Top Spots to Find Local Food and Wine in the Alton Area
Famous for massive bluffs and spectacular waterfront views, the Alton region, located 25 minutes north of St. Louis in Illinois at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers, also has a vibrant and growing restaurant, winery and brewery scene. After browsing Alton’s Antique Row for treasures, touring the historic business and residential neighborhoods, or enjoying a day of boating or kayaking, make time to explore the many food and wine spots found in the Alton area.
Delicious Dishes in Downtown Alton, Illinois
The first destination on a foodie tour of the Alton area should be downtown Alton, a revitalized dining, entertainment and residential district on the Mississippi River where new boutiques, lofts and eateries are popping up all the time.
Take a look into some of the restaurants that line Alton's historic Third Street entertainment district.
For dining, a true class act operating in downtown Alton is Chez Marilyn's, which serves 30 signature, top-notch martinis (most are named for classic movies), paired with crostini appetizers, build-your-own burgers, blue cheese kabobs or terrific Mexican soup. In nice weather, enjoy a glass of wine or beer on the delightfully sunny Third Street patio, filled with market umbrellas.
Bluff City Grill serves up big, delicious and hearty sandwiches and burgers in its new location on East Broadway, which it moved into in 2016. The vibe, though, is still the same. This is the place to go to watch March Madness basketball, baseball STL-style or your favorite NFL team when you’re in town. The restaurant, sports bar and lounge has an impressively large menu featuring all kinds of comfort food: pot stickers, crab cakes and chicken wings.
My Just Desserts is known for its homemade pies and desserts.
Opened in its current location since 1988, My Just Desserts showcases sweet treats hand-crafted by owner Ann Badasch, including up to 13 flavors of homemade pie every day. "Our pie list consists of 150 different flavors that rotate on a monthly basis," she says. "[But there’s also] lunch served in an antique atmosphere, with soup, salads or a half pound chicken salad sandwich." Badasch uses farmers’ market produce when available. My Just Desserts is ranked the No. 1 restaurant in Alton on TripAdvisor.
Speaking of farmers’ markets, downtown Alton puts on the Alton Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market every summer and fall, running from early June through mid-October. It's at the corner of Landmarks Boulevard and Henry Street, and is open on Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings. You can find fresh produce, crafts, baked goods, flowers, handmade jewelry, artwork and more - all made by local vendors.
Diversity is celebrated in Alton, and diners can explore other cultures through its food without leaving the downtown area. Foodies can enjoy an authentic lamb burger or corned beef platter at Morrison’s Irish Pub, where the atmosphere reflects the vibe of a true tavern in Ireland. Or spice it up at Ragin Cajun Piano Bar for a delicious po’ boy with accompanying live music.
Don’t leave Alton without trying out a Mexican dish at Little Mexico, where your bowl of tortilla chips is refilled as fast as you can eat them, and the margaritas and enchiladas are made to order. Finally, if you want real Greek food (not just mall food court gyros), try delicious seafood pasta dishes and baklava at Jimmy the Greek’s.
More: Read more about My Just Desserts’ Ann Badasch, a local legend, here.
Riverside Dining in Grafton, Illinois
Historic Grafton is a true river town, located about 15 miles northwest of Alton if you follow the Mississippi River. It sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, and a number of the restaurants offer riverside dining. The Loading Dock is one of them. It features beautiful views of the Mississippi River and outdoor dining beneath warm sun. The restaurant, open only on weekends November - March, opens seven days a week in April. Yellow umbrellas, white tables and blue waters create a relaxing environment in which to enjoy fish tacos with corn and black bean salsa, whitefish sandwiches served with slaw, or hot Jamaican or plain wings. For a sweet ending, try a decadent warm brownie served with vanilla bean ice cream.
From fresh oysters to shrimp and other seafood options, the recently opened Grafton Oyster Bar serves award-winning Cajun and Creole dishes such as "shrimp voodoo" in sweet n' spicy Sriracha sauce, Louisiana-inspired alligator sausage, shrimp Cheesecake and more. In good weather, the outdoor deck provides gorgeous river views. And each May, this is the place to enjoy the annual Crawfish Festival. People also love Beasley’s Fish Stand in Grafton too, where fresh-caught fish is transformed into hot fried fish sandwiches daily. You can choose a buffalo-style or catfish sandwich served with their signature coleslaw or savor catfish fritters and beans at picnic tables beside the Mississippi River. The adjacent fish market is open Tuesday through Saturday.
More: Want more fish? Go here to see more of the area’s best local restaurants serving fresh fish. And read more about The Loading Dock’s local legends, Ben and Trudi Allen.
Sometimes, it’s less about the food and more about what you’re drinking with it. The Alton area is home to several wineries, many of which have been in the area for years. Co-owner of Grafton Winery & Brewhaus with his wife, Lori, since 2008, Mike Nikonovich makes award-winning wines with assistance from Jason Wood, who crafts house beers, too. Located near the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway the winery’s varieties have already won more than 100 state and regional awards. And the best part? They have a food menu, too.
Enjoy the scenic views while sipping award-winning wines at the Grafton Winery & Brewhaus.
"Being a full production winery and micro-brewery, our chefs focus menu items on how they will pair with our wines and beers, from salads, soups, sandwiches and wraps to entrees such as pan-seared halibut and steaks," Nikonovich says, "We offer plenty of glass-enclosed indoor seating with great views of the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and plenty of outdoor seating on our patios." Adding, "We encourage guests to take advantage of our wine tasting bar or try out our Brewhaus microbrews produced on-site."
Nikonovich focuses on local food, which he acknowledges many of the eateries in the area also do." The Alton region has really embraced the farm to table mindset with several unique restaurants opening in the last few years," he adds.
Another Alton area winery located atop the bluffs in Grafton is Aeries Riverview Winery, another favorite outdoor gathering place with a spectacular, open-air upper deck as well as indoor dining and a covered beer garden. This truly might be one of the best views in the Midwest. At the winery, you can try a variety of local wines paired with appetizers, pizza and gourmet burgers as well as seasonal entrees. Live weekend musical performances take place from May through November.
Grafton is home to a handful of other wineries as well, including Grafton Harbor Floating Winery, Mary Michelle Winery, and Grafton Winery the Vineyards. So make a day or an entire weekend of touring Alton’s area wineries.
More: Check out a sample itinerary of a wine getaway to the Alton area here.
Bring on the Brews
Wine isn’t the only drink of choice around here. Beer is a pretty good contender as well. Known for great locally brewed beer and farm-to-table entrees, Old Bakery Beer Company in Alton has quickly become a popular local fave since opening in January 2015. "The Old Bakery Beer Company’s first priority is to make great organic craft beer, but we make sure to complement that with a local, seasonal food menu and knowledgeable staff," says Lauren Patton, co-owner. "Housed in an old bakery building, we made sure to maintain the industrial, historic feel of the building, and you even get a good look into the brewery as you walk through the building to get to the restaurant."
Check out the great local brews and food at Old Bakery Beer Co.
Another fantastic destination to grab a cold brew is at Tony’s Restaurant, which markets itself as a pizza and pasta house—and it’s a great stop if that’s what you want to eat. But when you want something interesting to drink, Tony’s is a cool place for that, too, with plenty of different craft beers to chose from—along with 90 types of wines. This old-school Italian pizza, pasta and steakhouse restaurant has that Prohibition-era vibe you don’t find many places anymore.
With a selection of 60 beers on tap and a focus on high-end gourmet burgers, Elijah P’s Burgers and Brews is another popular spot for local brews paired with delicious food. Elijah P’s features an antique bar from a steamboat and heavy high-top tables from a closed casino. On the walls are pictures of old Alton streetscapes, the Mississippi River, and Alton-born celebrities like Miles Davis and Robert Wadlow. The one-time Sears appliance building has an updated turn-of-the century look, says owner Russ Smith, who is optimistic about the local culinary scene.
"Alton has a wide variety of restaurants in a very concentrated area," Smith says, "making bar and restaurant hopping a lot of fun for visitors and locals alike. From funky to white tablecloth, breweries to New Orleans cuisine, live music to outside dining, there is so much variety to the restaurant scene."
"The Alton region is so fortunate to have a large number of unique, family-owned food and drink restaurant options," Badasch says.
Patton agrees. "We are excited to see constant upward growth in the local food and drink scene in the Alton area," she says. "There is so much potential [and] we, of course, love that craft beer has really taken off in the area over the last few years."
More: Check out a more comprehensive guide to Alton’s beer scene here.
Food Events and More
A smart way to plan a foodie tour of the Alton area is to arrange a visit at the same time as one of the local festivals and events. One possibility is a weekend trip during the Sauce Alton Food Truck Festival, where dozens of local food truck vendors showcase excellent, quick-made dishes and treats like Korean tacos, Italian ice, wood-fired pizzas and more. Admission is free but guests can opt for a $25 VIP pass for an upgraded experience, free drinks and open seating at the amphitheater.
In addition to the downtown Alton farmer’s market, you'll find locally grown produce and artisan items on Tuesday evenings through September at Jerseyville’s farmers market too. Another one to consider is the Wood River Farmers’ Market featuring fresh produce, flowers and houseplants as well as homemade pastries, jams, art pieces, and craft and woodwork items on Thursday evenings from July through September.
Additional food-oriented events include the Annual River Rat Catfish Tournament as well as frequent offerings at Pere Marquette Lodge & Conference Center in Grafton, from a Peach Festival to Mexican Wine Pairing Dinners, or a Beer Garden & Fish Fry. And of course there’s always Restaurant Week to look forward to twice each year in Alton in January and July. Close to two dozen local restaurants partcipate (many of those featured in this wine and dine guide), planning out prix fixe menus at reasonable prices. Restaurant menus differ in price, and the atmospheres range from elegant white tablecloth to hip, casual brewery.
Find out more about the Alton’s growing food scene on our blog, and check out our itinerary guides for ideas of more things to do on a foodie getaway to the Alton area.