2018 Best of Illinois

For the second year, readers nominated their favorites in a variety of categories in the northern, central or southern regions. Each participant cast their ballot in 40 different categories, ranging from eateries and destinations to their favorite service locations. We asked you to vote for the Best in Illinois – varying from your favorite day trip to the best regional attraction.

Several votes were cast for outdoor activities. Your favorite northern regional attraction was Chestnut Mountain Resort. For the best place to get married, readers voted for Allerton Park, and the best place to take the kids in the central region goes to Children’s Discovery Museum. Foodies also voted for their favorites selecting Giant City Lodge, in the southern region, as having the best home cooking.

Awards were delivered to 118 businesses during the Best of Illinois contest. All are listed at the bottom of this page. Below you can discover more about six of the Best of Illinois winners from across the state selected by Illinois Country Living magazine readers.

Best bakery

(northern region)

Myrtle’s Café & Pie has with locations in Princeton and Galena. Myrtle’s pie shop is known for making a variety of homemade pies in a casual atmosphere. Each bakery offers seasonal pies from Malted French Silk, Lemon Cheesecake, Dutch Apple and more!
The Princeton bakery is located at 927 North Main Street, call 815-915-8397. The Galena bakery is located at 228 North Main Street, call 779-214-0356. Visit their Facebook page @MyrtlesCafeAndPie for more information.

Best performing arts venue & theatre

(central region)

According to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts (BCPA), it presents national and international touring artists and holds over 500 events annually, between classes, meetings, seminars, presentations, life events and more. When you enter BCPA’s historic space, your artistic experience begins at the door. The intimate auditorium provides a unique setting to enjoy a dynamic season of artists.

To view the BCPA’s current season, visit artsblooming.org or call the BCPA ticket office at 309-434-2777. The performing arts venue is located at 600 N. East St. in Bloomington. Ticket office hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Best place to take the kids

(southern region)

The Science Center (TSC) in Carbondale provides kids over 65 hands-on science exhibits, in-house sculptures and educational programs. According to the museum’s website, it is dedicated to awareness and exploration of hands-on science to infant children through teen years and their families in southernmost Illinois. Its mission is to nourish and preserve each child’s innate curiosity through hands-on, inquiry-based exploration. The center has approximately 70,000 visitors every year and features free day on Thursdays with free admission to all members of the community.

The museum is located at 1237 E. Main, Carbondale, call 618-529-5431. The Science Center is open Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $5 per person, infants 2 and under are free. TSC also offers seniors discounts. Visit Yoursciencecenter.org for more information or to learn more about becoming a member.

Best college or university

(northern region)

According to Aurora University (AU), it offers more than 40 bachelors, masters and doctoral programs that are grounded in real-world experiences and led by experienced, dedicated faculty members. An inclusive community dedicated to the transformative power of learning, AU is a private, nonprofit, independent university accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Approximately 5,600 students are enrolled at different AU locations, including its main 37-acre campus located 40 miles west of Chicago as well as the Orchard Center in Aurora,  the Woodstock Center in Woodstock,  George Williams College on Geneva Lake in Wisconsin, and online.

AU’s main campus is located at 347 S. Gladstone Ave in Aurora, call 630-892-6431, email admission@aurora.edu or visit aurora.edu.

Best festival

(central region)

The Annual Dutch Days Festival is held in the first Friday and Saturday in May. Originated in 1974, the festival celebrates the area’s Dutch heritage. The 44th Annual Dutch Days Festival will be held May 4 and 5 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The whole family will enjoy a variety of events. Some of the activities include an Authentic De Immigrant Dutch Windmill, Dutch costumes and dancing, an antique tractor show, live music and authentic Dutch pastries. Besides the 100 arts and craft vendors, attendees can enjoy several area attractions including the Fulton Marina, the 1800s Village at Heritage Canyon and the Martin House Museum.

Visit the only Dutch Festival in Illinois. To find out a complete list of events and attractions, visit cityoffulton.us or call 815-589-3925. Follow @CityOfFulton on its Facebook page.

Best regional attraction

(southern region)

Garden of the Gods is nestled in the beautiful Shawnee National Forest. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “Garden of the Gods, made of sandstone, is about 320 million years old.” Hikers can enjoy the Camel Rock, Table Rock and Devil Smokestack rock formations. Several trails are offered for different skill levels. Visitors can visit and camp year-round. The Garden of the Gods has several facilities, which include a picnic area, 12 campsites and an observation trail. The U.S. Forest Service encourages visitors to obtain detailed maps before entering the area.

Campsites are $10 per night. For more information, contact Shawnee National Forest headquarters at 50 Hwy. 145 S. in Harrisburg, call 618-253-7114 or visit their website.

Complete list of 2018 winners

Category Region Name City
Route 66 Restaurant Central Ariston Litchfield
Route 66 Restaurant Southern Weezy’s Hamel
Family Friendly Dining Northern Forest Inn Morrison
Family Friendly Dining Central Neimerg’s Effingham
Family Friendly Dining Southern West Union Café West Union
Buffet Northern Delaney’s Oglesby
Buffet Central Yoders Arthur
Buffet Southern Reid’s Harvest House Chester
Home Cooking Northern Calico Café Sheridan
Home Cooking Central Rossville Family Restaurant Rossville
Home Cooking Southern Giant City Lodge Makanda
Milkshake/Ice Cream Shop Northern American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor Galena
Milkshake/Ice Cream Shop Central Carl’s Ice Cream Bloomington
Milkshake/Ice Cream Shop Southern Accee’s Goreville
Barbecue Northern Big Papas Barbecue Rockford
Barbecue Central Witts BBQ Effingham
Barbecue Southern 17th Street Barbecue Murphysboro
Pizza Northern Manny’s Savanna
Pizza Central The Greathouse of Pizza Casey
Pizza Southern Quatro’s Carbondale
Bakery Northern Myrtle’s Galena
Bakery Central Sweet Norma Jean’s Casey
Bakery Southern Larry’s House of Cakes Marion
Food Truck Northern Yum Dum Truck Chicago
Food Truck Central Twyford’s BBQ Jacksonville
Food Truck Southern Haute Weels Food Truck Murphysboro
Hamburgers Northern Top Notch Beefburgers, Chicago Chicago
Hamburgers Central Moonshine Store, Martinsville Martinsville
Hamburgers Southern Fat Patties, Carbondale Carbondale
College/University Northern Aurora University, Aurora Aurora
College/University Central ISU, Normal Normal
College/University Southern SIU, Carbondale Carbondale
Museum Northern Field Museum Chicago
Museum Central Lincoln Museum Springfield
Museum Southern Cobden Museum Cobden
Performing Arts Venue/Theatre Northern Timber Lake Playhouse Mt. Carroll
Performing Arts Venue/Theatre Central Bloomington Performing Arts Center Bloomington
Performing Arts Venue/Theatre Southern McLeod Theatre Carbondale
Place to Get Married Northern Williams Tree Farm Rockton
Place to Get Married Central Allerton Park Monticello
Place to Get Married Southern Buck Valley Wildlife Preserve Marshall
Host a Wedding Reception Northern Chestnut Mountain Galena
Host a Wedding Reception Central Walton Centre Fairbury
Host a Wedding Reception Southern Alto Vineyards Alto Pass
Regional Attraction Northern Chestnut Resort Galena
Regional Attraction Central Big Things in a Small Town Casey
Regional Attraction Southern Garden of the Gods Harrisburg
Festival Northern Octoberfest Galena
Festival Central Dutch Days Fulton
Festival Southern Apple Festival Murphysboro
Art Gallery Northern Chicago Art Institute Chicago
Art Gallery Central Table Stawn Art Gallery Jacksonville
Art Gallery Southern Southern Illinois Art & Artisans Center Whittington
Place to Take the Kids Northern Shedd Aquarium Chicago
Place to Take the Kids Central Children’s Discovery Museum Normal
Place to Take the Kids Southern The Science Center Carbondale
Day Trip Northern Starved Rock Oglesby
Day Trip Central Abraham Lincoln Museum Springfield
Day Trip Southern Garden of the Gods Harrisburg
Antique Shop Northern Rubies n Rust Antiques Rockton
Antique Shop Central Lisa’s Divernon
Antique Shop Southern Countree Peddler Goreville
Automotive Dealership Northern Palmer Automotive Elizabeth
Automotive Dealership Central KC Summers Auto Group Mattoon
Automotive Dealership Southern Volger Ford Carbondale
Grocery Store Northern Sullivan Foods Savanna
Grocery Store Central Dave’s Supermarket Fairbury
Grocery Store Southern Goreville Food Market Goreville
Mattress Store Northern Muehleip Furniture Galena
Mattress Store Central Just Beds Springfield
Mattress Store Southern Sterling Mattress Factory Herrin
Eyewear Northern Gailey Clinic Peru
Eyewear Central Vision Care Associates Springfield
Eyewear Southern Marion Eye Center Marion
Furniture Store Northern Good’s Furniture Kewanee
Furniture Store Central Martins Home Furniture Bloomington
Furniture Store Southern Stearn’s Furniture Sparta
Jewelry Store Northern Gem Shop and Diamond Source Rockton
Jewelry Store Central Jack Lewis Bloomington
Jewelry Store Southern Wickers Jewelry Steeleville
Mall/Shopping District Northern Downtown Galena Galena
Mall/Shopping District Central Marketplace Mall Champaign
Mall/Shopping District Southern University Mall Carbondale
Seed/Garden Store Northern Corn Crib Nursery Coal Valley
Seed/Garden Store Central Debuhrs Mattoon
Seed/Garden Store Southern Harper Feed Store Herrin
Shoe Store Northern Honest Johns Galena
Shoe Store Central Heal to Toe Urbana
Shoe Store Southern Shawnee Trails Wilderness Outfitter Carbondale
Financial Institution Northern Farmers National Bank Geneseo
Financial Institution Central Busey Bank Bloomington
Financial Institution Southern South Porte Bank Marion
Heating/Cooling Company Northern Grassers Plumbing and Heating McNabb
Heating/Cooling Company Central Davis Electric Rushville
Heating/Cooling Company Southern Jacobs Air Conditioning and Heating Carbondale
Roofing Company Northern Rutherford Roofing Geneseo
Roofing Company Central West End Builders Beardstown
Roofing Company Southern DS Roofing Systems Ava
Home Improvement Company Northern Hoskin’s Elizabeth Elizabeth
Home Improvement Company Central West End Builders Beardstown
Home Improvement Company Southern Home Improvement Warehouse Carbondale
Assisted Living Facility Northern Resthave Nursing Home Morrison
Assisted Living Facility Central Fairview Haven Fairbury
Assisted Living Facility Southern Burnsides Marshall
Optometrist Northern Sarah Machala Galena
Optometrist Central Heyman & Heyman Paxton
Optometrist Southern William Fix, O.D. Marion
Hearing Central Midwest Ear, Nose and Throat Peoria
Hearing Southern Carbondale Hearing Center Carbondale
Hospital Northern CGH Sterling
Hospital Central Sarah Bush Mattoon
Hospital Southern Memorial Hospital Carbondale
Dentist Northern Dr. Dean Park, Geneva Smiles Dental Geneva
Dentist Central Dr. Wilkens Fulton
Dentist Southern Justin Settle Marion