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.
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.
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.
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.
Breakfast for dinner, dinner for breakfast, lunch for lunch—when it comes to meal time, there are no restrictions at Lucky Grill. But instead of just sticking to American comfort favorites like most diners and Uncle Sam, Lucky's cooks bring on the variety with traditional Greek, Irish, and Italian dishes, in addition to the American classics. The Irish breakfast loads plates with rasher bacon, black-and-white pudding, and grilled tomatoes, while italian sausage or feta gives the traditional eggs and toast or crispy sandwich a Mediterranean spin. Later-day options include sandwiches and burgers, as well as broiled chops and pasta dishes.
Surprisingly, a pair of brothers runs The Cousins; the name, however, represents the restaurant’s future ownership: their sons. Until the orange and green eatery changes hands, the brothers will continue to serve up Mexican-style breakfast, lunch, and dinner inspired by their south-of-the-border roots. WGN’s “Chicago’s Best” segment named it “Chicago’s Best Breakfast” after host Ted Brunson declared the house-specialty cousins skillet “really, really good. It’s not greasy at all. The potatoes are done perfectly, the chicken breast is tender, and, actually … I love the spinach.”