Eight diners. Real diners.
Artist’s Café You’ll be lured in by the bright vintage sign, the novelty of eating in the Fine Arts Building and the cute art-school servers. Inside, you’ll find a diner as old-school as Doug E. Fresh: well-worn booths, a bakery case full of pie. But the point here is to take advantage of the sidewalk dining, to sit on this quintessential Chicago strip and order a no-frills breakfast of eggs and bacon or a generous grilled cheese on thick multigrain with hot, Parmesan-sprinkled chips. 412 S Michigan Ave (312-939-7855). El: Brown, Green, Orange, Purple (rush hrs) to Adams. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
The Depot American Diner The Depot is not a “contemporary take on” or an “upscale version of” a diner; it’s simply the real thing. Everything on the menu is simple and excellently seasoned: Golden breakfast potatoes get a sprinkling of paprika, big bowls of chili have enough bite to wake your taste buds up, and the juicy pieces of turkey on the open-faced sandwich are covered in thick, peppery gravy. 5840 W Roosevelt Rd (773-261-8422). Bus: 12, 91, Pace 305, 315. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8.
Diner Grill There are no seats here—just stools. There’s barely a menu, either—just a short list of things you’d expect from a place that’s straightforward enough to call itself “Diner Grill.” The burgers are thin little things; but stacked up two or three on a bun, they’re exactly what you come to diners for: food that’s hot, greasy, cheesy and cheap. Of course, you may be here for breakfast or a post-bar nsh, in which case the bacon is extra-crispy and the pancakes are substantial options. 1635 W Irving Park Rd (773-248-2030). El: Brown to Irving Park. Bus: 9, 80. 24hrs. Average main course: $6.
Edgebrook Coffee Shop Come to this tiny, charming room, whose walls are covered with ’50s-era nostalgia, for food they can watch being made to order in the open kitchen. Sitting at the long counter, you witness the eggs being cracked for your fluffy omelette, the batter being stirred for your thin and airy pancakes, and, if you’re there on the weekend, the rich, sausage-studded gravy being spooned over dense, buttery biscuits. 6322 N Central Ave (773-792-1433). Bus: 85A. Breakfast, lunch. Average main course: $6.
Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant Customers are treated to fresh, sugar-dusted doughnut holes (and, if you’re a woman, Milk Duds) while they wait for a seat at this Chicago stalwart. But the real feast starts when you sit down. Stacks of “meltaway” pancakes are perfectly browned, waffles are impressively crisp, omelettes come in hot skillets (try the sweet, rich apple-and-cheese variety), and juicy, gooey patty melts seem too big to finish. But as with the rest of the irresistible dishes, you’ll find room. 565 W Jackson Blvd (312-939-3111). El: Blue to Clinton. Bus: 7, 60, 124, 125, 126, 156. Breakfast, lunch. Average main course: $9.
Nookies Tree This diner has always been a 3am favorite of Boystown barhoppers, so we were surprised to find that in the light of day, this place can cook. The frittatas are great, especially the combo of bacon, mushroom, Gouda cheese and onions. We’re not complaining about the pancakes stuffed with sautéed apples either. 3334 N Halsted St (773-248-9888). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs), Red to Belmont. Bus: 8, 22, 77. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner (24hrs Fri, Sat). Average main course: $7.
Stages If we told you that Bridgeport’s best diner was connected to a gas station, would you believe us? We hope so, because if you didn’t, you’d miss out on housemade French onion soup; table-flamed saganaki; enormous Greek salads; and a juicy baked chicken doused with lemon and dried herbs that’s worth the 45-minute wait to prepare it. Is the Friday fried-fish special the best in the city? Hardly—it’s the one dish we could do without. But hey, it’s this or a gas- station hot dog. 657 W 31st St (312-225-0396). El: Red to Sox/35th. Bus: 24, 35, 44. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $7.
Tempo Is this Greek diner worth dealing with the mobs on the weekend? Well, we don’t know another place that serves egg skillets like this spot: The portion is enormous, the eggs are soft and fluffy, and Tempo is smart enough to know that the only bread that can stand up to eggs are thick slices of Texas toast. So if you’re into that—or equally massive plates of pancakes and French toast—go for it. Just bring a book. 6 E Chestnut St (312-943-4373). El: Red to Chicago. Bus: 22, 36, 66. 24hrs. Average main course: $7.