“Too many people just eat to consume calories. Try dining for a change”
~ John Walters
When you’re looking for generous portions and fast-casual dining that will please everyone in your family, Backyard Grill is the place to go. With a nod to Greek-American cuisine, the Backyard Grill takes fast food to another level – you’ll find creative, healthy ingredients that are never pre-cooked, always fresh and prepared to your liking.
One of the most popular items on the menu is the roasted Greek chicken, served with rice pilaf, roasted potatoes, fresh veggies, pita bread and a choice of soup or salad. There’s also a variety salads and wraps, with a number of healthy proteins including the grilled chicken, shrimp, salmon or sirloin; traditional or chicken gyros; quinoa; chicken salad; and albacore tuna salad. Look around and you’re sure to find someone digging into the Backyard Grill’s most popular salad, the black quinoa salad, which is tossed with edamame, cucumber, avocado, red pepper and green onion and a poppy seed dressing. Another hit are the burgers, because the beef is 100% all natural prime beef, ground fresh daily.
The Backyard Grill also offers family packs that serve anywhere from four to 12 people, along with a catering menu, making it ideal for those nights you have to feed a crowd. The Backyard Grill opened in Highland Park two years ago, with the original location in Chicago going strong since 2004.
Backyard Grill is located at 1825 Second Street in Highland Park, 847-681-8400, www.eatbyg.com.
Beelow’s NorthShore is a steak and seafood restaurant that the whole family will enjoy. Beelow’s prides themselves in locally raised Black Angus, pasture-fed beef, which you’ll find in their burgers, their must-have meatballs and in all the specialty cuts like filet mignon, slow-roasted prime rib, bone-in cowboy-cut ribeyes, New York strip and brisket. Their beef is prepared on their mesquite wood fire grill and seasoned to perfection.
For starters, guests swoon over Beelow’s signature appetizer, the Ivanhoe Meat Raffle Beef, with four tenderloin medallions alongside a heap of fried onion strings and their signature three-cheese sauce. Another must-have starter is Kelly’s Spicy Shrimp, cornmeal breaded shrimp fried and served over a bed of homemade coleslaw with Kelly’s spicy sauce over the top.
There’s much more on the menu than simply beef. Beelow’s chicken is all natural, sourced from Harrison farms and prepared to perfection. Their seafood is fresh and never frozen. Every day, Beelow’s features a different shrimp dish and fresh day boat scallop dish, along with a variety of other fresh fish and salad specials.
With every entrée, Beelow’s includes a salad of your choice and a side item, surpassing the normal steakhouse motto of à la carte everything. Beelow’s NorthShore opened in March of 2015 after the success of Beelow’s Steakhouse in Lake Zurich.
Beelow’s NorthShore is located at 1850 Second Street, Highland Park, 847-780-3300, www.beelows.com.
Nestled into the west side of Highland Park, Bluegrass is an all-American restaurant with a touch of the South and a pinch of Asian influence. Bluegrass is known for its great food and stellar service, bringing a fine dining approach to a casual setting since 2004. The menu includes everything from burgers, steaks and BBQ to fresh seafood, salads and pastas. It also features a 42-bottle beer list with only domestic craft beers and 75-bottle wine list of small, independent labels.
Customer favorites include the Szechuan Calamari appetizer, which features flash fried calamari tossed with shaved onion and served with wasabi mustard sauce and the Chicken Sausage Jambalaya entrée, a true Cajun classic of Andouille and chicken slow simmered with the holy trinity. When it comes time for dessert, Bananas Foster is a fan favorite. Bluegrass has an onsite parking lot for your convenience.
Bluegrass is located at 1636 Old Deerfield Road in Highland Park, 847-831-0595, www.Bluegrasshp.com.
There’s a reason Country Kitchen has been a Highland Park staple for breakfast, brunch and lunch. Come hungry and tuck into a heaping stack of buttery pancakes, the best French toast in town or even a bacon waffle. For the past 38 years, Country Kitchen has been known for its “down home” cooking like your mother used to make, coupled with friendly service and good coffee.
Day in and day out, Country Kitchen serves large portions and family-friendly prices. Regulars rave about their omelets, especially the egg white vegetable, the mushroom, Swiss and asparagus and the ham, cheddar and broccoli ones. If you’re not in the mood for breakfast, there are plenty of other delicious choices. Try the salads with grilled chicken, the spicy tuna melt with tomatoes, a hot corned beef sandwich or the stick-to-your-ribs corned beef hash.
Country Kitchen is located at 446 Central Avenue in Highland Park, 847-432-7500.
Walking into Disotto is like being transported to another place and time. The dining room is rich with stone, brick and wood, while the aroma of pomodoro sauce and fresh pasta permeates throughout. This Italian wine bar features regional cuisine in a rustic and casual setting. When you walk in the door, you instantly are swept away to Italy and welcomed as if you are in a friend’s home.
Disotto offers modern regional Italian cuisine featuring handmade pastas and grilled pizzas. It’s obvious the chefs take pride in sourcing the best ingredients and preparing them simply. One of Disotto’s signature pasta dishes is Pappardelle with Sal’s Bolognese, herbs and parmesan.
Others rave about the Brussels sprouts with farm egg, crispy prosciutto, Calabrian chilies and pecorino. Be sure to save room for one of the delectable Italian-inspired desserts, including Phil’s Cannoli with a citrus-ricotta filling, shaved chocolate, pistachio and amarena cherries or the Torta Bacio, a chocolate-hazelnut mousse with a white chocolate center and a crunchy bottom.
Disotto is located at 310 Green Bay Road in Highwood, 224-765-9490, www.disottoitalian.com.
Il Forno Pizza
Il Forno’s roots run deep. In 1953, Bruno Pupolo had the foresight to offer Chicago a relatively new concept – a place where families could sit down, listen to jukebox music and eat pizza with homemade fresh ingredients including specially prepared sausage, from-scratch dough and sauce made from Pupolo’s own family recipe. He called it Il Forno, meaning “from the oven” in Italian.
Il Forno still going strong. Stop in for the original thin crust pizza that’s pleased generations of North Shore families, along with a pan pizza that has an equal number of fans. Other favorites includes baked-in-the-oven grinders made with meat sauce and melted mozzarella cheese and sandwiches including a particularly delectable Italian Beef.
With a smoker on premises, don’t miss the smoked BBQ back ribs. Another great option is the fried shrimp, available by the half pound or as a meal or salads like the chopped chef’s salad with lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, pepperoncini, genoa salami, mozzarella and provolone.
Mike Rudolph, who has managed the Highland Park store from 1974, purchased the store from Bruno’s son-in-law in 1986. Today, he is serving the same homemade pizza dough, fresh vegetables, specially-made sausage and Bruno Pupolo pizza sauce. “Having grandparents, who ate the same pizza in their childhood, come into the store to purchase pizza for their grandkids, makes for a great story and conversation,” said Rudolph.
Il Forno Pizza is located at 496 E Old Elm Rd in Highland Park, 847-432-2440, www.ilfornopizza.com.
Michael’s is a Highland Park legend that’s been serving the community for 40 years. If you ask of the owners, they’ll describe it as serving “North Shore comfort food”, because they’re focused not just on making meals, but on making memories. However, they concede that most people describe Michaels as “Chicago-style fast casual.” Michaels opened in 1977 as a 12-stool hot dog stand and many of the same team members are still there today.
Michael’s built a reputation for serving the finest Chicago-style hot dogs and specialty sandwiches. More than three generations of families have returned for the jumbo char dog with cheddar fries, taking heart in the fact that Michael’s doesn’t frown upon ketchup on your hot dog. Plus, Michael’s has expanded its repertoire with wraps, baked potatoes, a 46-ingredient salad bar and specialty salads like a terrific Asian salad and Debbie’s Favorite Salad with field greens, chopped walnuts, dried cranberries, goat cheese, sliced pears and balsamic vinaigrette.
Michael’s is located at 1879 Second Street in Highland Park, 847-432-3338, www.michaelshotdogs.com.
Piero’s Pizza – Highland Park
If you’re looking for amazing pizza for yourself or to impress out of town guests, there’s no need to head downtown. Piero’s is a gem right in your back yard. For more than 30 years, Piero’s has been serving its legendary pizza with everything made on premises, including all of its sauces and dough. Today, Piero’s has five types of pizza crusts: extra thin, thin, specca (a fluffy bread crust similar to focaccia), pan (a deep dish pizza with thick crust and wide edges covered with sauce) and of course, its famous stuffed pizza.
Not in the mood for pizza? Try Piero’s homemade lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, chicken parmigiana or an especially good ravioli that’s soft pillows of pasta filled with ricotta. Or, choose the “pasta your way”, with your choice of four pastas and five sauces including marinara, creamy tomato vodka sauce, Bolognese meat sauce, creamy alfredo or butter and adorn it with meatballs, chicken, veggies or eggplant if you desire. Piero’s also offers signature salads, calzones and sandwiches. And if that’s not enough, there’s tiramisu or Carol’s half-pound cookies for dessert. Plus, for more than 20 years, Piero’s has been catering school lunches for a number of schools in the area.
Piero’s delivers to Highland Park, Glencoe, Deerfield, Fort Sheridan, Highwood, North Winnetka and northeast Northbrook. Piero’s also has a second location in Northbrook.
Piero’s Pizza – Highland Park is located at 647 Roger Williams, 847-433-7795, pieros4pizza.com.
Real Urban Barbecue
Real Urban Barbecue specializes in authentic wood-fired BBQ. Their menu features slow-smoked items like their famous burnt ends, award-winning ribs, pulled pork, turkey, brisket and chicken, all slowly rotated on Cookshack smokers capable of smoking 1,600 pounds of meat daily. Real Urban Barbecue also offers sandwiches, fresh salads, traditional comfort sides and an extensive amount of baked good options homemade at the Real Urban Bakery.
Real Urban Barbecue’s signature dish is their melt-in-your-mouth burnt ends, which owner Jeff Shapiro is often credited for being the first to bring to Chicago. RUB’s burnt ends have been named an “Essential Barbecue Bite” by the Chicago Tribune, who described them as “so flavor dense, they deform space and time so that light cannot escape.” This well-deserved praise is why Real Urban Barbecue’s Highland Park location slow-smokes more than 145,000 pounds of meat annually!
Since opening, Real Urban Barbecue has become one of Chicagoland’s top dining destinations for award-winning barbecue. RUB has been named to Chicago Magazine’s “Hot List” and has been named “Best BBQ” by the readers of Chicago Magazine, Make it Better Magazine, Daily Herald and Highland Park Patch. Jeff Shapiro and the RUB team were awarded “First Place People’s Choice” at the Windy City BBQ Classic and have placed in both the Judges and People’s Choice categories at Ribfest Chicago for the past four years.
In addition, Real Urban Barbecue has been featured on the Food Network’s Eating America with Anthony Anderson, is the official BBQ of Northwestern University and is consistently recognized for their charitable initiatives through partnerships such as their work with the USO of Illinois.
Real Urban Barbecue is located at 610 Central Ave, Highland Park, 224-770-4227, www.realurbanbbq.com
The Simple Greek
The Simple Greek is a modern approach to authentic, fresh Greek food. It’s redefining the traditional Greek restaurant with an interactive concept that combines premium ingredients, an open kitchen and Greek atmosphere in a fast casual setting.
The Simple Greek’s fresh, high-quality ingredients do all the talking. You’ll find meat cut fresh from the spit and organic honey imported from the Cretan islands, as well as the spices, oils, red wine vinegar and that they import to ensure authentic Greek flavor. If you’re going for a healthy lunch or dinner, build your own bowl with a fresh salad base and all the veggies you could ever want (and tzatziki… you can’t forget the tzatziki). If you’re feeling traditional, don’t miss the homemade rizogalo (rice pudding). Be sure to finish off your meal with the homemade baklava.
The restaurant started as a small Greek pita stand in 2004. In 2014, after the owners appeared on CNBC show called The Profit, it became The Simple Greek and opened its Highland Park location shortly thereafter.
The Simple Greek is located at 478 Central Avenue in Highland Park, 847-748-8285, thesimplegreek.com.
Jennifer Alten is a Chicagoland-based writer and marketing communications strategist who specializes in getting businesses of all sizes noticed. You can reach her at email@example.com.