Diners are one of the most enduring fixtures of America’s restaurant landscape for good reason. They provide food at affordable prices in a casual setting, letting customers get a hearty breakfast not just in the early morning but any time of day. They also offer other comforting fare like milkshakes or burgers that are equally perfect for kids and adults nursing a hangover. Chicago has a huge variety of diners ranging from century-old institutions to early leaders in vegan dining to a spin on the concept from James Beard-winner Stephanie Izard. These are the 20 best to try.Read More
The Most Iconic Diners in Chicago
Fulfill those greasy desires with eggs and burgers
Edgewater’s favorite longstanding establishment has been in business since 1960. Breakfast skillets, half-pound burgers, freshly-squeezed orange juice, and Grecian specials like the Kayana — an egg scramble with sautéed onions, tomatoes, and feta cheese — are all on offer here. Like any good neighborhood spot, Alexander’s won’t let patrons down. A second location opened in December in Jeri’s Grill’s former spot.
Pick Me Up Cafe
Pick Me Up Cafe has been a haven for vegetarians and vegans since 1997, moving from Wrigleyville to Uptown in 2020. Decorated with works from local artists, the Andersonville restaurant serves breakfast all day and night with options including a tofu scramble, huevos rancheros, and a bacon benedict for meat eaters. The focus on dietary restrictions also extends to a solid selection of gluten-free items.
Golden Nugget Pancake House
With four locations across the city, Golden Nugget has been a Chicago staple for more than 50 years. There’s something for everyone as the expansive menu has Belgian waffles, crepes, chicken fried steak, liver and onions, meatloaf, enchiladas and milkshakes.
Irene's Finer Diner
As the name suggests, Irene’s Finer Diner raises the standards on diner staples by using eggs and meat from local farms for its omelets and skillets along with adding creative twists to dishes like a waffle with mascarpone, orange peel and Nutella, and grilled cheese made with braised short rib, gruyere, raclette, cornichons and honey. The North Center restaurant also offers a kids menu, high tea and desserts from Bang Bang Pie. While the restaurant is new, the space has a long history as a diner where the current co-owner worked as a child.
The Chicago Diner
“Meat free since ‘83” is the slogan at this venerable diner, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in April. The restaurant, which has also had a location in Logan Square for a decade, serves vegan and vegetarian spins on comfort food classics such as a Cajun black bean burger and a gyro featuring housemade seitan and vegan tzatziki. Come before 3 p.m. daily for brunch dishes including a country benedict with seitan sausage gravy. There’s also a full bar serving cocktails and vegan shakes.
Cozy Corner Restaurant & Pancake House
Get cozy at one of the booths at this family-owned diner and start the day with a bloody mary or mimosa and a giant omelet served with a generous serving of crispy fried hash browns. There are piles of pancakes for diners craving something sweet and a Fiesta Skillet with jalapeños and salsa for a bit of heat. Breakfast is the focus, but there are burgers and a Cubano sandwich for the lunch crowd. Cozy Corner also has locations in Hermosa Park, Edgewater and Norwood Park.
Grab a seat on one of the stools around the counter and try a Tex-Mex spin on classic diner fare such as masa pancakes with mole-spiced maple syrup, a patty melt with chipotle-glazed mushrooms, or buttermilk fried chicken with chorizo verde gravy. The seats provide a great view of the bartenders at work mixing mezcal and tequila cocktails while grooving to tunes played on vinyl records.
3rd Coast Cafe
3rd Coast Cafe has been serving all-day breakfast in the Gold Coast since 1985 — once a haven for nearby high school students to rebel against their parents to smoke a cigarette. The cafe uses locally sourced eggs and meat for three-egg omelets, pulled pork hash, and breakfast burritos. Scones are always a favorite, made with raspberries, blueberries, or chocolate chips, and served at the bakery counter alongside brownies and cookies
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Open since 2006, this Humboldt Park restaurant specializes in Puerto Rican breakfast and lunch, known for its massive weekend breakfast buffet. It has a full espresso bar that turns out flavorful coffee drinks that put the chain shops to shame. The breakfast jibarito is also a genius way to go carb-free for those who engage in that sort of behavior. And don’t forget to try the coconut oatmeal, a unique treat that makes many a repeat customer.
Streeterville’s Ed Debevic’s has been transporting customers to a particularly raucous version of the 1950s for almost 40 years. Notoriously sassy costumed servers mock customers and even dance on top of the soda counter when they’re not delivering skillets, pancakes, burgers and malts. The place is popular with kids and parties, so expect to find plenty of groups posing for photos in soda-jerk paper hats. Book a table on Tock.
Uncle Mike's Place
Instead of the usual bacon and sausage, opt for Spam and longaniza in the morning. This Filipino diner mixes things up with Southeast Asian favorites such as bangus (milkfish), marinated skirt steak, and bone-in pork chop. Don’t fret if those sound a little too hearty though; patrons can still order an omelet or short stack.
Au Cheval doesn’t take reservations so there are often long waits as crowds flock in for one of the best burgers in Chicago. Arrive early and try to snag a seat at the bar to try one along with a strong cocktail and a side of thick-cut pepper bacon or hash browns. The roasted marrow bones are a decadent starter, and fans of Jewish diner fare can opt for matzah ball soup or chopped liver.
Located just minutes from the United Center, Palace Grill is primarily a breakfast spot but stays open late when the Blackhawks play at home to feed fans before the game. Take advantage of the free parking and stop in for a chorizo burrito, a plate of eggs with bacon and hashbrowns, or a patty melt. Great for groups, the restaurant also has a dog-friendly patio.
It doesn’t get more old school than the experience at one of Chicago’s oldest restaurants. Celebrating a century in business in 2023, Lou Mitchell’s continues to operate like a well-oiled machine. Guests are treated to complimentary donut holes upon arrival before sitting down to fluffy pancakes, jumbo omelets, fresh eggs, homemade pastries, and cups of the self-proclaimed “world’s finest coffee.”
Pancakes are the specialty at Stax Cafe, which offers variations including lavender lemon, cookie butter and oatmeal coconut banana along with monthly specials. With locations in Little Italy and River West, the family-owned restaurant offers fun spins on diner classics such as cinnamon roll waffles and an adult grilled cheese sandwich with bacon, avocado and blueberry lemon jam. A kids menu includes pancakes cut into cute shapes while adults can enjoy a bloody mary or bellini.
White Palace Grill
Whether it’s 3 p.m. or 3 a.m., there’s always an eclectic mix of students, workers, and bar hoppers at this iconic greasy spoon. It’s comfort food at its best, which means a varied selection that includes Tex-Mex dishes, pastas, burgers, chicken & waffles, meatloaf and beef sandwiches. Fast, filling, and cheap, White Palace Grill is everything a diner strives to be.
Huck Finn Restaurant
Sometimes, dessert is just as important as the main course. This diner mini-chain has three locations on the South Side that provide patrons with a satisfyingly sweet finish to every meal. Chow on golden brown pancakes, club sandwiches, and burgers, but make sure to save some room for one of Huck’s doughnuts topped with ice cream and whipped cream. Since it’s open 24 hours, a late-night sugar rush is always an option.
It's counter-service only, but Hyde Park’s beloved institution has all the makings of a greasy spoon. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served cafeteria-style and customers should look forward to reliable omelets, a mean plate of steak and eggs, and daily specials like baked pork chops or barbecue ribs. Need more convincing? It’s one of President Obama’s favorite haunts.
Nestled in the heart of the South Side, Daley’s has been serving residents homestyle fare since 1892. Generations upon generations of Chicagoans have grown up on its skillets, waffles, chicken wings, and patty melts. Dinner brings meatloaf, fried catfish and T-bone steak, all served with corn muffins or grilled Texas toast and a choice of sides such as mac & cheese or collard greens with smoked turkey.
Little Goat Diner
Stephanie Izard moved Little Goat Diner from Restaurant Row to Lakeview in April, setting up shop in a smaller space that provides more of the traditional diner vibe. Swing by the walkup window for coffee, a breakfast sandwich (offered from 7 to 10 a.m.), or a freshly baked cookie or sit down in a booth or on the patio for a meal of pancakes, corned beef hash & eggs or a patty melt.