Whether you’re road tripping from Chicago or settling down for a weekend in Ottawa, Illinois, we made it a point to check out the top places to eat and drink in this Midwestern city. I have to admit that I’ve become a food snob from all of my world travels. I’ve been spoiled by amazing cheese in France, authentic Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong, Michelin-star restaurants in Belgium, fresh sushi in Hawaii and more. This means that when I, as a traveling foodie, along with our crew like a place, it’s good.
Check out these places we like and what we recommend you try when traveling to Ottawa, Illinois.
#1 Mark Allens American Kitchen
A little slice of Italian-American paradise in an unassuming location, Mark Allens American Kitchen in Peru, is a place for amazing pasta. We had a great meal at this casually-upscale and fun restaurant run by a husband and wife team. Mark is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and Ann is well known for her interactive art. She studied abroad in Italy and gained a love and appreciation for great cuisine there. (as did I!)
You can get in on the fun and create art work while you dine here, whether its playing with logos or something more whimsical. The restaurant has a warm vibe and their chocolate waffle with ice cream for dessert is amazing. The menu changes with the seasons, meaning you’ll have a reason to go back.
#2 Red Dog Grill
At the Red Dog Grill at the Heritage Harbor Marina sit outside and watch the boats float in and out, while you dine on great American dishes. Tasty pretzels, burgers, steak salads, quesadillas and a classic kids menu can be consumed on the patio by the water or indoors in the cooler months by wood-burning fireplace. This restaurant is laid back and friendly. How could it not be with “dog” in the title. For those who don’t like to sit still for too long, the restaurant boasts a seasonal tiki bar, live music and there are kayaks, pontoon and stand-up paddle boards available on-site.
Have you ever been in a group where someone wants something all-American and savory, like a burger, and someone else wants fresh seafood or sushi? Normally, those are not found in the same restaurant. Meet B.A.S.H. Burger and Sushi House located right downtown in Ottawa. This restaurant has both good sushi and burgers, but is also a hipper spot to visit during your time in Ottawa. Burgers come loaded with the works, ranging from the Foxy Roxy with pulled pork, bbq, coleslaw and habanero jack cheese to the healthier Greek, a turkey burger with tomato, red onion and tzatziki. What’s not to love?
#4 Cajun Connection
Another unexpected dining destination is Cajun Connection, where Ron McFarlain cooks up fabulous jambalaya, blackened alligator and more. Located amid cornfields, you’ll find a little bit of Lake Charles here, including in the Louisiana inspired decor. Ron was raised near Lake Charles, Louisiana and thrives on serving home cooked meals to guests. Have a Hurricane to drink before diving into chicken and sausage jambalaya or crawfish etouffee. Leave room for a homemade dessert. The pecan pie and keylime pie are really good. Cajun Connection is in Utica, just about a ten minute drive from Starved Rock State Park, so consider combining a hiking adventure with dinner here.
#5 The Lone Buffalo
Those of you who like to sample local beer on your travels should put The Lone Buffalo and Tangled Roots Tap Room on your list. Beer is brewed right onsite with local ingredients. The brewery even offers special brewery tours and tastings. This sleek restaurant is popular with locals and travelers alike. Visit for a double IPA with lighter fare, like Bavarian soft pretzels, kale Caesar salad or baked spinach and shrimp dip or entrees ranging from bone-in ribeye steak to grilled fresh salmon topped with maple bourbon glaze. The Lone Buffalo is located right downtown, so a good spot to take a break after walking around Ottawa to check out the murals and shops.
These are not all of our food recommendations for Ottawa. Check out our Ottawa, Illinois & Starved Rock Country Trip Itinerary for our coffee shop, golf course with awesome pizza and bakery recommendations, and watch this episode on your location PBS TV station and Amazon Prime.