Our Favorite Things: Restaurants in (and Around) Peoria

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One World
Sky harbor
Steak n Shake
rhythm kitchen

As Peorians we are fortunate to have a preponderance of very good restaurants to choose from, something those of us from small Midwestern towns certainly appreciate. No matter your tastes, there is at least one good restaurant to serve it, if not many – from straight meat-and-potatoes Midwestern fare to ethnic flavors to more avant-garde, modern cuisine.

So this week we asked our murder of writers to tell us about their favorite restaurant in Peoria. Notice we didn’t ask for “the best” restaurant. The reason is, while great food might attract you to a restaurant, the entire experience is what determines whether or not you will return again, let alone come back over and over. So, here’s our list of Our Favorite Restaurants in (and around) Peoria. Enjoy!

Sky Harbor Steakhouse
Paul Gordon
There are a lot of restaurants in the Peoria area of which I am quite fond, but if I had to pick one it would be Sky Harbor. From the quality of the food to the reasonable prices to the friendliness of everybody there it is top-notch. The Klusendorf family has always treated my family and friends extremely well and they have been a good friend to Corn Stock Theatre, where I spend a lot of time. The steaks sizzle when brought to the table, always cooked to your order, and whatever rub they use should be packaged and sold. If you haven’t tried this local treasure, check them out. Just be aware (or perhaps, beware) owner Daryl Klusendorf plays the banjo. If you go there on your birthday, you will be serenaded. Embarrassing? Nah, just a lot of fun.

The Lariat Steakhouse
Steven Streight
My favorite restaurant meets the criteria of being (1) cozy, quiet and romantic, (2) incredible food, (3) extensive menu (4) friendly service, (5) nice and unique decor, (6) reasonable prices, and (7) local, family owned business.

For my tastes, that restaurant would be The Lariat Steakhouse.

This is the restaurant that you can enjoy for a casual lunch, a special occasion dinner, a company banquet, client meeting, and a place to take friends and relatives from out of town, to impress them with a genuine Peoria tradition, as it is one of three oldest, continuously operated restaurants in Peoria, IL.

The Lariat Steakhouse
Matt Richmond
There is only one possible answer to this question: The Lariat Steakhouse. This restaurant is the best of all possible worlds. To wit, a checklist: Damn good steak? Check. Dark as shit inside? Check. Seasoned waitresses who look at you funny if you try to get cute? Check. Western dude-ranch décor? Check. Bucket full of mushrooms soaked in salty beef broth? Check. Costs less than a car payment for a kickass dinner? Check.

I had a step-grandpa once. Grandpa Edwards. He was an old-school hardass who caught giant catfish, brought them home and crushed their skulls with a #@!%ing sledgehammer. His hands looked like sweet potatoes. The Lariat is the only restaurant I can ever remember him going to willingly. You gonna argue with that?

One World
Lindsey Tanner
Walk in the door caught between West Main and North University. Enter a dim lit eatery with a kickback, coffee shop vibe. Pass the dessert counter to be seated in the west room, along the art-scaped wall. Settle into the lunchtime conversation around you, synced to the chime of forks-to-plate, and ice stirred in a tall glass of tea. Pick up your menu and it won't take you long to realize you'll be back— likely that night.

Skim: Bacon Cheese Fries, a bowl of soup, the Southwestern Salad, with an incredibly addicting cilantro dressing, a bite that ranks it above the traditional ranch garnish (and don't bother to ask for it on the side — you'll use it all). Keep reading: Cuban Pork, Herb Chicken Focaccia and Broiled Tilapia. Find wraps and flatbreads, and flame-broiled beef burgers, with uptown flare or stray from tradition with the Portabella Brioche. Browse your options: pizza gone thin, gone gluten, replace pesto with sauce or go gourmet with Chicken Alfredo or BBQ Chicken. Check the Three Cheese Blend Quesadilla, the Hungarian Stuffed Pepper, Baked Penne or Eggplant Lasagna. A hand-cut pork loin, Latin or Texas style, your choice.

The name of the place suddenly makes sense. The richest tastes, from the farthest places in the world, hosted by a single corner cafe. With a menu of that caliber somehow perfection in preparation and presentation is never sacrificed. Go ahead and fight to settle the internal turmoil over two, continent-apart dishes — it's probably easier than trying to re-arrange your Saturday morning so you can order from the breakfast menu.

Noodles & Company
Shaun Taylor
My favorite restaurant in Peoria is the newly opened, Noodles & Co. I know it isn't a sexy choice per se, but I love it because it reminds me of my hometown of Rockville, MD and they have great noodles. I've tried just about everything on the menu, but my go-to is the Japanese pan noodles with steak. Throw a little Sriracha on top and you've got a great meal at a great price. My runner up would have to be pad thai with shrimp!

Steak ‘n Shake
Terry Towery
I was born in Fulton County and lived there until my family moved to northern Illinois in 1970, the summer after sixth grade. In the years prior to our move, my mom and dad would load us in the car every Saturday and drive to Peoria Heights, where I received my weekly allergy shot from Dr. Endres (whose office, as I recall, was next door the old Pabst Brewery on Prospect). While the shot itself isn't exactly a shining memory from my childhood, stopping on South Adams Street on the way out of Peoria and eating at Steak 'n Shake sure is. In those days, there were still car-hops and I remember the girl bringing our double steak burgers, fries and chocolate malts on a tray which she attached to our partially rolled down window. When we were finished, my father would turn on his headlights and the girl would come and took our tray away.

To this day, when I want a taste of my childhood, I hop in the car and head to Steak 'n Shake. While the decor has changed, and car hops are a thing of the past, the food is as satisfying now as it was in 1968. And the memories, of course, are priceless.

Ludy’s Kickapoo Creek Saloon
(No website but you can find them on Facebook)
Stuart Clubb
Burgers, Chicken strips or the Texas Toothpicks – doesn’t matter. When I go there, I know it will be some of the best food because that usually means I had just made a long hike at Jubilee Park prior to the dining experience. It is a reward after enjoying nature and enjoying nature is reward in itself – so Ludy’s is the cap to a wonderful day. You come as you are (usually very hungry after hiking) and leave full and happy. Simple and wonderful.

Rhythm Kitchen Cafe
Kevin Kizer
As the host of the rarely watched/quickly forgotten Kizer: Party of Four videos, I have been lucky enough to have the best off the menu of several great restaurants. A couple of them are even still in business. Choosing my favorite restaurant in this town is nearly an impossible task. I’ve had great meals in great environments – One World, Kelleher’s, The Publik House, Stephanie*, ye ol’ Riverstation, the Fish House, Jonah’s, just to name a few. But the place I’m going to go with (in a much less dramatic fashion than my dear friend Matt Richmond) is the Rhythm Kitchen Music Café.

For years, I worked in the same building as or next to the Rhythm Kitchen and grew to love it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and beyond (when there’s live music). Shelly Lenzini opened the restaurant in 1999, bringing modern, homemade fare in a relaxed social setting to the riverfront. And she won me over immediately – there was a particular tuna dish on the lunch menu that I favored. One day I strolled in for lunch, took a look at the menu, my eyes eagerly going to that familiar spot on the page – but the desired tuna dish was nowhere to be seen. After recovering from a small gasping-and-swooning incident that upended several tables and disturbed quite a bit of silverware, I gathered myself as well as I could and queried the aforementioned proprietor about its absence. She quickly assuaged my fears – true, the tuna dish was not on the menu, but she would make it for me anytime I would like. On that shining day she made a customer for life.

* remember THAT place?

About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.