For more than 35 years, Duke's Drive In has been serving up a menu of house-prepared italian beef, pure-beef hot dogs, and homemade chili. Chow on a polish with fries ($3.75), or tear into horizontal skyscrapers of double chili cheese dogs served with fries ($4.30). Cooked, seasoned, and trimmed on the premises, italian beef ($4.65) is nestled atop Gonnella bread and crowned with sweet and hot peppers, red gravy, and a dashing stetson. Milk shakes ($2.25) or soft-serve cones ($1.50–$1.95) reinforce culinary dichotomies alongside Duke's cups of hot, homemade chili ($3.10)
In business for 25 years and renowned for its slow-cooked barbecue ribs, the family-owned Nick's Barbecue maintains a culinary stable of more than 100 equally tempting items on its menu. Fall-off-the-bone barbecue baby back ribs cover fingers in a sweet signature sauce, dinner’s perfect complement to stylish sauce-colored outfits ($10.99). The barbecue pulled pork ($7.59) and half-chicken dinner ($7.45) team up tender white meats with three down-home sides, including mac ‘n’ cheese, potato wedges, barbecue baked beans, or mixed veggies. Two items that are as authentically Chicago as a silver bean riding the L train—the italian beef sandwich ($4.69) and the vienna all-beef hot dog ($2.15)—do their city proud as they tame the windiest of appetites.
The first IHOP—the dream of founders Al and Jerry Lapin—opened in 1958 in Toluca Lake, California, and was originally dubbed the "International House of Pancakes." Since then, rapid expansion has led to myriad milestones across the company's colorful history, from introducing its modern IHOP acronym in 1973 to its 1,000th restaurant opening in Layton, Utah, in 2001.
Today, the company stands strong with around 1,500 locations across North and Central America, each one an enthusiastic dispenser of pancakes, french toast, and tables constructed entirely out of bacon. Though IHOP is known as a bastion of breakfast, it also stays open during the day and into the evening, delivering lunch and dinner as well.
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.
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.
Maher Chebaro styles himself a kind of cultural envoy for falafel. After running the show at several high-end restaurants in Chicago and Beirut, the gustatory evangelist opened up shop at Falafill, a decidedly accessible eatery, to broaden the fried chickpea ball's fan base. There, diners stuff artisan pitas with classic, curry, and seasonal falafel, alongside a staggering array of vegetarian sundries from the mezza bar. The buffet packs in an array of Levantine staples, such as hummus, pickled turnips, and eggplant, as well as a handful of delightful oddities. These odd offerings include wild cucumbers and taratour—the house-made tahini infused with sweet paprika and chopped parsley that the eatery calls 'the mother sauce of our kitchen." The whole process was so fun that, tucked into its positive review, Time Out Chicago couldn't resist offering up its own blueprint for building a "kind of perfect" sandwich.