By Steve Barnes
Location: 210 North Broadway (Urbana, Ill.)
Hours Of Operation: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday
"Must Have" Menu Item: Pulled pork, $12.45. The tender pulled pork sandwich is doused with Carolina Red Barbecue sauce and is served with two side orders.
Description: Co-owner Mike Cochran parlayed his hobby of smoking meat in his backyard into operating one of the most popular restaurants in the Champaign-Urbana area. It opened in February of 2009 and it's already become the most talked-about restaurant in town through word of mouth alone.
One-Liner: "Open the menu, don't look, and point to anything. That thing will be the best thing you've ever tasted. It's like meat heaven." — Kent Brown, Illinois assistant athletic director for athletic communications.
Establishment: Nick's English Hut (Facebook, Twitter)
Location: 423 E. Kirkwood Ave. (Bloomington, Ind.)
Hours Of Operation: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday
"Must Have" Menu Item: Nick's Traditional Stromboli, $12.95. A pizza sandwich filled with crumbled Italian sausage, mozzarella cheese, onions and Nick's own pizza sauce. Compliment it with a bucket of Sink the Biz Fries, $9.95.
Description: Nick's English Hut opened in 1927 and has been serving beer since 1933 — thank you very much, prohibition. But the iconic Hooisers hot spot has been serving up more than just booze — including small-batch Kentucky whiskeys — for 86 years. Nick's recently overhauled front bar is the place to be before, during and after Hoosiers games in Bloomington.
One-Liner: "It's wall-to-wall in here (on game day). You'll find a lot of camaraderie here and everyone rooting on Indiana." — Nick's English Hut co-owner Susan Bright.
Location: 18 South Clinton Street (Iowa City, Iowa)
Hours Of Operation: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday
"Must Have" Menu Item: Gravity Burger, $8.99. This monster comes with caramelized onions, bacon, green chili and jalapeno cream cheese. It also comes with hand-cut fries.
Description: The restaurant is located in the former Short's Shoeshine Shop and has kept much of the decor of the original business. It would be hard to find a place with fresher beef. Short's gets it from Ed Smith Farms located just 26 miles away. The beef is corn-fed, 100-percent Black Angus. They also have 10 craft beers and whiskey from a local distillery.
One-Liner: “Short’s Burgers has a great location and has fit right in to the downtown atmosphere that is Iowa football. Owned in part by former Hawkeyes and NFL All-Pro Nate Kaeding, Short’s provides a great selection of burgers and sandwiches, along with a large selection of popular and locally-brewed beverages.” — Steve Roe, Iowa sports information director
Location: 316 South State Avenue (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Hours Of Operation: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday-Wednesday; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., Thursday-Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday
"Must Have" Menu Item: Beijing Duck and Chicken Quesadillas, $10.95. The dish is a sweet and spicy braised duck and chicken, jalapeño jack and melon salsa.
Description: Built in a used bookstore in 1992, the atmosphere of the exposed brick and handcrafted cherry woodwork is the perfect place for a homemade meal away from home, a cold pint of Michigan beer or a premium cocktail with house-infused mixers.
One-Liner: "You can't beat the Red Hawk grill for custom burgers, sandwiches with a quirky twist and beer. Don't miss the duck quesadillas!" — Shannon W. Anderson, former Michigan professor.
Location: 414 14th Street Southeast (Dinkytown, Minn.)
Hours Of Operation: 6 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday-Sunday
"Must Have" Menu Item: Smokey Cheese Omelet, $4.25. The smokey cheese omelet is made with two eggs, but the key is what can be added to it. Bacon, ham, salami, sausage and even shrimp are all available.
Description: Al's Breakfast is the classic hole-in-the-wall place. It is small, historic and on campus. The Gophers seem to play a lot of early afternoon games at home, and a hot breakfast helps get fans through the frigid temperatures.
One-Liner: "When I was an undergrad, Al's was the place to go before a football game or after a basketball game. But on a football Saturday, get there early. It fills up fast." — Kimberly Mason, Minnesota graduate.
Location: 210 North Seventh Street (Lincoln, Neb.)
Hours Of Operation: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday-Saturday
"Must Have" Menu Item: Top Sirloin, $13.39 (8-oz.), $18.19 (12-oz.). It is Nebraska, so beef has to be on the menu. Lazlo’s offers the finest USDA Choice Omaha Steaks: aged 21 days for superb tenderness and texture, then grilled over a live hickory fire for incomparable flavor. Served with one side dish and your choice of Salad Lazlo, Caesar salad or a bowl of soup.
Description: Opened in 1991, Lazlo's brought the state of Nebraska its first brew-pub. Along with the from-scratch cooking, Lazlo's offers handcrafted ales straight from its in-house brewery, Empyrean Brewing Company. Empyrean Brewing Company, founded in 1997, is Nebraska’s largest micro-brewery and was recognized at the prestigious World Beer Cup in Seattle with a silver medal for “Luna Sea ESB.”
One-Liner: “A local favorite known for good variety, great service and brewing their own beer.” — Keith Mann, Nebraska sports information
Location: 812 Clark St. (Evanston, Ill.)
Hours Of Operation: 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday-Saturday
"Must Have" Menu Item: Suicide Wings, $7.99.
Description: Buffalo Joe's is a Chicago favorite and a great place to stop by on the way to the game. Order some buffalo wings, dip them in some Joe's sauce and snack on some chips. There are no regular chips at Joe's. They serve buffalo chips, buffalo-flavored waffle fries or cheddar chips (waffle fries covered in hot cheese). Buffalo Joe's also has burgers and sandwiches for the less adventurous. If you're looking for a good meal that will help you cheer on the Wildcats, go to Buffalo Joe's. Just make sure you bring some cash. Buffalo Joe's doesn't have time for credit cards.
One-Liner: "I've been going here for 14 years and other than the prices changing, of course, the food is still the same. Great! Good portions and awesome wing flavor. I've had wings around the country and Buffalo Joe's ranked No. 5 on the Top 10 wings in the nation for the National Hot Wings competition held in New York City. Suicide wings, buffalo chips, gut-buster pink lemonade and a cup of cheddar broccoli never fails!" — Alex L., Google Review
Location: 183 Thurman Avenue (Columbus, Ohio)
Hours Of Operation: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m., Sunday-Saturday
"Must Have" Menu Item: Thurman burger, $11.29. It is overloaded with ham, mozzarella, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, sauteed onions, pickle, peppers, and mayo with chips and a pickle spear. By the way, it is 3/4 pounds of beef.
Description: A landmark of the German village in Columbus since 1942, it bills itself as "The Best Burger in Columbus." The food, along with the memorabilia makes The Thurman the place to be before a Buckeyes game.
One-Liner: "The best burgers in history." — Tom Simmons, athletic director, Ohio Northern University
Location: 131 South Garner St (State College, Penn.)
Hours Of Operation: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday-Saturday
"Must Have" Menu Item: The “Double Decker," $5.89. The signature burger includes cheddar and American cheese and thousand island with onion, tomato, lettuce, and a pickle spear.
Description: Located just a mile and a half from Beaver Stadium, Annette "Baby" Winters opened the place to serve the people of State College in 1952. Known for her quick wit, Winters was a constant in the restaurant until her death in 1995. Rumor has it that if you sit in the far booth after closing, you can still hear Baby whistling her favorite tune, Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley.”
One-Liner: "Baby's is a 1950s-style diner with authentic '50s stuff, and the waiters/waitresses all wear the period uniforms. And it's classic American fast food. It is still in town, although it's closer to the stadium and a couple blocks from the HUB. There's limited space there, but it's definitely a State College fixture." — Fidor Brayd, Penn State graduate.
Location: 119 Howard Avenue (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Hours Of Operation: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday
"Must Have" Menu Item: Baby Jer’s Guinness Stew, $8.99. A hearty portion of homemade stew, featuring slow-simmered Angus beef pot roast, vegetables, and a hint of Guinness Irish Stout broth, topped with champ mashed potatoes.
Description: As the name of the establishment indicates, 9 Irish Brothers is a family-oriented restaurant. It features Irish traditional corn beef and cabbage as well as burgers and steaks. It is just a short walk to the stadium.
One-Liner: "9 Irish Brothers will make you feel like you are in a real European pub. It is one of the premier pubs in Indiana and is a student favorite on campus. The ambiance in the building is amazing as it feels more like a pub than a sports bar. There are several HD TVs, but you are not overwhelmed by them when you walk in the building. The outdoor seating offers a great place to enjoy a nice autumn day and one of their famous beers on tap. More importantly, 9 Irish's menu is full of Irish favorites making it a great place to grab an Irish Red on tap to go along with an order of fish and chips or a Guinness stew. All in all, the exceptional food and unique setting make 9 Irish a must visit for Boilermakers fans in Lafayette on game day." — Patrick Ollinger, Purdue graduate
Location: 603 State Street (Madison, Wisc.)
Hours Of Operation: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday-Saturday
"Must Have" Menu Item: Red Brat, $7.75. S.A. "Shorty" Keyes and Warren "Lammy" Lamm's original, butterfly-grilled smoked beef pork bratwurst.
Description: Beer, cheese curds and brats are the essential triumvirate of the Wisconsin experience and few have done it longer or better than State Street Brats, a Madison staple since opening as the Brathaus in 1952. State Street serves nothing but Wisconsin beers and has been dubbed the 13th-best sports bar in the nation by Sports Illustrated.
One-Liner: "For the longest time, we were the only show going on State Street. We were a sports bar before sports bars were cool." — State Street Brats manager Kelly Meuer