Family road trips were in their heyday. Route 66, the 2,448 mile two-lane Mother Road connecting Chicago with Los Angeles, was completely paved by 1938, making cross country travel a popular family vacation. Stops at kitschy roadside attractions, small motels and family friendly diners were as much a part of the adventure as the destination. One of those diners was the Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, Illinois. The restaurant is still in existence today as Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket. One taste of the fried chicken, crisp on the outsider, tender, juicy and flavorful on the inside and you’ll know how Dell Rhea’s has survived the rerouting of Route 66, the subsequent decommissioning of the road, and difficult economies.
When a rerouting of Route 66 bypassed the Chicken Basket in the early 1960s, the restaurant almost closed. Instead, Dell Rhea and his wife purchased it and brought it back to life. The restaurant is still in the Rhea family today, with grandson Patrick at the helm. Dell Rhea’s still uses the original chicken recipe. The recipe was given to the first Chicken Basket owner in exchange for being the exclusive chicken supplier. Although fried chicken is what Dell Rhea’s is known for, there are lots of other chicken dishes, too. Choose from appetizers like chicken wings and fried chicken livers to healthier main chicken dishes like roasted chicken or char-broiled chicken breast. Or choose from seven different chicken sandwiches.
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Chicken isn’t the only thing on Dell Rhea’s menu. Beef, ribs, fish, salads and the popular baked macaroni and cheese are available, as well. Everything is made fresh at Dell Rhea’s, even the salad dressings (except French because Chef Patrick doesn’t like French dressing and refuses to make it).
Wash your meal down with custom brewed Route 66 root beer, or choose another Route 66 soda flavor, like black cherry or cream soda. For a more adult palate, enjoy a glass of wine instead.
Be sure to save room for dessert, like the chocolate raspberry cake or a personal cherry pie—ordered with a scoop of ice cream on it, of course.
Despite now being off of the main road and a little hard to find, Dell Rhea’s continues to bring in Route 66 nostalgia seekers and those just looking for good food. Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives show with Guy Fieri a few years ago. For two weeks following the airing of that episode, the line of people waiting to get into the restaurant wrapped around the building. You shouldn’t have to wait as long to get in anymore, so plan on stopping when you’re in the area of I-55 and Route 83. Whether you need to satisfy your taste buds or your yearning for nostalgia, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket will fill that need.
If you visit Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is located at 645 Joliet Road, in Willowbrook, Illinois, and is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Check the website for the full menu and other details.
Disclosure: DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau hosted my visit to Dell Rhea Chicken Basket. My meal was complimentary; however, any opinions in this article are my own.
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