Wheeling, itself, boasts a number of great restaurants - Le Francais, Don Roth's Blackhawk Steakhouse, Buona Sera, Phil Stefani's Tuscany, just to name a few. But the biggest and loudest (as proclaimed by the Guinness Book of World Records in the 80's) is Bob Chinn's. (Update March 2012 - most of those venerable restaurants are now closed.)
There really is a Bob Chinn - he's a little Chinese guy from Duluth, MN who moved to Chicago as a young child with his family. As a youngster, Bob helped out in his family's restaurant and learned the restaurant business at an early age. He had a couple of Chinese restaurants, but envisioned doing a seafood restaurant someday. Bob eventually became a caterer who specialized in Hawaiian luau parties. To this day, people are incredulous that Bob Chinn was born in Minnesota and not in Hawaii (I certainly was when I first heard that).
With the help of his daughter, Marilyn, Bob opened Bob Chinn's Crabhouse in 1982 with about 180 seats. Since then, the restaurant expanded to over 650 seats and serves over 3000 guests each day. Bob Chinn has semi-retired from the business and Marilyn is in charge of the day-to-day operations.
The motif in Bob Chinn's is like you're in a East Coast beach front crab shack. The walls and floors are wood so it can get pretty loud in there. They have a nifty little enclosed porch area that allows you to dine in the sunlight on sunny days, if you wish. The bar is good sized and offers plenty of room when you have to wait on a table (which occurs frequently on weekends).
Speaking of the bar, Bob Chinn's is famous for their mai tai's - a fruit drink with lots of rum in it. They serve them in souvenir plastic glasses and I'm tellin' ya - they sneak up on you. You can have three because they taste so good, but then they start to hit you. So don't say I didn't warn you.
By the way, you can even buy the pre-made mai tai mix to take home with you. Actually, one time, Cindy and I got four 8 oz aged NY strip steaks and a half-gallon of the mai-tai mix for something like $34.95 - we just thought it was an unbelievably great value.
When they seat you at Bob Chinn's, they bring you out a basket of these garlic rolls that are dipped in butter. Oh, man! You gotta watch it. You don't want to eat too many of those things because you won't want to eat your meal. But they're hard to resist.
I like starting off with their peel-and-eat garlic shrimp as an appetizer. It's like heaven. Or, get their seafood gumbo. It's also very good. Then after that, it's open warfare on great food.
They usually have a nightly special of some seafood dish. Bob Chinn's also has very good pasta and seafood selections (the stuffed shrimp and pasta alfredo is unbelievable). And, of course, for the surf and turf fans, Bob Chinn's also has steaks. Even though it's not on the menu, I've ordered the garlic shrimp/NY strip combo before and it's very, very good. Bob Chinn's dry-age their steaks up to 4 weeks to make them very tender and very flavorful.
Bob Chinn's is known for their crabpot varieties - steamed crabs, crab claws, crab legs, etc. And they feature a "Catch of the Day" that you can pick to be cooked one of seven ways - Broiled, sauteed in lemon, blackened, grilled over charcoal, fried in a beer batter, stir fried or steamed. The sauteed grouper is fantastic.
Bob Chinn's is one of the largest buyers of seafood in the United States. They have seafood flown in daily from the East and West Coasts, as well as from the Gulf of Mexico. Bob Chinn's also goes through about 400 steaks a day - that's more than many steakhouses go through in an average day!
There were two other Chinn restaurants that are connected to Bob Chinn's. Bob Chinn's Chicago, which was run by Bob's son Michael; went out of business last year. But Chinn's 34th St. Fishery near the Hyatt Hotel in Lisle, IL is still open (see map), and is run by Bob's nephew, Stanley Chinn. Another nephew, Jimmy Chinn, had planned to open Chinn's Crab and Chop House in the Oak Brook area a few years ago, but Bob and his daughter Marilyn successfully sued them to not use the Chinn name.
Bob Chinn's is the 4th highest grossing restaurant in the United States. The food, for as large of a place it is, is excellent. The atmosphere is fun. And it's tough to beat the mai tai's. I very much recommend a trip to Bob Chinn's Crabhouse.