When we first moved to Belvidere, it wasn’t without some trepidation. The area seemed lacking in fundamental gastronomical categories. We couldn’t find a good Chinese restaurant. There were no hot dog places in town, nor any deep dish pizza. However, with a little patience (and a little Maalox) we have managed to meet most of our needs in these areas.
We’ve found Lung Fung – despite having a name that sounds like a disease – to have decent traditional Chinese food. When I say “traditional”, I mean “traditional American” where everything is served up in little white boxes and egg rolls are basically garnish. The Happy Wok in Belvidere was remodeled last year and – more importantly – they improved their food from nearly inedible to worth ordering in on cold winter nights… of which we had many.
Deep dish pizza has been more of a challenge to locate. We still haven’t found any place in Belvidere proper that does it well. In nearby Rockford they have a Giordano’s. I don’t like their sweet tomato sauce as much as the tart taste of Lou Malnati’s pizza back in Chicagoland, but it isn’t bad. They put a lot of cheese on their pizzas which makes up for a lot.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, locally owned hot dog places were in every strip mall from Streamwood to Gurnee. I think it was some kind of zoning thing. In Belvidere, the only place that served hot dogs was Dari Ripple and they were only open during the summer. Underdogs opened to great fanfare from the suburban expatriates; so much they were completely overwhelmed the first day and ran out of almost everything. However, in the intervening years since they opened, the blush has left the rose. While the hot dogs are fine, the atmosphere leaves something to be desired. Located in a near windowless corner of the mall next to Aldi, the cinder block walls remind me of eating in my high school cafeteria… or prison. Motto’s opened (and closed). Their location was just outside our subdivision; fine for us, but not for anyone else. Last year, a local chain in Rockford – Tom and Jerry – opened up a store in Belvidere; home of a good solid Vienna Beef hot dog.
I don’t want to completely dismiss the native cuisine in the area. Now that there is a smoking ban in Illinois, we might go back to Nancy’s in Rockford. They only have about six things on their menu, but they were all excellent. I don’t know what we’ll do for brunch on Mother’s Day; going to The Huddle was a tradition. In terms of fast food, the natives in Rockford swear by Beef a Roo. While it’s not bad, I still say the area will not be considered civilized until there is White Castle somewhere within an hour’s drive.
One thing the area excels at is Mexican food. We have many more Mexican restaurants than I ever saw in the suburbs. Dos Reales is our place in Rockford, where we take people from out of town. El Molcajete doesn’t have much atmosphere, but the lunch menu is excellent and where else can you get your Coca-Cola in a glass bottle (the way God meant us to drink it)?
Of course, we finally navigated our way through the menus of Rockford and Belvidere. And then my wife and I both joined Weight Watchers!