches served at a popular chain that’s won this award the past two years, Krekel’s burgers consist of thin grill-seared beef patties, cooked to order. A double hamburger meal, which comes with fries and a drink, costs just $5.95 at the north-end eatery. We hear the custard is also to die for, but after devouring our triple cheeseburger meal ($7.45), there just wasn’t any room left in our bellies.
Runner-up: Sammy’s Sports Bar

Best gyros
Gyros Stop
2907 S. MacArthur Blvd., 698-6463
Back in March, the Gyros Stop’s proprietor, Abe Christofilakos, suggested to an IT reporter that we consider adding this category to our 2008 annual readers’ survey. So we polled some focus groups to gauge reader interest in the subject. OK, not really. We just wanted an excuse to eat a bunch of gyros. Christofilakos must have been pretty confident in his shop’s ability to compete in a town where there a quite a few places to get a good gyros sandwich. Looks like his confidence paid off.
Runner-up: Yanni’s Gyros

Best place to have a power lunch
Sebastian’s Hideout
221 S. Fifth St., 789-8988
Nestled in the Fifth Street row of bistros and bars, Sebastian’s Hideout poses a triple threat to its neighbors: timeless tunes, appealing atmosphere and most importantly, fast, flavorful fare. Frank Sinatra’s soulful melodies and the eatery’s casual feel and rust-colored palette settle harried state workers during the 10-minute-or-so wait for their potato blue-cheese soup or crab-and-shrimp cakes. Another tasty midday option is Sebastian’s grilled chicken panino — ciabatta bread stacked with wilted spinach, shitake mushrooms, provolone cheese, and chipotle aioli. Diners with a little more time and cash can opt for the petite filet mignon with garlic mashed potatoes and haricots verts. At $13, it’s the most expensive item on the lunch menu.
Runner-up: Sangamo Club

Best wine selection
Sebastian’s Hideout
221 S. Fifth St., 789-8988
When the sun sinks below the horizon, Illinois Times readers seek bliss in the lower level of Sebastian’s Hideout. It’s here — cuddled up in leather couches and chairs, surrounded by soft candlelight — where they drink the vino. The Captain’s List, featuring “premium wines respected and acclaimed by wine enthusiasts everywhere,” flaunts bottles of vin blanc and vin rouge from such grape-growing havens as Bordeaux and Napa Valley. The multi-page wine list offers a variety of classics like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. For something different, try a glass of Riveraerie Gewürtztraminer — a blend of juniper berry, apricot and cantaloupe, or the Codirosso Chianti — a Sangiovese swirl of dried cherries and floral and earthy undertones. Runner-up Ross Isaac also provides a stellar wine selection, including a lengthier list of whites.
Runner-up: Ross Isaac

Best beer selection
Brewhaus
617 E. Washington St., 525-6399
Brewhaus rooted itself in the heart of downtown, but 14 years later, its dimly lighted interior still reveals the look and feel of a beloved neighborhood bar. That could be why Brewhaus has a cult following of 20-to-30-year olds — but we’re willing to bet that the 250-to-300 beer selection has a little more to do with it. This tavern’s known for carrying beers that aren’t easily found in central Illinois, including the über-rare Twin Sisters Double IPA — a hoppy mix of pine and citrus flavors brewed in Longmont, Colo. It’s also Springfield’s seasonal sensation. Brews like Germany’s Erdinger and Warsteiner Oktoberfests are going fast and a whole slew of Winterfests will soon take their place.
Runner-up: The Barrel Head

Best bartender/therapist
Mike Parkes, Brewhaus
617 E. Washington St., 525-6399
Mike Parkes wanted to be a writer. He figured the interesting crowd at the local watering hole would inspire him, so he took a job as a bartender. “It turns out I was good at working in a bar, and not so great at writing,” Parkes says. After 14 years as Brewhaus’ owner and chief bartender, Parkes still captures the capital city’s attention. For him, it’s all about getting patrons excited. He spends at least 30 hours each week hunting down unusual brews. He stocks the shelves with never-before-heard-of liquors (he’s got 100 different scotches alone). He freshens up his cocktails, adding fresh fruit to white peach martinis and pear-tinis. And he thrives on a little chaos. “Any mixture of crazy tastes you have in your mind, come in here and we’ll make it for you,” Parkes says.
Runner-up: Graham Nicholson,
Floyd’s Thirst Parlor

Best restaurant to impress out- of-town guests
Ross Isaac
1710 S. MacArthur Blvd., 744-7677
Ross Isaac may be the best thing to happen to MacArthur Blvd., if not Springfield, in a very long time. For evidence, just consider the fact that in its first year, Sean Keely’s contemporary-cuisine bistro handily defeated many other wonderful dining establishments that have been around Springfield for a long time for this honor. Ross Isaac, located in a building that has housed several family restaurants over the years, has removed the fish net and carpeting on the wall to give the place a more sophisticated ambiance. Ross Isaac opens at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Runner-up: Maldaner’s

Best Chef
Sean Keely
Want to know why Ross Isaac’s Sean Keely is Springfield’s best chef? For starters: Alaskan salmon seared over julienne vegetables with garlic mashed potatoes; charbroiled handcut filet mignon with rosemary butter, au gratin potatoes and grilled asparagus; cold-water Canadian lobster tail broiled and poached in lemon pinot beurre blanc; stuffed Imperial crab; seared chicken sauté in a sesame crust over Napa cabbage stir-fries with garlic and soy and served with sticky rice and a sesame lime vinaigrette; pork chops wrapped in jalapeño smoked bacon charbroiled over garlic mashed potatoes and cabernet demi-glace. Mahi-mahi dusted with crushed dried mushroom, seared with sautéed spinach and Luger steakhouse potatoes. Plus, from what we hear, he’s also a really cool guy.
Runner-up: Michael Higgins, Maldaner’s

Best waitperson
Jocelyn Praia
Palermo’s Sicilian Cucina
“One of the best and most attentive waitresses in Springfield ever.” That’s what one Illinois Times voter gushed about Jocelyn Praia, the 19-year-old superstar server/manager at Palermo’s Sicilian Cucina. She’s grown up in the food industry, helping out in one family member’s restaurant or another since her pre-teen years, and it shows. Our readers love Praia for her quick smile and even quicker memory. After only a couple of visits, she’ll know your name, your favorite dish, and even other odds-and-ends about your life. It doesn’t hurt that every day, her fashionable ’do and bronzed skin make it seem like she’s just stepped out of a fashion spread. “Isn’t she just so pretty?” one customer says to another as Praia walks away.
Runner-up: Kate Catalano, Brewhaus

Best Owner-in-residence in his establishment
Peter Praia
Palermo’s Sicilian Cucina
If his name sounds familiar you might be remembering a pizza from Luigi’s Italian Restaurant in Riverton or from France’s Italian Pizza House at Peoria Road and Sangamon Avenue. Peter Praia has a long history of serving up Sicilian food in central Illinois and his newest venture, Palermo’s Sicilian Cucina, captured the attention of our voters. Praia opened his pizza-and-pasta eatery in August 2007 on Durkin Drive (the former location of Imo’s Pizza), and since then, he turns on the charm with every customer who walks through the door. While the waitress gushes about how wonderful he is, it doesn’t take long to figure out that it’s a family affair. Praia’s wife, Penny, handles accounting; oldest son, P.J., cooks pasta; next son, Nick, makes pizza; and daughter, Jocelyn, works as head waitress and manager (also just voted our Best waitperson). The charming photos on the walls? You guessed it — generations of the Praia family at home in Sicily.

Best Greek food
Yanni’s
1814 Stevenson Dr., 585-9300
To those who know Yanni Pappas, it’s no surprise that just 18 months after opening the restaurant the 28-year-old owner would take top honors as this year’s best Greek category. After all, he has been “around” the restaurant business all of his life, working alongside his dad and godfather in a jointly owned gyro restaurant. While he started as a dishwasher at the age of 15, Pappas is now serving up a variety of his own Greek dishes, including gyro sandwiches (tradition, chicken, barbeque, spicy barbecue and veggie) and salads, stuffed grape leaves (with ground rice and herbs) and passticcio (Greek lasagna). While Pappas’s lengthy menu offers other “not so Greek” items such as horseshoes and philly steak, Italian beef and grilled chicken sandwiches, on Wednesdays and Fridays customers can indulge in traditional Greek specials, including mousaka, (made with eggplant, potato, zucchini and seasoned ground beef) and Greek green beans (green beans with tomato and herbs).
Runners-up: Gyros Stop and
Holy Land Diner.

Best buffet
New Buffet City
1774 W. Wabash Ave., 698-6069
Feast your eyes on a spread of food that includes sweet and sour chicken, beef and broccoli, egg rolls, crab rangoon, scallops, stuffed mushrooms, fried chicken, salmon, fish, mussels, steak, shrimp, crab legs, Beijing duck, and a Mongolian grill, as well as salad, sushi, and dessert bars. With such a wide variety to choose from, and very affordable prices ($9.95 for dinner and $6.25 for lunch), it comes as no surprise that Springfield residents voted New Buffet City as best buffet. Warning: There is a good possibility that, once you’ve finished, you may find it’s difficult to move.
Runner-up: International Buffet

Best bar food
Sammy’s Sports Bar and Grill
217 S. Fifth St., 789-9803
IT voters, once again, selected Sammy’s Sports Bar and Grill as having the best bar food. Diners, this one included, can’t stop eating the brat bites — beer-battered and deep-fried pieces of bratwurst. Not only are they delicious, brat bites, as well as poppers and fried mushrooms, are part of the establishment’s half-price Happy-Hour menu. Sammy’s also offers a number of specialty dishes customers order in volume, including onion tanglers, Jamaican fries, pot roast sandwiches and chipotle turkey melts. For those customers looking for more traditional bar and grill staples, such as burgers, nachos, chicken wings and horseshoes (12 varieties), Sammy’s has items for you, too. While the food is great, it’s not the only reason Springfieldians keep coming back. The bar and grill has 22 televisions, a 70-square foot projection screen, 61-inch big screen, 14 flat screens and several other televisions, ensuring that you don’t miss your favorite sporting competition.
Runner-up: The Corner Pub

Best Italian
Saputo’s
801 E. Monroe St., 544-2523
Even as new spaghetti-slingers and mostaccioli-makers set up shop in Springfield, Illinois Times readers stick to their guns. They can’t get enough of Saputo’s. “Wonderful atmosphere! It’s dark in a good way,” “Simply the best in town,” and “Classic in both taste and atmosphere” are just a handful of the comments that poured in along with pages of votes for the family-owned Italian establishment. We suggest the Italian Favorites: a traditional meal served with antipasto (salami, provolone cheese, peppers and olives), salad and the choice of homemade ravioli, baked ravioli, baked lasagna, spaghetti, mostaccioli, or rigatoni, with meatballs or sausage.
Runner-up: Bella Milano

Best Indian food
Gateway to India
3115 Chatham Rd., 726-6890
With little competition in the area of Indian food, we decided to see if this year’s best Indian restaurant was indeed deserving. Never one to venture too far off familiar paths when it comes to food, we timidly walked into Gateway to India. Immediately greeted and seated by a very friendly hostess, our eyes feasted on a menu of more than 100 appetizers, entrees, specialties, breads, desserts and beverages, many we couldn’t pronounce. Speech and palate had little in common. Gateway’s Tandoori Mixed Grill — a platter of specialty dishes — was fabulous. The entrée-sized appetizer featured chicken, shrimp and lamb marinated in yogurt, ginger, garlic and lemon, all roasted in a clay oven. The restaurant’s Bhindi Masaala, an okra dish cooked with onions, tomatoes and spices, was equally enjoyable. Don’t leave without trying the homemade mango ice cream. We left Gateway to India with a newfound love, a carryout for lunch the next day and plans for another visit, which will be during lunch, when the restaurant has a buffet seven days a week.

BEST COFFEE SHOP
Andiamo
204 S. Sixth St., 523-3262
Italian for “let’s go,” the name of this quaint coffeehouse could represent the sentiments of downtown trekkers after visiting Andiamo: once you try one of their delicious coffee drinks, you’ll be ready to hit the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, Old State Capitol, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Lincoln home or any one of the dozens of historic sites and businesses located just footsteps away. Andiamo also has a complete menu of appetizers, such as antipasto, sandwiches, soups, specialty pizzas and sweets. And, like any good coffee shop in today’s Internet age, Andiamo has WiFi available. If you need another shot (of espresso?) after a day of seeing the sights, another favorite Springfield java haunt, Trout Lily Café is just a few doors away.
Runner-up: Grab-A-Java

Best place to celebrate a birthday
Pizza Machine
107 W. Cook St., 788-5976
One step inside The Pizza Machine and you quickly realize that you have entered “Jerry’s World.” And Jerry’s World, according to IT readers, is the best place to celebrate a birthday. It is easy to see why. It offers piping hot 40- and 60-inch pizzas delivered to tables via a makeshift crane. But Pizza Machine customers are treated to more than just great pizza. The restaurant — the brainchild of 24-year-old owner Jerry Neumann — offers a variety of games and interesting visuals, guaranteed to captivate children of all ages. Most impressive is The Pizza Machine’s performances, featuring Neumann and his brothers tossing dough in the air and behind their backs. The Pizza Machine also offers interactive parties, where party guests roll up their sleeves and create their own 60-inch pizza. The $350 package also includes 12 pitchers of soda. For an extra $50, party guests can view a movie on a big-screen television. Or you can order a bus, complete with a kitchen, to pull up in front of your home, where The Pizza Machine makes the pizza of your choice.
Runner-up: Tokyo of Japan

Best place to eat after 10pm
Chadito’s Taco Cart
Old State Capitol Plaza
3030 S. Sixth St., 529-8226

When Chadito’s ran away with this category, we were a tad confused — its doors on Sixth Street close at 10 p.m. But after talking with owner Chad Reese, we quickly saw the light. It’s Chadito’s Taco Cart that gets Illinois Times readers going! Every Friday and Saturday night, Reese parks a cart stocked with all the fixin’s needed for hot dogs, tacos and sanchos (basically a burrito filled with meat, cheese, lettuce and sauce) on the sidewalk downtown by Marly’s Pub. Until 3:30 a.m., or whenever supplies run out, Chadito’s Taco Cart feeds martini sippers and beer guzzlers alike. “It’s
unreal the amount of business we do,” Reese says. “And I’m the only one there.” Now he just needs to stamp some hands so the hefty drinkers still remember his tacos the next morning.
Runner-up: The Barrel Head

BEST Place for dinner when money is no object
Maldaner’s
222 S. Sixth St., 522-4313
At Maldaner’s, the menu is only a starting point. Locally-grown grilled red asparagus with Morel mushroom cream sauce and toasted brioche. Mmmmmm! Crabcakes with mango relish and curry mayonnaise. Oh yum! Warm goat cheese with red pepper coulis and grilled lemon toast with balsamic dressed greens. Wow! And that’s just the “small plates.” Among the “large plates,” there’s beef Wellington, veal meatballs and quail stuffed with sausage. Odds are, these will be trumped by the long list of “specials” your server will rattle off — specials that incorporate the best produce of the season, usually organic and locally grown, in keeping with owner/chef Michael Higgins’ philosophy. For dessert, there’s crème brule, lemon sherbet with raspberry sauce and a flourless French chocolate cake filled with ganache. Then of course, you’ll have dessert specials vying for your attention. The reason our readers voted Maldaner’s the winner in this category isn’t because the prices are outrageously high; it’s because you’ll want to tell your waitperson: “I’ll just take one of everything.”
Runner-up: Ross Isaac

Best outdoor dining
Maldaner’s
222 S. Sixth St., 522-4313
On the right night, with the right companion, the right weather and the right diners at the neighboring tables, you can almost forget you’re in Springpatch when dining al fresco at Maldaner’s. For starters, the food is major league luscious. The setting — on South Sixth between Monroe and Adams, which one former IT editor dubbed “the best block in Springfield” — has the ambiance of a more cosmopolitan, friendlier, artsier place. It’s so just plain lovely, you’ll want to go easy on the wine. In such an intoxicating setting, you could let yourself get talked into almost anything.
Runner-up: Pao

Best vegetarian food
Holy Land Diner
107 W. Cook St., 544-5786
Some things never change, and Holy Land Diner is one of them. Despite a move last year from downtown to the Vinegar Hill Mall, the lunch buffet at this friendly place is the same as it was the first few years it won this award. And you know what? That’s just fine. The salads are still made with Romaine lettuce instead of that watery stuff, the olives are still the tasty purple kind, the rice is still reliably perfect, the falafel crisp, the hummus velvety, the meatballs (yes, and gyros and sometimes chicken, too) wonderful, and the desserts plentiful.
Runner-up: Magic Kitchen

Best Middle Eastern food
Holy Land Diner
107 W. Cook St., 544-5786
With framed certificates prominently displayed on the wall of the Holy Land Diner, it’s clear that Jamal and Afaf Rashmaury are no stranger to Illinois Times Best of Springfield. In the past, Holy Land has been named best vegetarian restaurant. This year, however, the restaurant was also voted best Middle Eastern restaurant, which brought a smile to Afaf’s face. “We are the only Middle Eastern restaurant,” laughed Afaf, who feels “blessed” to have such a popular establishment. Holy Land serves gyros, soups, hummus, falafel, eggplant salad and other dishes from Greece and Lebanon that have been handed down through her family for several generations. While most dishes are vegetarian, Afaf boasts that Holy Land serves very few meat dishes (no fish or pork), uses fresh, homemade broth rather than bouillon cubes, and has baklava made without honey and half the fat. While the food is healthy and tasty, the best part is the friendly, attentive owners.

Best Salad Bar
Ruby Tuesday
2501 W. Wabash, 698-4030
Freshly prepared daily, and stocked with 30 items to customize the perfect salad — plus homemade pasta, potatoes, green beens and Waldorf salads — there is no doubt why voters believe Ruby Tuesday has the best salad bar in the city. Ordering the salad bar alone costs customers $7.99. Diners can add the salad bar to any entrée for only $2.99. Ruby Tuesday also offers a number of combos which include the salad bar — quiche of the day, chicken pot pie, and turkey or beef sandwiches for $8.99.
Runner up: Alexander’s Steakhouse

Best steaks
Alexander’s Steakhouse
620 N. Bruns Lane, 793-0440
Once again, IT readers have voted Mercedes Restaurants-owned Alexander’s the Cadillac of Springfield steakhouses. Alexander’s is a great locale for family dinner, just hanging out with friends or a dinner date – assuming your mate doesn’t mind having to cook. Patrons do it themselves with Alexander’s 13 steak cuts ($18.49 - $32.99), as well as pork chops, chicken and seafood. For a small fee, Alexander’s chefs will grill your food for you, but what fun is going to a restaurant and letting someone else do the cooking?
Runner-up: Gallagher’s

BEST Owner in residence in his establishment
Jimmy Oh
Bentoh’s / Jimmy Oh’s
It is difficult for most of us to imagine owning one restaurant, which makes anyone with the time and energy to run two a super standout. According to our “Best of” voters, Jimmy Oh has what it takes. Most seem to know him best from downtown’s popular Asian restaurant, Bentoh’s, well known for its lunchtime sushi and fresh daily specials. (Barack Obama has made it known that Bentoh’s is his favorite lunch spot in the capital city.) Not long ago Oh and his wife Cindy opened a new westside eatery, Jimmy Oh’s, which gives diners double the pleasure — but makes us wonder when Jimmy sleeps.

Best Pizza Dine-In
Best Pizza Carry Out

Gabatoni’s
300 E. Laurel St.
522-0371 or 528-9629
Whether you plan to dine in or carry out, one thing is certain, Springfield residents believe that Gabatoni’s has the best pizza in town. Gabatoni’s — a family owned and operated business — has been delighting the palates of area pizza lovers for nearly 60 years, using the same family recipe. Gabatoni customers can choose from traditional pizzas, as well as Gabatoni’s specials, including the Gabatoni Four (sausage, meat, onion and green pepper), the E.B.A. (everything but anchovies), taco and meat lovers.
Current owner Rosalie Beck began working alongside her parents (Rosemary and John Lynn) at the age of 17. Since taking over about a decade ago, Beck has added a few capital city staples, such as horseshoes, poor boys and tenderloins.
Beck, an only child who has no children, sometimes finds herself wondering what will happen to the restaurant once she’s gone. “I think about it for two reasons — our wonderful customers and employees.
“We have some customers who’ve been coming here a couple of times a week for the past 52 years.”
Runner-up, pizza dine-in: Bernie and Betty’s
Runner-up, pizza carry-out: Coz’s

Best barbecue
Hickory River Smokehouse
2343 N. Dirksen Pkwy., 528-2271
The last time we checked out Hickory River Smokehouse, we found ourselves standing in line behind a posse of pretty teenage girls, taking their own sweet time trying to decide what to order. The guy behind the counter motioned us forward, but — not wanting to commit a karma violation — we were reluctant to jump line. “Oh, don’t worry, they work here,” the guy said. It didn’t hit us until later, but what better endorsement can a restaurant get than to have its own employees — people who know exactly what goes on back in the kitchen — line up to pay for the food?
But Hickory River is worth it. This year marks its third consecutive win in this category. The beef brisket is better than most, but the pulled pork is pure pleasure. The sides present a conundrum, because they all sound so yummy. The Springfield location (one of only five in the country) also offers a ’Cue Shoe.
Runner-up: McCormick’s Restaurant and Smokehouse
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