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Wheeling's Famous Restaurant Row

In Chicago, our culinary cup runneth over, and runneth outside downtown Chicago. In fact, one of Chicago’s best dining destinations is located on the North Shore. That’s where you’ll find the famous Restaurant Row in Wheeling, with a rich culinary history that dates back to the early 1970s. Restaurant Row encompasses a bustling stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that is home to some of the best-known local dining establishments, from fast casual to fine dining concepts.

Bob Chinn's Crab House, 393 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling
Bob Chinn's Crab House, 393 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling

In the Beginning
Before Anthony Bourdain had a hit food show on the Travel Channel, and before Top Chef started making celebrities out of up-and-coming cooks, there was Jean Banchet—one of the earliest chefs to achieve celebrity status. And it was Chef Banchet who put Wheeling on the culinary map when he opened Le Francais here in the 1970s, on a small plot along Milwaukee Avenue—the street that would later become Wheeling’s Restaurant Row. The number of diners attracted to Le Francais (and diners’ willingness to wait up to six months for a reservation) kick-started a restaurant-building boom in this Chicago suburb.

All of a sudden, following the opening of Le Francais, sophisticated and curious diners were flocking to the North Shore. Following Banchet’s lead, Bob Chinn and his daughter Marilyn Chinn LeTourneau opened Bob Chinn’s Crab House at 333 S. Milwaukee Avenue in 1982. Probably the most prominent successor to the Le Francais legacy, this locally and nationally known restaurant has brought mountains of recognition to Restaurant Row. 
The beauty of Bob Chinn’s Crab House has always been its menu variety. Order the crabmeat vermicelli or an aged steak. Opt for chicken, lamb or pork chops. Try the fish, pasta and homemade soups. Start with a trip to the extensive salad bar, and finish with a house-made dessert. Order just about anything—you can’t go wrong. But it’s the world-famous Mai Tai and trademark garlic rolls that keep diners coming back again and again, says Carly LeTourneau, granddaughter and daughter to the founders.

Superdawg Drive-In, 333 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling
Superdawg Drive-In, 333 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling

Top Dogs
After Jean Banchet and Bob Chinn, more and more restaurateurs made their way north to Wheeling, bringing the best of Chicago classics with them.

There’s no better place to sample the ultimate hot dog than at the legendary Superdawg Drive-In. Owner-operator Scott Z. Berman says his parents Maurie and Flaurie Berman opened the original location of this warm, approachable restaurant in the 1940s. Then, during 2010, the Berman family brought a new, fun energy to Milwaukee Avenue when they opened their second Superdawg Drive-In on Restaurant Row.
 
“We’re a fast-casual restaurant where your car is the dining room and we actually have real carhops,” Berman says. “Customers like that their food is brought on a tray with real waitering, as it was in the old days.” The hot dogs here are a special recipe, larger than most Chicago dogs and laced with extra smokiness, garlic and spices. “Everything is made just for us, from our bun to our condiments,” he adds. And to produce enough French fries to pair with these famous dogs, Superdawg peels and fresh cuts 5,000 pounds of potatoes per day.
 
Famous for its tasty Chicago-style street food, Superdawg Drive-In has appeared on the Travel Channel, Fox Chicago, Food Network with Emeril Lagasse and more. The restaurant is also listed in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler's Life List, by Patricia Schultz. 

Saranello's, 601 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling
Saranello's, 601 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling

An Explosion of Culture and Cuisine
Over the years, the lineup of restaurants along Milwaukee have changed, but one thing that never changes is the variety and quality of dining options. Today, you can find a modern, casual menu and a Napa-style tasting room at Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant. Savor crispy crab beignets or fresh hummus with feta and Mediterranean relish alongside a flight of four vintages, or ask for a risk-free taste before you order a full glass of Pinot Gris, Prosecco or Cabernet Sauvignon. Then, pair your favorite wine with entree selections such as hearty short rib risotto or pistachio-crusted grouper served with asparagus and a mustard glaze.

Cooper’s Hawk is a good example of the culinary evolution of Restaurant Row, where it isn’t just about the food, but also the experience. Remember, Restaurant Row started with a single restaurant—a destination for one meal for one type of diner. Now, you can have the type of culinary experience you want—and you can make a weekend out of it. 
 
Case in point: Westin Hotel North Shore is an excellent place to stay a night or two to explore the North Shore, but it’s also home to Saranello’s, a “red-sauce Italian” restaurant that features old-world techniques and fresh ingredients. They handcraft all of their food and grind all of their meat in-house.
 
Another popular spot for authentic Italian fare is Tuscany Wheeling, part of Chicago’s Phil Stefani restaurant group. They serve classic recipes from Italy. Here you get more of the white-wine Italian style sauce rather than the red…the choice is yours.

Tuscany, 550 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling
Tuscany, 550 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling

Looking for some of the freshest fish in town? You'll find that at Boston Fish Market. Owner Louie has a lifetime of fishing expereince, even as a young boy in Greece, prior to opening his very own fish market. the restaurant is known for their Alaskan King Crab Legs, Lobster, Chilean Sea bass and so much more.

Discover a hip, natural, gourmet burger eatery with a sophisticated bourbon and craft beer specialty bar at Spears Wheeling. This inviting space features a warm, open environment with reclaimed wood as well as a fire pit on its patio. Pair one of the carefully selected bourbons or the vast selection of craft beers with a delcious all American natural gourmet burger. 

One of the most striking features of dining at Allgauer's on the Riverfront, located in the Hilton Chicago/Northbroo, is the view. Enjoy scenes of a gently flowing, tree-lined river through every season while you dine at this award-winning restaurant featuring American fare with an eclectic flair. 

B Square Pizza is your go to spot for carryout and delivery only Detroit-style pizza. These square pizzas have the perfect crust that is light and airy complete with cripsy brown edges developed by Chef Michael Brownell (Saranello's) and Chef/Partner Mychael Bonner (Saranello's, Di Pescara, The Ivy Room and Petterino's). 

Good Food, Friendly Neighbors
A culinary getaway to Wheeling is a unique experience, first because of the food, but also because of the town. “The restaurants feel very local and connected to the community,” Saranello’s Bonner says. “There’s a synergy there, so you’re always bringing your A-game. There are great chefs that work in the area, which pulls from a lot of different communities. It’s a great quality food and dining experience outside of the city.”

Restaurants along this section of Milwaukee Avenue that make up Restaurant Row generate over $90 million in revenue for our state and local economy, Berman says. “This corridor is such a vital economic driver for the area.”

“We are very close to each other, on Restaurant Row,” he adds. “As [the neighborhood] developed, it became this unique place that drew customers from a much larger area than any single restaurant would draw.”

From one came many. See for yourself and visit Restaurant Row.

Bob Chinn's Crab House, 393 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling
Bob Chinn's Crab House, 393 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling