Where to go for quick lunches: Gyros, hot dogs and beef sandwiches: Uncle Nick’s, The Sandwich Factory, Lucky’s Red Hots, Mr. J’s among area’s best

This week, we are featuring another article by Steve Vaughan. This time, he is actually going to receive credit for his own article. Last time, I attributed it in error to Doug Halberstadt. The mistake occurred because both guys thought they were going to do barbecue.

At the risk of being repetitious, Steve Vaughan has lived in Rockford for 12 years. Before coming to the Forest City, Steve lived in Chicago, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Texas, and Munich, Germany, all great places for good eating! When he isn’t working in his day job as a telecom sales consultant, he can often be found in his newly-remodeled kitchen, or by the barbecue smoker in his back yard, marinade and spatula in hand. His article follows.

Oh, by the way, I agree wholeheartedly about Mr. J’s—it’s the only place I know in Rockford where you can get an authentic Chicago-style dog.

Where to go for a quick lunch: Gyros, hot dogs and beef sandwichs

By Steve Vaughan

Rockford is blessed with a variety of locally-owned sandwich shops. These little restaurants fill an important need, offering fast, inexpensive, but tasty lunches and dinners for harried workers and homemakers. There is no way to discuss each of them in a single article, but let me offer a few for your consideration. Chances are you have patronized several of these already. Maybe you know of some terrific spots I neglected to mention—if so, accept my apologies, and spread the word!

For a quick lunch, a gyro sandwich is one of my favorites. I’m particularly fond of Uncle Nick’s, with two locations on State Street. It’s hard to beat their hearty portions and thick tzatziki sauce, overflowing from the pita wrap. If you’re really hungry, try a side of spanikopita—spinach and feta cheese wrapped in flaky phylo pastry. Top it off with a rich, sticky baklava for dessert. If you’re not in the mood for Greek, Uncle Nick’s also serves tasty hot dogs and Italian beef.

A little bit south, around the 2000 block of Charles Street, you’ll find another excellent choice for sandwiches of all types: The Sandwich Factory. Their menu is huge, with a big selection of juicy burgers, plus reubens, corned beef, and Philly steak sandwiches. Their generously-portioned gyros are tender, and loaded with a thick tzatziki sauce, onions and ripe tomatoes.

As long as we’re talking about gyros, I can’t leave out the west side’s Gyros House, on Auburn, just west of Rockton. On my most recent visit, I was especially hungry, so instead of the usual sandwich, I ordered the Gyros Dinner. I was impressed with the HUGE portions of meat and fries, as well as the tasty, fresh pita on the side. In addition to the gyros, you can order kabobs, fish sandwiches, salads and much more.

Rockford hot dog lovers should head up to Riverside Boulevard to find Lucky’s Red Hots, just east of Mulford. The first time I walked in, I did a double take to make sure I wasn’t in Chicago. Lucky’s could easily fit in the heart of Wrigleyville, with Cubs collectibles and Chicago posters covering its walls. Their Chicago-style hot dogs are great, as are the Polish and Italian sausage sandwiches.

A real Rockford original worth seeking out is Mr. J’s on Kishwaukee, just south of 15th. Joel Kaplan, the former Rockford restaurateur who knows a thing or two about good food, told me to try their Italian beef. I’m glad I did! Prepared on site, it was tender, juicy, and perfectly seasoned. Topped off with grilled sweet peppers and an extra dip in the juice, it’s a sandwich you won’t soon forget. The surprisingly large menu also offers several different burgers, Chicago-style hot dogs, sausages, gyros, Philly steak and catfish sandwiches. Mr. J’s has been serving their loyal clientele in this working-class neighborhood for many years. Try one of their tasty sandwiches, and you’ll soon understand why.

None of the places mentioned in this article will get written up in Gourmet magazine. But the local family-owned sandwich shop is a mainstay of America’s culinary tradition. The best of these small restaurants combine high-quality food, diverse menus and friendly, caring service, giving Rockford residents convenient, inexpensive meals worth seeking out.

Where to go and more info

Uncle Nick’s has two locations at 918 E. State St., and 5404 E. State St. Info for both restaurants: 815-962-4444.

The Sandwich Factory is at 2203 Charles St. Info: 815-395-8396.

Lucky’s Red Hots is at 5815 Riverside Blvd. Info: 815-986-1555.

Mr. J’s is at 1803 Kishwaukee St. Info: 815-962-8009.

Mike Leifheit’s “Best of Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. The column will appear the third week of every month in the “Real Rockford” section of Vibe Entertainment. Anyone with suggestions for this column should send them to Leifheit at rosenorte@aol.com or The Rock River Times at rrtimes@rworld.com or 964-9767.

from the April 18-24, 2007, issue

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