Hit the top spots to eat along the country's most iconic roadway — Route 66. From classic greasy spoons to unexpected fine dining, here’s where to dine along the Mother Road in southwest Illinois.
Route 66 has been an enduring icon of cross-country travel for decades thanks to the quirky and colorful establishments dotting the roadside. While not all of them have remained, there are some serious classics still going along with some new entrants that cater to a pretty worldly palate. Here’s where to stop on your stretch of southwest Illinois.
Brake for Flavored Sodas
Get your kicks at Doc’s Soda Fountain along Route 66. Pull up a stool and order breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert with your choice of flavored sodas from one of the greatest soda fountains in the country. Add this stop as you begin your journey down the Mother Road!
Try a Taste of Classic Illinois
Get a taste of Illinois at Whirl a Whip in Girard. Their extensive menu includes enormous horseshoes, delicious ice cream, juicy Philly cheese steaks along with salads, sandwiches and cheese fries — there’s a little something for all tastes.
Come for the Chili…and Stay for the Chili
Since 1904, Taylor's Mexican Chili Parlor has been a staple to Carlinville. Loaded with the most premium beans and spices, this chili is destined to warm you up and keep you happy for the road. If chili isn’t your cup of soup, they also offer items like tacos, nachos, hot dogs and salads. To-go cans of chili are also available as the perfect gift.
Stop at the Classic Roadside Diner
Crossroads Route 66 Diner in Mt. Olive has been open since 1954 and still belongs to the original founding family, the Oltmans — although it has recently come under new management. The diner is unusual inside thanks to the two horseshoe counters, along with the '60s-era larger dining room addition. This is stick-your-ribs food with the hamburger and fries as a favorite, although you want to check the board for daily specials, like chili and pork chops.
Enjoy Wine, Wings … and Bunnies
If you are looking for a true Route 66 experience, look no further than Henry's Rabbit Ranch which celebrates all things bunny-inspired. From actual animals inside the gift shop to a “carhenge” of Volkswagen Rabbits buried in the dirt to the iconic giant fiberglass jackrabbit that's become a major photo op, you cannot miss the rabbit symbolism. Stop for a glass of wine and a homemade pizza afterwards at the Winery at Shale Lake on your way back to the highway. A notorious past clings to Luna Café, thanks to one-time patron Al Capone and the persistent rumors of an illegal gambling operation in the basement. But those days are long in the past — stop by now for a cold beer and their beloved chicken wings.
Honk for Biscuits and Gravy
Fan of biscuits and gravy? Put a pin on your map for Weezy’s Route 66 Bar & Grill, an enduring greasy spoon favorite off the highway in Hamel. The Route 66 sign-filled décor celebrating its past incarnations is classic roadside at its best, as is the friendly service and the hearty breakfasts with mega hash browns. If you're closer to Granite City, stop into the Itty Bitty Restaurant instead. The large portions of classics like chicken and dumplings, pot roast, steak and eggs, and more attract a crowd looking for homestyle food at affordable prices.
Discover Dessert on the Road
More in the mood for a sweet treat to break up your drive? Route 66 Creamery just opened this past summer, but it's a welcome addition to the Hamel area moving into the renovated Hamel Train Depot. Choose your flavor of homemade waffle cone and get it filled all the way up with soft serve or try the signature Terri's Turtle Sundae — named for one of the owners.
Find Fine Dining on Route 66
If you're looking for more of a fine dining experience to take a break off the road, head for Edwardsville. Bigelo's Bistro features an eclectic menu in a warm, casual environment, and you won't want to miss their signature pasta dishes. Cleveland Heath has garnered extensive buzz since it opened. The chef-owners have worked at such famous restaurants as Ad Hoc and French Laundry before opening their own fine dining restaurant where the menu features sophisticated and delicious twists on comfort food favorites like devilled eggs and pulled pork.
Famous Fried Chicken or Bust
Grab the family and settle down for a home-cooked meal without the hassle or dishes at the Diamond Mineral Springs in Grantfork. Indulge in the greatest fried chicken you’ve had in a while, plus sandwiches and soups along Route 66. Afterward, treat your sweet tooth to a delicious “foot hi pie” or a slice of cheesecake. Pro tip: This place is cash or check only, so be sure to bring your billfold.