Leno's Submarine Sandwiches in Waukegan.

"Where are you from?" It's a common question asked during small talk and get-to-know-you conversations, when strangers are forced to find a common ground that will give them anything to avoid awkward silence.

Leno's in Waukegan

I would tell you that I'm from Waukegan, a town about an hour north of Chicago and right below the Wisconsin border. I'd tell you how the population was nearing 80,000, but we only had one high school. How our soccer team never won a game, but our rifle team was one of the best in the state. And that once I turned 12, I couldn't walk down the street with my girlfriends without a car horn hooting and honking in our direction. One time, to the tune of "La Cucaracha."

It's funny, though, that "Where are you from?" is one of the first questions asked when getting to know someone new, even though where a person is from doesn't necessarily say anything about her. So I lived in a somewhat ghetto town with an overcrowded high school and no Starbucks. I'm sure it contributed a small part to who I have become, but it certainly doesn't define me. No, I think a better question to ask would be "Who are you from?"

Because really, for me at least, it's all about the people. No matter where I am or where I live, who I am all comes down to the family and friends and people that I grew up with, and looked up to, and talked to and listened to and learned from. And where I'm from? That's just the background.

I think the same can be said about food. Take any hole-in-the-wall restaurant, for example. Maybe the paint is peeling and there's only two tables and the receipts are sloppily hand written, but who cares? It's the food that defines the place and gets people talking. And if the food is really good, the lack of impressive decor even becomes a little charming. Because here's this secret gem that no one would know about until they stepped in and ordered a sandwich.

corned beef + pastrami from Leno's

Leno's is one of those places, and even nearer and dearer to my heart than any other hole in the wall because it's in Waukegan, and even though I say that Waukegan doesn't define me, I'm still proud of the fact that this town makes a damn fine submarine sandwich. The bread is strong, the fillings fresh, and the dressing is just plain special. I'll go as far to say that it's the best sub sandwich ever. And I'm not just saying that because I'm from Waukegan; I'm saying it because it's true. Murdo agrees, and he knows his sandwiches. So there.

I do kind of miss the familiarity of Waukegan every now and then, but mostly, I just miss Leno's. So I guess it's not just the people who make up a big part of who I am, but really, it's the food, too. But I suppose you already knew that.

1826 Grand Avenue, Waukegan, IL
(847) 244-7320 ‎ · lenossubs.com


  1. The line about a better question being who you're from - goosebumps, Jacqui, goosebumps. Beautifully written and great photos.

  2. Fantastic sentiment. Right on target. I always pause after someone asks me where I'm from. I grew up on both coasts. Have a dad from Texas who lives in Cali, a mom from South San Fran and a stepdad from Queens, NY. There is no short answer for me to give...I relate wholeheartedly to your notion of food and people defining us. My memories of familial cooking are the sharpest.

  3. Really good post, Jax. Shannalee sums it up pretty well about how I feel too.

    But don't forget Quonset!!

  4. shannalee - thank you.

    jennifer - i'm glad you could relate. food memories are some of my favorite memories.

    j - yes, quonset. best thin crust pizza ever.

  5. Interesting I stumbled on your site. I was doing searches for the Waukegan Rifle Team. I was the Captain of the Team 1968-1970. (40th reunion coming up) Went 1 year to Northern Illinois U, got my draft notice and joined the Navy for 25 years. Been literally around the world 3 times since. So I'm not familiar with Leno's. Was up there last April for In-Law's 60th wedding anniversary and of course hit Quonset. Got 4 frozen ones to bring home too!
    Cheers, JJ

  6. jj - well, having literally been around the world a few times, i suppose i can forgive you for missing out on leno's. but really, you should try it next time you're in town -- on the corner of grand and lewis. i'm glad you found this post! AND i didn't know quonset sold FROZEN PIZZAS!? i'm so on that.

  7. I just stumbled upon this blog post...I was searching for info to see if Leno's was still in operation, that's how I found you. I am actually from North Chicago but I worked at Leno's when I was in high school. Back in the 80's there were some wild times in the back rooms of that place :) But, I must admit, I have not had a good sandwich since I left that town...thanks for the photos, you kinda made my day...


  8. Cassandra - How cool that you worked there! I think they closed for a bit when I was in college, sometime between '02 and '06, but then reopened under new ownership? The sandwiches are still delicious! Thanks for dropping a line, always good to connect with fellow Leno's lovers... :)

  9. Interesting article. I was worked there and managed Leno's 1971-1972. I also ran Skip & Leno's other place, Wendy's for a short time. The menu was a little different. The original 6" sold for .89. The 6 foot sandwich was pretty novel back then. Leno's was a great place to see just about everybody in town. Extra peppers? No charge!
    I also shot on the rifle team 70-72. The place appears to have the same paint on its building.

    1. .89 for a sandwich! Oh, man. I love Leno's. Still try to get there as often as we can...


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