Founded by seasoned chef and Chicago native Chuck Kowalski, Delish Diner & Bakery whips up quintessential American diner fare in a retro atmosphere. Chrome stools with brown leather seats swivel along a sprawling white counter, where chefs dish out deli sandwiches, soda-fountain treats such as floats and shakes, and breakfasts throughout the day. Across the checkerboard tile floor, rustic wooden booths inlaid with mirrors reflect diners? milkshake mustaches.
Elevated Diner Classics | 30+ International Beers | Housemade Bologna | Duck-Heart Gravy
Where to Sit: Slide a stool up to the polished zinc bar, where you can look in on the kitchen and watch chefs work their magic atop the griddle.
When to Go: Dine before 3 p.m. on the weekends to sample the chefs’ unique takes on brunch fare, like housemade granola and specially made mimosas.
The Vibe: Taking cues from classic diners and pedestrian brasseries, Au Cheval’s hip take on greasy spoons features exposed brick, antique-style light fixtures, oversized mirrors, and ceramic tiles shaped like bowties.
Behind the Name: In French, the name “Au Cheval” translates to “on horseback,” at least within most contexts. But once you enter a kitchen, the phrase takes on a new meaning: a dish with a fried egg on top. Au Cheval’s chefs certainly live up to that definition, since they put fried eggs atop a large portion of their menu.
While You're in the Neighborhood
Before: Tour the ever-changing gallery space at Elephant Room (704 S. Wabash Avenue), which showcases under-represented artists in the Chicago area.
After: Grab drinks and play games of giant jenga at Clover (722 W. Grand Avenue).
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Head to Dillman’s (354 W. Hubbard Street), another brasserie-style restaurant (with a focus on classic deli fare) helmed by Au Cheval’s owner, Brendan Sodikoff.
Toeing the line between corner bar and gourmet grill, The Point serves old-fashioned comfort food alongside vegan and gluten-free fare. The eclectic menu matches the decor, which effortlessly blends exposed brick and timeworn racing photos with sleek chrome light fixtures and sentient bar stools. Diners can plumb new depths with intriguing menu items such as the crab cake with caper remoulade, the vegan mushroom broth risotto, and the tilapia ceviche with orange and lime. Or they can rely on old standards such as the Point burger with cheddar and bacon or the chicken wings, which come in chipotle barbecue or gorgonzola-bacon. It's not all rib-sticking entrees, either. In her glowing review, the Chicago Reader's Julia Thiel praised the lineup of libations as well, saying, "The drinks menu is just as impressive as the food, offering a dozen beers on tap... another 20-odd in bottles and cans, plus a dozen wines by the glass, the same number of cocktails, and a good selection of spirits, particularly whiskey and tequila."
As one might expect, toasted artisanal breads feature heavily on the enduring menu at Toast. For the French Toast Orgy, cooks stuff slices of egg-bedecked bread with mascarpone or mexican chocolate, then top them with vanilla yogurt and housemade berry granola. On the other side of noon, the lunch menu sates hunger with classic hot sandwiches, such as the croque-monsieur, the grilled cheese with tomato, and a cobb salad–inspired club. The staff of the Bucktown location welcomes guests to bring their own beverages, especially to the outdoor patio during the warmer months; at the original Lincoln Park venue, bartenders wash down eats with zesty cocktails such as the wasabi-spiced Bloody Mary, a variety of mimosas, and spiked hot chocolate.
The motto of The CornerStone Café—"Where nice people come to eat good food"—sums up the friendly diner experience of this breakfast and lunch spot. Servers ply patrons with menu favorites such as the smoked gouda omelet with bacon and avocado or eggs benedict topped with roasted red peppers and feta cheese. A handful of outdoor tables allow for pancakes al fresco, but most people prefer to gather around the large central counter or in a booth ergonomically optimized for eating french toast.
At Ed Debevic's, every house burger, hot dog, and diner entree shares a not-so-secret ingredient: sass. The servers welcome guests to the vintage venue with tongue-in-cheek remarks and paper deli hats, seating them next to vibrant examples of what Centerstage calls "smart-aleck decor": fake autographs, old-timey ads, and signs that carry proverbs such as "Eat Now?Pay Waiter." The mischievously retro tone is cultivated in homage to one of the owner's favorite restaurants, Lill's Homesick Diner. Back in the '50s and '60s, Lill acquainted Ed with the classic flavors of comfort food cooked from scratch, showcasing the spirited moxie that made her a standout in the short-order world.
Ed chose to emulate both her classic cooking and feistiness at his own diner. Many of his menu items are housemade, including the meatloaf, mashed potatoes, the desserts, and the blue-cheese sauce on top of the Ed's Blue Moon burger. Milk shakes and malts pair well with a variety of hot dogs and sandwiches, especially when counterbalancing the effects of Atomic Mix: a blend of diced jalape?os, onions, and tomatoes that garnishes certain plates. The staff stays in comically impudent character throughout these meals. And every now and then, the servers pause to put on countertop dance numbers that are almost as exciting as the time your grandpa turned the lazy Susan into a zoetrope.