Springfield’s Capital Bites

Springfield’s cuisine runs the gamut and includes 1950s-era comfort food that harkens to the city’s Route 66 heyday as well as today’s hip culinary trends.

Hannah Jean Schafer/HJS Photography

Macarons from Incredibly Delicious

While many of Springfield’s restaurants still celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s legacy, the city’s signature dish wasn’t created until a half century after the former president’s death. It’s called the horseshoe, or just a “shoe”—a thick slice of white bread topped with meat (like a slice of ham or a hamburger patty) that’s then smothered in French fries and cheese sauce.

Healthy? No. Some are estimated to be close to 3,000 calories. But it’s decadently delicious, especially at D’Arcy’s Pint. The shoes there are custom made with meats such as corned beef or walleye, and extra cheese sauce if you’d like (and why not at this point). For a smaller portion, order the Ponyshoe.

Lincoln famously said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” And Springfield’s restaurant owners have taken that to heart. While visiting Springfield’s Lincoln sites, here are some good places to grab a bite nearby.

Near Abraham Lincoln's Home

A block west of the Lincoln’s Home National Historic Site, where visitors see how the president raised his family in the 19th century, sits another Lincoln-era home that now houses the popular Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery. The family-friendly restaurant has a lovely outdoor beer garden with picnic tables, a bocce ball court and a dog play area. The brewery is best known for its Mother Road Pale Ale, but there are many good choices. For a unique beer, come on Fridays, when they tap a small cask known as a firkin. Upscale bar food includes burgers and flatbreads, plus a full Sunday brunch.

Near the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Old State Capital

After watching the hologram show and perusing life-sized vignettes and artifacts at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, walk over to Long 9 Junction. This hot, new restaurant made Yelp’s 2019 list of Top 100 Place to Eat in the U.S. It’s named for “The Long Nine,” a group of tall Illinois legislators (including Lincoln) who successfully argued to have the state capitol moved from Vandalia to Springfield. The menu nods to them, too, with things like appetizers called Opening Statements and side dishes called Amendments. The changing menu might have Tom “Lincoln” Kha soup, made with coconut, ginger and sweet chile broth, a Bacon Beef N’ Chedda sandwich, or the Old Capitol Chicken, dry brine roasted and seasoned.

Cafe Moxo is a casual grab-and-go restaurant next to the Old State Capital, where Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech on slavery. Tasty sandwiches, rich pot pies, and addictive mac and cheese make a great post-tour lunch. It’s impossible to leave without taking a sweet treat to go, like a cinnamon crumb coffee cake.

A Springfield landmark since 1884, many of Maldaner’s artisan dishes are made with fresh ingredients from its rooftop garden. Upscale offerings like quail stuffed with sweet Italian sausage dominate the menu, but you can also get a Route 66 Cheeseburger made with grass-fed beef, provolone cheese, and a fig and pancetta compote.

In 2017, around the same time the 163-year-old Governor’s Mansion was being renovated, so was the famous restaurant across the street, Loukinens on Fourth. Now a contemporary dining space with a sleek fireplace and a nice wine list, its lunch fare includes five types of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with an optional creamy tomato soup topped with gorgonzola cheese crumbles and crispy prosciutto. For dinner, jumbo sea scallops or crab- and bacon-crusted New York strip steaks are among the offerings.

Off I-55, on a stretch of Route 66, you’ll find the throwback Cozy Dog Drive In. Don’t be fooled by the “drive-in” name; it’s actually a counter service restaurant set within a Route 66 collectibles museum. Cozy Dog lays claim to creating the corn dog on a stick back in 1946, and now you can order them by the basketful, along with bottles of Route 66 root beer.

A mile west, dine at another unique 1950s-era restaurant: Charlie Parker’s Diner.Housed in a World War II Quonset hut that sits in a farm field, the interior is decorated with record albums and Americana memorabilia. Oldies music plays as the diner slings plate-sized pancakes, horseshoes and breakfast platters.

After rubbing the nose for luck on Lincoln’s bronze bust, pay your respects to the president at Lincoln’s Tomb, then head over for a cold brew at Engrained Brewery and Restaurant. Microbrews and locally sourced foods include the Farmhand Burger, made with hormone-free angus meat from local farmers and topped with ale onions, bleu cheese and whole-grain mustard spread.

An elegant meal with a 30th floor view awaits at Nick and Nino’s Penthouse Steakhouse atop the Wyndham Springfield City Centre. Perfect for a romantic dinner or business meeting, this is the place to go when you want a 24-ounce porterhouse steak or twin jumbo lobster tails. Quality cocktails and first-class service help create the classic American steakhouse experience. For another class meal, try the nearby landmark retro supper club Saputo’s.

The beautiful art glass, furniture and Prairie design of the 35-room Dana-Thomas House, built by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright for a Springfield socialite, is close to Incredibly Delicious, a bakery-restaurant that lives up to its name. Housed in an adorable Victorian house, it wows breakfast and lunch diners with baked goods like rich flourless chocolate cake, as well as soups and sandwiches made on artisanal breads. Enjoy your order in their leafy outdoor garden.

Springfield isn’t a huge metropolis, but its restaurants draw inspiration from all over the world. Italy is well represented with standout restaurants like the modern VELE. The tortillas are homemade and the décor is colorful at Taqueria Moroleon, a good cheap eats option. Upscale farm-to-table food sourced exclusively from local farmers is served in an unpretentious setting at American Harvest Eatery.

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