BEST VALUE BUFFET
1038 Le June Dr., 585-6830
Pull into the parking lot of the Golden Corral and you are greeted with an aroma that’ll make your stomach beg to be filled. Once inside, you are met with a spread of more than 100 tasty dishes, and they’re all yours for a mere $10 (dinner). With an average of 1,000 diners per weekday, and 1,500 per day on weekends, it’s safe to say that Golden Corral offers a lot of bang for the buck. Not only is it fit for a king, it’s fit to please the taste buds of your entire family.
But there’s one problem. Where do you start? Some take the traditional route, beginning with the salad and soup bars, which have several different types of soups and lettuce, 16 salad dressings, and enough ingredients to make any type of salad you can think of. Others head straight for the meat station to partake in the sirloin steak (fresh off the grill), carved ham, beef, pork roast, barbecue chicken and ribs. Golden Corral also offers fried chicken and meatloaf (two of the most popular dishes), shrimp, fried okra, pizza, salmon, shrimp linguini, and every vegetable under the sun. But save room for one of their many desserts.
Perhaps you’re craving Asian cuisine. Voters say that International Buffet — the second-place winner — and its traditional oriental dishes, including beef and broccoli, Mongolian beef, crab Rangoon, egg rolls, crab legs, and much more, are also worth the $10 (dinner). El Maya, with its authentic Mexican dishes came in third.
Runner-up: International Buffet
Krekel’s Custard and Hamburgers
2120 North Grand Avenue, 525-4952.
What do you get when you take a ball of fresh ground beef, place it on a sizzling hot griddle, smash it until nearly paper thin, and cook it until the edges are crispy? According to IT voters you get a “Krekel burger”—the best burger in town.
Krekel’s began serving up hot, delicious burgers in Decatur in 1949, opening the Springfield establishment in 1993. Most diners describe Krekel’s as a “blast from the past.” To fully understand where they are coming from, you must grab a bite inside. The retro décor will have you looking around for Fonzie, Richie and the rest of the “Happy Days” gang.
Though it’s been quite awhile since we’ve seen the Krekel vehicle — a big 1970s Cadillac, with a rooster head on the roof and a paint-job resembling a chicken — thousands of Springfieldians and out-of-towners continue to flock to Krekel’s for a good old-fashioned burger.
Far from the north side but craving a good burger? Readers say D’arcy’s Pint, our second place winner, is sure to hit the spot. These burgers are grilled to order with a half-pound of black angus beef served on a Kaiser bun.
Runner-up: D’Arcy’s Pint
SUSHI SELECTION & PRESENTATION
2824 Plaza Dr, 546-4660
It seems that in the past few years, our humble capital city has been gifted with a number of sushi options, the likes of which we’d never dreamed of way back in the long long ago of the early 2000s. With all this recent sushi glory, Pao remains a standout. Big windows looking out at The Gables and candlelit tabletops give a nice calm ambience, while the food and drink menus are voluminous and varied with something for everyone (including non-raw fish sushi for those turned off by that kind of thing – some involving steak). There’s more than 30 kinds of sushi made with the freshest fish and other sushi accoutrements (try the Hollywood Roll), a full list of entrees and appetizers, and a martini list that will leave you wanting all of them (see the delicious and candy-like Raspberry Lemon Drop in our Best Martini section).
Runner-up: Ginger Asian Bistro
2660 S. Dirksen Parkway, 528-6410
The votes are in. And the streak has been broken. Smokey Bones dethrones three-time-winner Hickory River Smokehouse and gains the title of best barbecue in town.
Not usually ones looking for trouble, after scanning the menu we asked for double trouble — a third rack of baby back ribs (with Memphis-dry rub) and smoked St. Louis ribs (with Jamaican rub). Now, we’re no connoisseur, but when we’re sucking meat off of visibly naked bones, we conclude that it’s darn good barbecue. Equally fabulous is the fire-roasted corn. It’s so good that we wolfed ours down and placed a side order to go.
While we indulged (or should we say “overindulged”) in the ribs, most customers, says Manager Stephanie Sprinkle, gravitate towards the pulled pork. With outstanding ribs, hand-pulled pork smoked over hickory logs for 11 hours, and a beef brisket marinated 24 hours and smoked for six hours, the crown of best barbecue has been earned.
In second place, Hickory River Smokehouse has some fabulous barbecue, with ribs that are so tender they fall off the bone, and beef so tasty it will leave you wanting more. Not to be outdone by the larger establishments, the votes indicate that McCormick’s Restaurant and Custom Catering — this year’s third place winner — gives competitors a run for their money.
Runner-up: Hickory River Smokehouse
925 S 7th St
Apparently we don’t need to sell you on Incredibly Delicious, since it’s our perennial winner and this year is no exception. But we will anyway. They may be known for their dessert treats, fresh-baked breads, and express breakfasts of coffee and croissants, but their lunch items are just as good. We generally cross our fingers that the fig and brie sandwich is on the menu, but any of the sandwiches or fresh salads listed will be excellent. For dessert, lately we’ve been addicted to the flourless turtle cake and the mixed berry tarts with apricot glaze, and craving the hazelnut cream puff. Again, we’re preaching to the heavily voting choir, but Incredibly Delicious is amazingly delectable.
BEST BAKERY (runner-up)
411 E Adams St
Your runner-up in this category is Café Moxo, which has one of the friendliest staffs we’ve come across. When they ask how your lunch tastes, they genuinely want to know, then they’ll tell you a story about how it came about, mostly from the staff members themselves. Says owner Mark Forinash, “Mostly people tell us about things they’ve had in the past and we just mess around with it. It’s a lot of trial and error. We never know on any given day what new things we’ll have.” For dessert, grab one of their famous giant cupcakes (or one of the vastly more manageable but equally famous normal-sized cupcakes), silk tarts or cookies. Whether you go for breakfast, lunch or just coffee and a cookie, you’ll leave very happy.
BEST BAKERY (runner-up)
2028 S 15th St.
Though it only opened in November of last year, The Bakery, owned by Humphrey’s Market, is another strong contender in this category. Designed to create a perfect slice of a simpler time, at The Bakery you will genuinely believe you’ve Quantum Leaped yourself into the past. Greg Harrison creates delicious pastries while Scott Beard handles breads and hot breakfast and lunch items. Scott credits his small but “wonderful crack crew” for keeping things running as well as they do. Their breakfasts are crazy cheap (a short stack of pancakes for $1.29!), and their newly added salad bar is a perfect lunch by itself, or a nice add-on to a sandwich or horseshoe. Dessert-wise, everything is that special homemade kind of delicious, but the cream puffs are especially heavenly. Fun fact: The Bakery’s donuts are made by Brian Moore, saxophone player for The Groove Daddies. Yes, they are the only place in town, possibly the world, to sell rock star donuts.
BEST OUTDOOR DINING
222 S. Sixth Street, 522-4313.
Once again, Maldaner’s tops the list of best outdoor dining establishments. On any bright sunny day, you are likely to find lucky Maldaner’s patrons leisurely enjoying a meal, while basking in the sun and watching others soak up the sights of downtown Springfield. On a beautiful day, it’s hard to say which you’ll enjoy better, the scenery of outdoor dining, complete with colorful characters exploring “the land of Lincoln,” or the frequently changing menu, featuring fresh, locally grown fruits and veggies. The Thai noodles with peanut sauce, and stir-fried vegetables will make you want to kiss chef Michael Higgins for creating such a delectable dish. The turkey curry sandwich, with Swiss cheese, red onions, and apple and curry mayo on toasted rye bread, will make you gobble. And the sautéed duck, with sweet potato and sour cherry orange sauce, will make you want to lick your plate clean. Though doing so would create a spectacle on the Sixth Street sidewalk.
Also enjoyable is outdoor dining at Panera Bread. With two Springfield locations, Panera’s “light” menu, consisting of bagels, muffins and other pastries, as well as soup and sandwiches, makes for a relaxing dining experience. The Island Bay Yacht Club’s calming outdoor dining on Lake Springfield wins third-place honors, though dining is only for club members.
Runner-up: Panera Bread
BEST PLACE TO EAT AFTER 10 P.M.
Steak ’n Shake
4 locations in Springfield
Important question time. When you’re driving home after a late evening of responsible drinking and semi-responsible karaoke, what is the one thing you want most in this world? If you answered “a patty melt, and make it greasy” then you are completely correct, because when we posed that question to our voters, they answered Steak ’n Shake in near unison. Garnering four times as many votes as its runner-up, Steak ’n Shake is a classic favorite for late-night dining. And with four locations in town, there simply has to be at least one on your way home from an evening of ill-advised dance moves.
Coming in a distant-but-strong second is La Bamba. This land of “burritos as big as your head” is a haven for late-night partiers, and it’s the perfect stop for a quick meal before turning in. For those who may have imbibed, co-owner Maria Aguas says the food is a “good way to absorb the alcohol.” In third place, Dublin Pub & Grill offers up its full menu until 11 p.m. on weekends, then offering late-night specials, including half-priced appetizers and Vic’s Pizza, or a free bowl of Joe’s Chili with the purchase of a drink.
Runner-up: La Bamba