13 of Chicago's Most Iconic Diners
September 27, 2022
Chicago is an outstanding food city—but you don’t have to eat at Michelin-star restaurants to enjoy the exceptional dining culture. The city’s (and suburbs’) diners are where Chicagoans of all types congregate for some quick, hearty food and hot coffee. These 13 are some of the most iconic.
A quick note on what we considered a “diner.” We looked primarily for places that had a large menu with a wide variety of breakfast and lunch options, as well as square tables, booths, perhaps a counter—what you might picture when you think of a diner.
Daley’s Restaurant, 6257 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
In 1892, construction workers were pushing themselves hard to complete the University of Chicago, the ‘L’ (then known as the Rapid Transit Line), and the World’s Columbian Exposition. John Daley, an Irish immigrant ironworker—and no relation to the political Daley family—had arrived in Chicago to work on the rail lines. But when he got here, he saw a different need: food. So he opened a temporary dining establishment in Woodlawn near the new ‘L.’ This was the beginning of Daley’s Restaurant, one of the oldest surviving restaurants in Chicago. Daley’s is still there today (though it’s since moved across the street), serving up classic diner fare like club sandwiches and burgers, along with Southern dishes such as catfish and sides like cornbread dressing and black-eyed peas.
Lou Mitchell’s, 565 W. Jackson Blvd.
Feel like breakfast? Head to Lou Mitchell’s, where they’ve been plating omelets, waffles, and more since 1923. It was founded by William Mitchell, who first opened the diner across the street, naming it after his son, Lou. The current building was built in 1949. It’s near the terminus of historic Route 66—so it’s a great starting point for any journey along the Mother Road, which helped make Lou Mitchell’s iconic. You’ll likely have to wait for a seat, but you’ll be fed; everybody gets freshly baked donut holes while they’re waiting, and women and children get Milk Duds.
Palace Grill, 1408 W. Madison St.
As the oldest restaurant in the West Loop, Palace Grill has made its name as a Blackhawks hotspot. The team stops in before games to order breakfast sandwiches, and customers can dine there before every game as well. When it opened in 1938, it was actually the first of a chain, DeMars Grill. DeMars moved in 1950, and the new owners renamed it the Palace Grill. Today, it’s owned by George Lemperis. You’ll find everything you need for breakfast, lunch, and dinner there, as well as shakes, booze, and a special menu section devoted to the Hawks.
Frances’ Brunchery, 2552 N. Clark St.
Formerly a classic Jewish deli (and home of this writer’s first job in Chicago), Frances’ Brunchery used to be named Frances’ Deli. The history of the restaurant itself is a bit murky. It opened in 1938 as a cafeteria-style restaurant, but opinions are divided on who Frances was and whether he or she was a man or woman. It morphed from there into a deli-diner hybrid, selling towering sandwiches and matzoh ball soup. Since 2018, it’s been a brunch restaurant with Chef Derek Rylon at the helm.
White Palace Grill, 1159 S. Canal St.
Since 1939, the White Palace Grill has been serving breakfast, ribs, pies, and classic diner food around the clock for Chicagoans and visitors. Saul Bookman—whose brother-in-law was diner king Jack DeMar (the same man who first opened the Palace Grill)—opened it with his son; they operated it until 2000. Bookman was 87 years old when he sold the business to George Liakopoulos. He died three weeks after the sale. White Palace Grill is particularly popular with the late-night after-the-bar crowd.
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, 645 Joliet Rd., Willowbrook
In the 1930s or 40s, Irv Kolarik opened a lunch counter in an old gas station along Route 66. In an effort to sell more food, Kolarik joined forces with two local chicken farmers, who taught him how to fry chicken. The dish was a hit, and soon the Chicken Basket was outgrowing its space. The restaurant as it is today opened in 1946. In 1963, Dell Rhea bought it, adding his name onto the business. The fried chicken is still as popular as ever.
The Point Pancake House, 1952 N. US Highway 41, Gurnee
The Point’s name is pretty apt—it sits at the spot in Gurnee where Route 21 and Highway 41 form a pointed intersection. It opened in 1954 and remains family-owned and -operated to this day. And even though the name has “pancakes” in it (and they’re delicious), try one of the many types of eggs benedict, like the homemade corned beef hash benny, or the eggs Florentine benny.
Stella’s Diner, 3042 N. Broadway
You’ll know you’ve reached Stella’s Diner when you look up and see a giant fist clutching a set of silverware. Greek immigrants Jimmy and Stella Mavraganes opened the restaurant in 1962 with a used sign touting the name The Wheel-A-Round. Since then, the name changed to the Lakefront Diner then Stella’s, but it stayed in the same family for many years. It’s a classic massive-menu diner, with everything from milkshakes and burgers to waffles and skillets.
Golden Nugget, Four Locations in the City
A 24-hour diner much beloved by college students around the city, Golden Nugget serves classic diner food at all its locations. Think things like club sandwiches, buttermilk pancakes, waffles, burgers, and skillets. The chain opened in 1966, owned by Howard Quam, a restaurateur who also owned establishments in Las Vegas.
Chicago Diner, Logan Square and Lakeview
Starting in 1983, Chicago Diner has brought meat-free meals to the masses in the city. The concept was initially scoffed at—so the owners designed it like an old-school diner and created the meatless menu to match. A perennial favorite is the Radical Reuben, with corned-beef-style seitan, onions, peppers, sauerkraut, vegan or dairy cheese, and thousand island dressing on marbled rye. Chicago Diner focuses on philanthropy as well as health, and donates to a number of causes, including The Puppy Mill Project and Lambda Legal Group.
Golden Apple Grill and Breakfast House, 2971 N. Lincoln Ave.
Though the Golden Apple has only been open since 1984, the building itself is 20 years older, opening as a Golden Nugget. The diner has a huge following of regular customers, both famous and non (Tina Fey used to write scenes there), many of whom have been enjoying the skillets, clubs, kabobs, and more for years. It’s even been profiled by the radio show This American Life, which documented a full 24 hours of business at the restaurant.
Ed Debevic’s, 159 E. Ohio St.
Ed Debevic’s is the place to go to pair a meal with sass and snark from the waitstaff. The 50s-themed diner opened in 1984, created by the mind of Rich Melman, Lettuce Entertain You’s co-founder. Ed Debevic’s is known for burgers, jukeboxes, rude servers, and the world’s smallest sundae. The waitstaff is required to audition for their role in order to keep the “charm” of the diner alive. So is Ed Debevic a real person? He’s certainly legendary, according to the restaurant.
Peach’s, 4652 S. King Dr.
Peach’s may have only opened in 2015, but it’s quickly become a popular soul food spot—not necessarily a diner, but definitely a possible inclusion to the list. Chef Cliff Rome opened it after about seven years of planning. Grab a table, booth, or counter seat and nosh on meals like shrimp and grits or 7-Up pancakes.