Located just north of Chicago on the gorgeous shores of Lake Michigan, Lake County, Illinois, is known locally as a weekend getaway spot just outside of the city that’s a little more low-key than Chicago’s urban core, but with its own unique set of things to do and see—especially if you’re into food and wine.
Lake County is home to the Village Tavern at Long Grove, one of the country’s best old pubs, according to USA Today. It’s been operating since 1847, and it’s famous for its half-pound black Angus burgers that you can order topped with everything from onion rings to portabella mushrooms.
There’s also The Shanty, once featured on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. A half a dozen other television shows have also made their way to Wadsworth to try some of the restaurant’s famous steak, seafood and sides cooked in homemade Greek olive oil. And there are gorgeous, unusual dishes like whiskey shrimp or conch-topped filet at The Shanty, too.
You can find burgers and other upscale bar food at some of the county’s breweries, including Mickey Finn’s in Libertyville, the oldest in the area. And the county also has its own piece of wine country, home to three different wineries producing local wines from acres and acres of vineyards—doubling as great places to spend an afternoon relaxing.
So if you’re looking for a destination with a selection of great restaurants, from family-friendly and fine dining spots to sports bars and grills or outdoor dining, check out everything Lake County has to offer. Here’s a guide to food, wine and more in Lake County, Illinois.
Family-Friendly Restaurants in Lake County
First things first: Not all vacations mean you leave the kids at home. In fact, some of the best impromptu weekend getaways include the kids, and in Lake County, there are lots of places you can take them to eat that cater to pint-sized diners.
Wish list: chocolate-themed appetizers, entrees and desserts. Where you can find that: The Chocolate Sanctuary in Gurnee. Menu items include things like chicken and goat cheese wrapped in cocoa-candied bacon or cocoa-nib crusted salmon. The vibe here is fun and casual, but the interesting mix of menu items appeals both to kids as well as their mature-palated parents.
A must-visit in Lake County if kids are in tow—and event if they aren’t—is Bill’s Pizza and Pub, home of award winning “double-decker” pizza. This legendary restaurant celebrates its 60th anniversary at the original Mundelein location in 2017. It’s like dining in a rustic cabin, while sipping soda or beer with your massive slice of pizza. It’s also a go-to spot in Lake County for an all-you-can-eat fish fry.
For a fun and unusual family meal, dine in a vintage Illinois Central train car at Chessie’s Restaurant. Built around a former train station, the restaurant offers two additional dining rooms apart from the train car, but dining with your kids means a train-car table is a must. Baked penne pasta or hefty sandwiches are favorite dishes for any age, and Chessie’s features many gluten-free items, too.
Known for its beautiful bar and outdoor patio, Beelow’s Steakhouse Highland Park serves dozens of craft beers on tap, and premium meat from its own farm. Beef-centric items include bleu cheese and fried onion burgers, or hefty porterhouse steaks, with seafood options from crab to salmon. There are chicken, gluten-free or vegetarian dishes on the menu as well. Beelow's also has a second location in Lake Zurich.
Fine Dining in Lake County
Now, for a trip without kids, Lake County is filled with fine dining options. At Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Lincolnshire, you cannot go wrong with—you guessed it—steak. Beef rules here, and the three-course prix fixe menu is only $44. Specialty craft cocktails, a sophisticated vibe, and live music combine to create a singular dining experience.
Francesca’s Intimo is another fine dining favorite. Located in Lake Forest, it combines dark wood accents with linen tablecloths and classically inspired Italian cuisine, honed over 25 years. You can order from risotto and calamari to spinach ravioli or personal pizzas, and your delicious Francesca’s Intimo dining experience will linger long after your visit.
Eddie Merlot’s is always a good spot for prime beef and fresh seafood. You can pick a glass or a bottle from the restaurant’s stellar wine list, and dine inside a modern, elegant dining room. It’s one of 13 Eddie Merlot’s restaurants, across the nation, and the company was named among the Top 100 Steakhouses in America by OpenTable.
Brewing in Lake County
It’s not all about food in Lake County. There are lots of places to find great beer here, made locally. For example, Lake County’s first brewpub, Mickey Finn’s Brewery, has won national and international awards for its beer since opening in 1993. All natural, without additives or preservatives, these brews perfectly complement burgers, wings and much more. In addition, you will find a great kids’ menu.
Wauconda-based Side Lot Brewery offers a wide variety of premium brews, from craft beers, microbrews and spirits to boutique wines and even locally roasted coffee. You won’t go hungry here, either. Share a plate featuring smoky bacon jam, creamy Brie and fresh bread from local favorite, Whisk Bakery. Then chow down on a hefty grilled cheese or pork shoulder sandwich, alongside your favorite beer.
At Half Day Brewing Co. in Lincolnshire, start your meal with truffle deviled eggs, and then order delicious baked pasta or Dutch-oven steamed mussels that pair with the craft brews made on-site. Non-beer drinkers can enjoy craft sodas, too. The brewery currently offers five beers, from IPA to porter and stout, served in-house or available for purchase in 64-ounce growlers.
Wine & Spirits
There’s no shortage of places to find handcrafted wine and spirits throughout Lake County, including North Shore Distillery in Lake Bluff, which was the first craft distillery in Illinois when it opened more than 10 years ago. It produces artisanal award-winning vodkas, gins and liqueurs, which include Tahitian Vanilla Vodka plus distiller’s gins and absinthe. This is a distillery, yes, but it also has a cocktail bar, distillery store and tasting room (open on different days throughout the year; check the schedule before visiting). You can take tours on select days at pre-set times or plan a special tour that works for you.
Wine lovers have several great choices throughout Lake County. Valentino Vineyards & Winery in Long Grove produces more than 20 styles of wine from 20 varieties of grapes, grown across 6,000 acres. These award-winning red and white wines age in top-quality French or American oak barrels. They are low in sulfites and estate bottled, with prices starting at $14. The winery’s tasting room is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, May through December.
A popular offshoot of Lynfred Winery, the oldest and largest family-owned winery in Illinois, Lynfred Winery Wheeling offers a rotating wine tasting menu and you can purchase wine by the glass or the bottle. Housed in a two-story white house with distinctive green awnings, this is the perfect spot to enjoy your wine with freshly baked bread, too.
Close to 2,300 grapevines surround the boutique Vigneto del Bino Winery, which specializes in making wines from varietals that thrive in Illinois, from Frontenac to Edelweiss or Marquette grapes. In addition to wine tastings that begin each year in mid-March, you also can take a free vineyard tour or purchase a bottle and other items in the gift shop.
A Little Something for Everyone
Special events provide great opportunities to sample a multitude of Lake County food and drink in a single location. A favorite February party, the Lake County Craft Beer Festival pairs craft beer, wine and spirits with live music and dozens of food samples from area restaurants. You can even take a spin in a bumper car or enter to win door prizes—all inside a 65,000-square-foot venue at the Lake County Fairgrounds that will make you forget winter’s chill.
Let’s Wine About Winter! is a popular, ticketed weekend event, sponsored by MainStreet Libertyville. Another February affair, Libertyville’s premier store-to-store party is a time when local merchants serve tasty wines as you stroll through the downtown area.
And you won’t find a better introduction to Lake County dining than during Lake County Restaurant Week. For 10 days every March, local restaurants featureprix fixe menus and special pricing. Great flavors abound, whether you enjoy an evening of upscale cuisine with your sweetheart, Kosher-style Mexican food with your kids, or brews and burgers with your buddies.
No matter which route you take, all roads lead to fun in Lake County, Illinois, which is located halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. Lake County is home to 170 lakes and rivers, 30,000 acres of lush forest preserves, miles of hiking and biking trails, Six Flags Great America, Naval Station Great Lakes, Ravinia Festival and sandy beaches along Lake Michigan's shoreline. Family adventure is around every turn and awaits you in Lake County.