Destination Maria’s Bakery (formerly Il Mulino Bakery, 530 Sheridan Rd, Highwood, 847-266-0811)
Distance from the Loop 28.4 miles
In this tiny, authentic bakery, you’ll first see Sicilian baked goods—like rustic pistachio-studded cookies—and beautiful breads, but you’re not seeing the half of it. Just ask Maria what she’s making that day, and soon you’ll see meat-stuffed arancini (risotto balls), beautiful omelettes and prosciutto-topped pizzas. But what you’ll rarely see are open tables: There are four total (two inside and two outside), so show those suburban naïfs some city skills.
Detour Everything about the 385-acre Chicago Botanic Garden (1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe, 847-835-5440) is dreamlike—except the $20-per-car parking fee. Strap your bike to the back of your car (or bring it on the Metra North Line—the Highwood stop is a half-block from the bakery), pick up some treats from Maria’s, and take a ride along the Green Bay Trail to the gardens.
Destination Club 81 Too (13157 S Ave M, Hegewish, 773-646-4292; dinner Wed and Fri only)
Distance from the Loop 22.9 miles
Technically Hegewish is city proper, not a suburb, but when you’re a tire toss from Hammond, Indiana, at a real-deal Friday-night fish fry where steel-mill families are greeted by name, Chicago has very little to do with anything. In fact, this is as Wisconsin as the city limits get—platters of lake perch or walleye come with slaw, raw scallion, radish and cottage cheese; random hunting knickknacks line the walls; Budweiser sixer cartons house the condiments on each table; and the backyard boasts picnic tables and a horseshoe pit.
Detour If the small arm of nearby Wolf Lake out back of Club 81 Too isn’t enough water for you, head for the real deal right at the Indiana border. Footpaths are plentiful; come at dawn or dusk for fishing.
Destination Mitsuwa Marketplace (100 E Algonquin Rd, Arlington Heights, 847-956-6699)
Distance from the Loop 23.7 miles
Unless you’re a manga-crazed geek, it’s not the bookstore in this Japanese megamart that’s going to get you to Arlington Heights. It’s the steaming bowls of ramen (like the toroniku spicy miso ramen with pork cheek in a rich broth) from Santouka, inside the food court, followed by pastries filled with sweet red-bean paste from the Pastry House Hippo.
Detour And the opposite of perusing hard-to-find Japanese ingredients and sakes is…playing the ponies at the Arlington Park racecourse (2200 W Euclid Ave, Arlington Heights, 847-385-7500). Who said the suburbs aren’t diverse?
Destination New York Bagel & Bialy (4714 W Touhy Ave, Lincolnwood, 847-677-9388)
Distance from the Loop 13.8 miles
There are certain things you simply cannot get within the confines of the city of Chicago, and while the absence of an Indonesian restaurant is regrettable, it’s the dearth of good bagels that really, truly pains us. We’d drive 100 miles to get a bagel so fresh, so crisp on the outside, so fluffy and light and salty on the inside. Fortunately, we barely have to drive far at all.
Detour Brush up on your swing at another facility that’s hard to find within city limits: a good batting cage and a mini-golf course like the one at Novelty Golf and Games, a.k.a. the Bunny Hutch (3650 W Devon Ave, 847-679-9434).
Destination The Choo-Choo Diner (600 Lee St, Des Plaines, 847-391-9815)
Distance from the Loop 21 miles
Getting your burgers and fries delivered by electric model train is about as fun as it gets, as the families that line up outside will attest. Don a paper conductor hat, lift the kids into the old-fashioned train ride for a few goes, and wait patiently for a seat along the tracks to order hand-formed patties served with gratis grilled onions, thick milk shakes and cupcakes topped with train whistles. No car? No problem—make it a rail-themed day and take Metra’s Union Pacific Northwest Line to Des Plaines, which leaves you just a block and a half away.
Detour Want more burgers? Walk a couple of blocks to McDonald’s #1 Store Museum (400 Lee St, 847-297-5022, free, open Memorial Day–Labor Day), a re-creation of the first Mickey D’s complete with mannequin workers. Or head to Mystic Waters Family Aquatic Center (2025 Miner St, 847-391-5740), which has a lazy river and two 37-foot water slides.
Destination Gene & Jude’s Red Hot Stand (2720 River Rd, River Grove, 708-452-7634)
Distance from the Loop 15.2 miles
Not exactly a place you go to for ambience, this no-frills, SRO stand starts with a winding line and ends in front of slightly surly counter help. But busy yourself by watching them peel, cut and deep-fry potatoes for perfectly crunchy, sweet french fries that get piled on top of legendary snappy dogs. They’re topped first with mustard, onion and sport peppers only; requests for ketchup are met with scowls and glares.