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Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 07:43 am

Best of Springfield 2009

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The BEST OF SPRINGFIELD was a fresh idea in 1982 when we first asked our readers to identify the best burger in town. In the 27 editions since then we’ve worked to keep it fresh by shaking up categories, asking different questions. As you’ll see over the next 30 pages, there’s plenty to celebrate about the individuals and businesses that call central Illinois home.

How we do it: The ballot was available online and in print for two full weeks. There were 2,500 voters who participated but fewer than 100 used the paper ballot. The best thing about the online balloting is the votes are tallied automatically – and we’re able to confirm one vote per e-mail address – so no one is able to stack the deck for any nominee.

Who put it together?Contributing writers include staffers Amanda Robert, Patrick Yeagle, Fletcher Farrar and Courtney Enlow who were joined by freelance contributors Tom Irwin, Jolonda Young and Job Conger. Many of these individuals contributed photography along with Dave Hine, who also designed most of the ads. Joe Copley is responsible for editorial design layout. Beth Irwin, Tia Schoen and Tauna King do an amazing job on the ad side and Brenda Matheis manages circulation and the business end. I have no doubt that together we are THE BEST OF SPRINGFIELD.

And now a word for our ‘sponsors.’ We could not do what we do without the 100 advertisers who send marketing messages through the pages of Illinois Times each week. In these challenging times that confidence in IT is more meaningful than ever.

 

Sharon Whalen, publisher

PHOTOS BY PATRICK YEAGLE

BEST CHIPS & SALSA

Xochimilco Mexican Restaurant

2941 West Iles Ave., 546-3116

3210 Northfield Dr., 544-9206

6901 Preston Dr., 438-1006

We sure love our fajita quesadillas and burrito specials, but Mexican wouldn’t be Mexican without the pre-dinner crunch of chips and salsa. Xochimilco once again dominated in this category, but this year, La Fiesta, Café Brio, Los Agaves and Cancun all received 100 votes or more. Our readers really get behind their chips and salsa and often pick their favorite cantina accordingly. Should chips be salty, oily or crispy? And the salsa — should it be chunky or well-blended, mild or hot? You be the judge. Stop by any of Xochimilco’s three locations, or visit its competitors for some variety.

Runner-up: La Fiesta

BEST MARGARITAS

Xochimilco Mexican Restaurant

2941 West Iles Ave., 546-3116

3210 Northfield Dr., 544-9206

6901 Preston Dr., 438-1006

The perfect compliment to a great Mexican meal is an icy, sweet margarita, and Xochimilco has both. While the drink’s origin is disputed, its ambrosial flavor is not. Xochimilco makes them in original lime, or you can be a little more daring and try the piña colada, peach or strawberry flavors. When one may not be enough, you can order a whole pitcher to accent the awesome free chips and salsa – the perfect way to shake off the weekday drudgery or welcome the weekend. If you’re craving some sweet nectar, head to Xochimilco for a real treat.

Runner-up: La Fiesta

BEST MEXICAN FOOD

Xochimilco Mexican Restaurant

2941 West Iles Ave., 546-3116

3210 Northfield Dr., 544-9206

6901 Preston Dr., 438-1006

Xochimilco is to Springfield as shrimp, chicken, tendered steak and chorizo are to its fiesta fajitas. The longstanding institution belongs here, and year after year, our readers agree. Nearly 450 voters handed first place to the Mexican restaurant, which serves everything from burritos and chimichangas to the enchiladas supreme — five different enchiladas filled with beef, chicken, bean, cheese or beef tips, topped with melted cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream. We’re equally intrigued by the huevos con chorizo, two scrambled eggs with Mexican sausage, served with rice, beans and tortillas. Cost-friendly lunch items, as well as vegetarian combinations, are also available.

Runner-up: La Fiesta

BEST COFFEE SHOP

Starbucks

Six locations in Springfield

www.starbucks.com

It’s easy to think of Starbucks as this corporate coffee behemoth, but when you look into all they’ve done for the community, they suddenly seem a little more like Mom ’n Pop. Carol McFarland, manager of the Hilton location, tells us that one of their most important charity ventures is donating funds to families of teenagers who’ve been in car accidents to pay for their medical bills. They also give to churches, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Animal Protective League, in part because of the Hilton’s dog-friendly policy. Other Springfield locations work heavily with Habitat for Humanity and support neighborhood projects with money and volunteers. Of course, the charitable nature doesn’t begin and end with Springfield. Starbucks as a whole funds clean water education, gives Youth Action Grants, and is part of the (Red) movement to save the lives of those living with HIV in Africa. Have some ethics with your morning coffee.

Runner up: Grab-a-Java

BEST ASIAN FOOD

Magic Kitchen

115 N. Lewis St., 525-6975

4112 N. Peoria Rd., 525-2230

The number of Asian restaurants around Springfield is growing at a gratifying pace, but an old favorite — Magic Kitchen – is always a good bet for Thai food. Their peanut sauce alone is enough to make our mouths water. When you’re done with the delicate and crunchy egg rolls, dump the rest of the peanut sauce on the garlic chicken – it’s delicious beyond description. If you’re daring and would like something intensely spicy, go for the “hot” pad thai. It will not disappoint. Just be sure to get there early. It’s a popular place, and it fills up quickly. As an added bonus, you can bring your own cooler of booze to their Peoria Road location. Does it get any better than that? Little Saigon was a close second, with their delicious crab rangoon and pineapple shrimp fried rice.

Runner-up: Little Saigon

BEST CHILI

Joe Rogers’ Original Recipe Chili Parlor

820 S. Ninth St., 522-3722

When Rick and Rose Hamilton purchased Joe Rogers’ Original Chili last December, they were well aware of this Springfield treasure, featured in the magazine, Bon Appetit and the Food Channel’s “Man v. Food.” Purchasing the restaurant meant inheriting the coveted “best chili” title. And just like its former owner, they are issuing you a challenge. Before you agree, you should know that this challenge just might fry your hair, curl your toes, and set your insides on fire. Still not backing down? Pull up to Joe Rogers’ Original Chili, order yourself a bowl of “firebrand,” and keep a pitcher of water real close because when you’re done you’ll want to extinguish the fire that’s sure to be ablaze on your insides. Those who managed to eat the flaming hot bowl are honored with an inscription of their name on the wall.

What makes this chili so special? Perhaps it is the fact that the beans and the meat are cooked separately, giving customers the ability to tailor their chili with just the right amount of beans, meat and grease to their liking. Yes, we did say grease, which is sometimes ordered without the chili. (Yikes!) To give you an idea of just how popular this chili is, Rose Hamilton says they sell an average of 170 pounds per day. But don’t flock to Joe’s for dinner or on Sundays. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Second place goes to Steak ’n Shake, with Joe’s Chili Bowl taking third place.

Runner-up: Steak ’n Shake

PHOTOS BY PATRICK YEAGLE

BEST BAR FOOD

D’Arcy’s Pint

661 W. Stanford Ave., 492-8800

D’Arcy’s Pint bills itself as a “cozy, neighborhood-style tavern serving authentic Irish fare and American classics.” Our voters must dig the best of both worlds — Irish Reubens, McCafferty’s cheese steaks and bookmaker sandwiches on one hand, chipotle burgers, sausage grills and buffalo chicken sandwiches on the other — as nearly 300 of them turned out to tell us that the local pub takes the cake in the Best Bar Food category. Co-owner Glenn Merriman credits D’Arcy’s bartenders, servers and staff for making the bar worth a trip, too. “We get a lot of repeats,” he says. “People come a lot just to see the help.”

Runner-up: Barrelhead

BEST COMFORT FOOD

D’Arcy’s Pint

661 W. Stanford Ave., 492-8800

Comfort food (n.) Tasty, uncomplicated food that feeds your soul. Forget mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese — for D’Arcy’s Pint co-owner Glenn Merriman that means “stuff that gets you over the hump to the real meal.” And really, after a long day at the office, who wouldn’t want to kick back with a hefty mug of Guinness and a whole plate of Irish nachos, white cheddar cheese nuggets or battered portabella mushrooms? Oh, and nothing says contentment like D’Arcy’s Irish boxty — traditional Irish potato cakes stuffed with jalapenos or bacon and scallions, drizzled with a homemade cheese sauce.

Runner-up: Cracker Barrel

BEST PLACE TO IMPRESS OUT-OF-TOWN GUESTS

D’Arcy’s Pint

661 W. Stanford Ave., 492-8800

If D’Arcy’s Pint is good enough for Al Roker from the Food Network’s “Roker on the Road” and Adam Richman from the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food,” it won’t be beyond the pale for your dear granny from Vermont or your nitpicky in-laws from Arizona. Follow the rainbow…er, Stanford Avenue, to the authentic Irish pub and restaurant, where you’ll find favorites like the Dublin pot roast — slow-roasted pot roast served on oven-baked ciabatta bread with Irish farmhouse cheddar and caramelized onion — and the Celtic Philly cheese — corned beef stacked on a grilled hoagie and smothered with grilled onions, peppers and cheese. For dinner, try the Taste of Ireland — a combo of Irish Rover’s shepherd’s pie, corned beef and cabbage and fish ‘n’ chips.

Runner-up: Ross Isaac

BEST UNIQUE HORSESHOE

D’Arcy’s Pint

661 W. Stanford Ave., 492-8800

Is anyone surprised that D’Arcy’s once again snagged the top spot in this category? Along with simple, yet scrumptious, hamburger and buffalo chicken ’shoes — that’s meat served over Texas toast, topped with fries and cheese sauce for you out-of-towners — the Irish eatery features a weekly special. One voter told us they crave the Celtic horseshoe: “I’ve only seen it eaten once, but man, oh, man, I pray it’s the special every time I go.” Caitie Girl’s won second place, and after tasting its signature horseshoe, created with jalapeno cheddar cornbread, pulled pork BBQ and pepper jack cheese sauce, we know why.

Runner-up: Caitie Girl’s

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