The Junction Diner was born from a child's imagination. Kate and Brad Wahl's son Connor had just turned 1 and received a wooden train set. He played for well over an hour, delighting his parents, who had been searching for something that could keep their son's attention. The next step seemed as natural as a locomotive's forward momentum: they opened a train-themed restaurant to cater to parents and their kids.
Inside The Junction Diner, a long counter wraps around the room's center like a winding train track. Diners sit on either side, and servers move up and down the middle, carrying plates of food with playful, train-inspired names. Customers at the counter itself can even get their meals delivered by an actual train. The aptly titled "Lil Conductor's Menu" delights kids with mini burgers and cheese quesadillas, while older diners peruse "Box Car Burgers" made with certified Black Angus beef and "Junction Wraps" including the buffalo chicken, topped in buffalo sauce, veggies, and a choice of ranch dressing or blue cheese. Near the dining area, a large table with interactive model trains keeps kids busy while their parents finish meals.
No matter how old you are, when a toy train pulls up bearing your lunch, you smile from ear to ear. At 2Toots Train Whistle Grill, O-scale toy trains bustle around the '50s luncheonette-style grill, delivering burgers, hot dogs, and fries to each table. These, however, are not just ordinary hot dogs, hamburgers, and chili; they're sourced from national and Chicago news journalist Bill Kurtis' Tallgrass grass-fed and pasture-raised beef, which means they're imbued with more nutrients and vitamins than beef that's been commercially-raised or fed a diet of candy corn.
But the veteran owned and operated eatery's sense of giving back doesn't just stop there. The restaurant promotes 1 Vet at a Time, a pending 501c3 that helps combat veterans secure business loans by serving as a benevolent lender.
Ham is the star of the kitchen at Mr. Allison's Restaurant, where it’s been slowly smoked, hand-trimmed, and slathered in a signature sugar glaze since 1971. Slices of ham top sub sandwiches and julienne salads, or sidle up to hearty breakfasts of eggs and strips of crispy bacon. These throwback dishes are mimicked by the dining room's décor, which features retro-styled booths and a mural of vintage cars.
At Doggie Diner, chefs try to bring together some of Chicago's most recognizable dishes, which already tend to be warm and hearty, with comfort-food favorites. Vienna Beef hot dogs, of course, fill buns destined for a coating of the requisite mustard, relish, pickles, and a tomato. The team loads another Chicago staple, italian beef sandwiches, with peppers and cheese and crown burgers with everything from bacon to pizza toppings. Meals might conclude with scoops of ice cream, which can be blended into shakes, served in a float, or used to test the willpower chip of a robot.
A model train tumbles from the kitchen of All Aboard Diner, announcing its arrival with a shrill “toot, toot!” As it chugs down a thin sliver of track that extends deep into the dining room, the contents of its cargo are revealed: hearty burgers, jumbo fried shrimp, and sandwiches stacked with corned beef. Children might have to pinch themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming as the train finally halts at their table to drop off a meal. Everything at All Aboard Diner is 100% real, however—including the vintage photos of locomotives and neon signs pinned across the walls. The diner’s front window even contains a miniature town complete with another model train, a Ferris wheel, and a man twirling his mustache as he tries to make sense of his gargantuan visitors.
Before customers even stroll through the front door, Sakris Cafe promises something big: the world’s best omelet. The claim is written in bold letters across the front sign of the beloved Evanston breakfast and lunch joint. But the eatery’s line cooks are always eager to take on the daunting task, having turned out omelets, such as The Disaster Special—homemade ground beef, Armenian sausage, cheese, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms—since 1965. Their sandwiches perhaps deserve a place on the front sign as well, thanks to unique creations such as the chorizo- and cheese-packed Loretta. Other than the hearty breakfast and lunch menu, Sakris is also known around town for its speed and prices; “190 North” highlighted the restaurant in 2010, praising the chefs’ ability to “whip up a meal in just under a few minutes [for] eight bucks.”