Food & Drink

9 classic, late-night Chicago diners we hope never close

Mike Gebert Published On 10/20/2014 Published On 10/20/2014
Mike Gebert

There's nothing quite as reliable as a diner. You can plunk yourself down at the counter, order some eggs, and take your place among city workers, truckers, tough-as-nails waitresses, and barflies who won't stop hitting on the tough-as-nails waitresses, all of whom are ready to share their philosophy of life with anybody who’ll listen.

We’ve lost a lot of diners in the last few years, and nobody’s making new ones -- late-night spots are territory for tacos and Pakistani cabbie joints now -- so while we've still got 'em, why not honor the best of what's left: here are nine of our favorite old-school diners, all of which have been around forever, are open 24 hours (or damn close to it), and actually have pretty good food (even with a sober palate).

Mike Gebert

Diner Grill

Lakeview
Lakeview has seen a lot of classic diners fall to development in recent years, but the most iconic 24-hour hashslinger of all -- actually built out of an old railroad diner car -- hangs on. Late-night drinkers gorge on the famous Slinger, which basically consists of the whole menu slapped on a plate and covered in chili. Finish it and you get a certificate bearing the grill man’s face, suitable for framing in a place of honor at home.

Mike Gebert

Jeri's Grill

Lincoln Square
Some diners bustle at night. This one, opposite Welles Park, has more of (in the words of Mr. Sinatra) a "wee small hours" feel, a chill place for clubbers to wind the night down. The sign stresses Ham on the Bone, and it’s good advice for your omelet, or as the side to your flapjacks. 24 hours. Respect.

Mike Gebert

Palace Grill

Near West Side
Located on West Madison since the 1930s, this is a standard Greek joint for lunch and dinner fare, but a way-beyond-standard Greek joint when it comes to breakfast items. There's nothing quite like watching the grill man carefully sauté the ingredients for your omelet before cracking the eggs onto the griddle. The details matter. 6am-2am.

Mike Gebert

The White Palace Grill

University Village
No relation to the Palace Grill (except for being exactly the same kind of place), this 24-hour joint near the old Maxwell St has food that might best be described as "sturdy". But the people watching -- cops, perps, waitresses who'll clock you if you get out of line -- is as good as it gets.

Mike Gebert

Belmont Snack Shop

Avondale
The worn Formica probably scares some folks from Lincoln Park/Lakeview off, but it’s their loss -- this is one of the best country-style American/Southern breakfast joints in town. Paul's the day grill man, the Grandmotherly daytime waitresses couldn’t be friendlier, and, as for the late-night crowd and atmosphere, Oliver the night grill man laughs and says, "It’s interesting!". It's open 24 hours except for a break on Sunday.

Mike Gebert

Northside Grill

Avondale
Formerly the Two-Way Grill, a great but totally sketchy 24-hour diner with a back room that hosted video poker, this place has been spiffed up by new Latino owners, without changing the food -- including some of the best biscuits and gravy in town.

Mike Gebert

Uncle Mike's Place

Ukrainian Village
Open 5am-3pm, this is only a late-night place if you’re out so late that you catch them starting their day. But this Ukie Village joint is cool for having a Filipino take on American diner breakfast, with marinated skirt steak or tocino (the Philippines’ answer to bacon) alongside your eggs, garlic-fried rice instead of hash browns, and congee playing the role of oatmeal.

Mike Gebert

Don's Grill

Pilsen
The great old neon sign that announced "Don’s Humburgers" is gone, alas, but this remains one of the best versions of a small-town country diner in town, doing all the classics from pancakes to biscuits and gravy. And, even though it's on one of the busiest streets in Chicago, it has the "howdy neighbor" attitude of a small-town cafe on both sides of the counter, 24 hours each day.

Mike Gebert

Kevin's Hamburger Heaven

Bridgeport
"Kids eat free!", the sign exclaims cheerfully in daylight at this ramshackle 24-hour place that's famous for its hand-formed burgers. Then there’s being there at three in the morning, eating a burger opposite a fly guy in an electric blue suit with matching homburg hat, who's busy counting out the cash he’s gotten from his working girls that night. True story.

Sign up here for our daily Chicago email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Mike Gebert is a James Beard Award-winning food video producer and writer, and founder of SkyFullofBacon.com. Follow him on Twitter @skyfullofbacon.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Diner Grill 1635 W Irving Park Rd, Chicago, IL 60613-2526 (Lakeview)

Slinging diner-style fare in Lakeview, The Diner Grill features 'merican grub staples like burgers and breakfast.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. Jeri's Grill 4357 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (Lincoln Square)

Some diners bustle at night. This one, opposite Welles Park, has more of (in the words of Mr. Sinatra) a “wee small hours” feel, a chill place for clubbers to wind the night down. The sign stresses Ham on the Bone, and it’s good advice for your omelet or as the side to your flapjacks. 24 hours. Respect.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
3. Palace Grill 1408 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Located on west Madison since the 1930s, this is a standard Greek joint for lunch and dinner fare, but a way-beyond-standard Greek joint when it comes to breakfast items. There's nothing quite like watching the grill man carefully sauté the ingredients for your omelet before cracking the eggs onto the griddle. The details matter. 6am to 2am.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
4. White Palace Grill 1159 S Canal St, Chicago, IL 60607

This 24-hour joint near the old Maxwell St has food that might best be described as "sturdy", but the people-watching -- cops, perps, waitresses who could clock you if you got out of line -- is as good as it gets.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. Belmont Snack Shop 3407 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (Avondale)

The worn Formica probably scares some folks from Lincoln Park/Lakeview off, but it's their loss -- this is one of the best country-style American/Southern breakfast joints in town, and Paul the day grill man and the Grandmotherly daytime waitresses couldn’t be friendlier.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. Northside Grill 4351 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60686 (Avondale)

Formerly the Two-Way Grill, a great but totally sketchy 24-hour diner with a back room that hosted video poker, this place has been spiffed up by new Latino owners, without changing the food -- including some of the best biscuits and gravy in town.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. Uncle Mike's Place 1700 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Ukrainian Village)

Score massively portioned American-Filipino breakfast and lunch eats all day long at this cozy spot on Grand Ave. Omelets, BLTs, and 1/2lb patty melts won’t disappoint, but it’s the Filipino breakfast platters that secure this place’s status as a veritable neighborhood gem. Don’t miss the tocino (Philipino bacon) alongside your eggs, garlic fried rice, and a bowl of fresh lugao (Filipino chicken rice soup).

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. Don's Grill 1837 S Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60608 (Pilsen)

The great old neon sign that announced "Don’s Humburgers" is gone, alas, but this remains one of the best versions of a small-town country diner in town, doing all the classics from pancakes to biscuits and gravy, 24 hours a day.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. Kevin's Hamburger Heaven 554 W Pershing Rd, Chicago, IL 60609 (Bridgeport Sox)

"Kids eat free!", the sign exclaims cheerfully in daylight at this ramshackle 24-hour place that's famous for its hand-formed burgers. Don't discount their breakfast either.

Clickbait