When in Springfield, eating out is more than a way to fuel the body; it’s an event.
That’s especially true at some of the city’s unique dining establishments where charm, character, history and great food are the ingredients that make up a recipe for fun family memories.
One of the most recent additions to the mix is Red’s Giant Hamburg. Though the restaurant opened in 2019, its history goes back to the 1940s when the original Red’s opened its doors on historic Route 66. The unusual name is due to the sign being cut off at the bottom so it would fit under powerlines.
Red's Giant Hamburg by Rhianon Brown.
Thanks to its location on The Mother Road, tasty hamburgers and the first drive-through restaurant window in the world, Red’s became a staple for Springfield residents and travelers until it closed in 1984.
The new restaurant features the same old-fashioned hamburgers, fries, pinto beans, ice cream and other menu items that were available from the original restaurant. You’ll also see a sign just like the one from the original and a busy drive-through window.
If the food isn’t enough to draw you in, the decor will seal the deal. The walls are adorned with photos curated from Sheldon “Red” Chaney’s family. Each of the laminate-topped, chrome-trimmed tables and booths are different, complete with vinyl-covered chrome chairs to match the table-top themes. Light fixtures are reminiscent of days gone by and the tile floor is a mix of colors.
Once you’ve tried out the newest, one that’s not so new should be on your must-see list. With a beginning in 1909, Casper’s is purported to be the oldest restaurant in Springfield and is definitely one of the city’s funkiest. Housed in a Quonset hut, the walls are covered with posters, album covers and artwork that will have you gawking while you chow down on hamburgers cooked on a 100-year-old grill, secret-recipe chili and other items ordered from a handwritten menu on the wall.
The place is tiny, which adds to its ambiance. When it’s crowded - and it usually is - strangers share their tables with strangers, making new friends while they enjoy their overflowing bowls of chili.
Casper's Chili by Rhianon Brown.
While Casper’s is a Springfield tradition, the next dining spot on the list is where you’ll find Springfield’s signature dish. Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken is available at restaurants throughout the city but if you want the authentic recipe, check out Leong’s Asian Diner, owned by the family that came up with the recipe of fried chicken chunks covered oyster sauce, cashews and green onions.
The recipe got its start at Leong’s Tea House in 1963 when owner David Leong was trying to find a dish he could serve at his Chinese restaurant that would be accepted by the Springfield crowd. Little did he know that nearly 60 years later, his recipe would be a Springfield icon and versions of it would be served on menus across the country.
Wing and David Leong.
Leong’s Asian Diner closed in 1997 but the dish remained popular. In 2010, David Leong and his sons opened Leong’s Asian Diner to continue the family tradition. David Leong, who is at the restaurant nearly every day, turns 100 in August.
Another popular dining experience is found just south of Springfield at Lambert’s Cafe. Known as the “home of throwed rolls,” Lambert’s serves a full menu of country cookin’ and each table gets “pass-arounds” that are served tableside, such as fried taters and onions, black-eyed peas and fried okra.
Lambert's Cafe by Rhianon Brown.
Best of all, though, are the dinner rolls. Besides tasting like the rolls grandma used to make, the bread is tossed to diners eager to try their hand at catching the buttery, fluffy rolls before devouring them with the rest of their meal.
Those are just four of the dining experiences available in Springfield. There are many others and we suggest you try as many as you can.