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Photograph: Tim McCoy

The 18 best diners in Chicago

Book it to the best diners in Chicago for late-night breakfast, greasy burgers and oversized milkshakes

By Morgan Olsen
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The beautiful thing about the best diners in Chicago is that they can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Looking for some of the best breakfast in Chicago? Hop in line at Lou Mitchell's. Craving greasy-spoon eats at 3am? Diner Grill is waiting with a slinger (more on that below). One of the top vegetarian restaurants Chicago has to offer even made the list. There really is something for every craving. The best diners in Chicago serve breakfast all day, with a side of messy burgers, massive milkshakes and all the comfort food your heart desires. Some have been around for decades, while others offer a new take on the old trend. Grab a barstool and dig into the best diners in Chicago.

RECOMMENDED: Discover more of the best restaurants in Chicago

Best diners in Chicago

Palace Grill
Photograph: Martha Williams

1. Palace Grill

Restaurants American West Loop

Even on non-game days, the Palace Grill feels like an offshoot of the United Center. The space is bedecked with Blackhawks paraphernalia and the patrons wear it as well (the place is open late on Blackhawks game nights). It's a classic diner, which means it serves all-day breakfast and a menu of sandwiches, salads and burgers, including a superlative patty melt, layered with grilled onions and cheese on rye.

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Photograph: Mark Wright

2. Daley’s Restaurant

Restaurants American Woodlawn

Depending on how you look at it, Daley’s restaurant has been around since 1892 or 1937 (the first, the original opening date; the second, the current incarnation). Either way, it’s one of the oldest restaurants in the city. But there’s no time for this homey diner to dwell on the past—the space bustles with a mix of Woodlawn locals and University of Chicago students, especially in the mornings, when they gather for the ethereal Belgian waffles (offered with a side of juicy chicken wings), hearty Denver omelettes and warm, buttery biscuits.

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Photograph: Huge Galdones

3. Little Goat Diner

Restaurants Bakeries West Loop

Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard puts her gourmet spin on the old-school diner model with this sweet West Loop restaurant that serves breakfast all day. Dig into reimagined classics like the Bull's Eye French toast on sweet onion brioche with eggs, crispy chicken and barbecue maple syrup. Add on a cinnamon roll, cheesy grits, hash browns, milkshakes and sundaes to complete your order. Groups can huddle together in the inviting, leather-lined booths, while solo diners will feel right at home at the traditional diner counter that overlooks the kitchen.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

4. Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant

Restaurants Cafés West Loop

Thinking of spending your Sunday morning at this classic Chicago diner? Better check the weather: The line snakes out the door and onto Lou Mitchell Way well into the afternoon. Customers are treated to fresh, sugar-dusted doughnut holes while they wait, but the real feast starts when you sit down. Stacks of “meltaway” pancakes are perfectly browned, 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.

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Photograph: Ben Pier

5. Diner Grill

Restaurants American Lake View

There are no seats here—just stools. There’s barely a menu, either. 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. First-timers should order the famous slinger, which comprises a mess of hashbrowns, two cheeseburger patties and eggs all smothered in house-made chili. It's not pretty, but damn if it won't keep you full for days to come.

Photograph: Martha Williams

6. Dove’s Luncheonette

Restaurants Mexican Wicker Park

This new-wave Wicker Park diner from One Off Hospitality offers southern-inspired Mexican eats in a groovy, ’70s-homaging space. There's almost always a wait list going at the front counter (especially on the weekends), but diner stools turn over quickly. No one leaves hungry with menu options like the burnt ends hash and the chicken fried chicken, and no meal is complete without the Back to Life Cocktail, which is filled with seafoody bits, tomatoes, avocado and cilantro.

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Photograph: Erica Gannett

7. Chicago Diner

Restaurants Vegetarian Boystown

Even carnivores know Chicago Diner. The vibe is normal, everyday diner, albeit with soy milk, tofu and tempeh on the giant menu. Waits for weekend brunch can get painful (even though the menu is served daily), but patient non-meat-eaters are rewarded with flaky soy margarine biscuits. Of the non-brunch options, the tofu and veggie-packed soul bowl is a healthy pick, and if you still have room, try the vegan caramel crunch torte or the thick, perfect milkshakes for dessert.

Photograph: Tim McCoy

8. 3 Squares Diner

Restaurants Uptown

Flooded with natural light and decorated with gold fixtures and handsome leather barstools, 3 Squares Diner is a modern take on the classic diner, with upgraded menu items to match. Breakfast is served all day, but we're big fans of the chicken sandwich, which is piled high with tomatoes, buttermilk blue cheese and arugula on a brioche bun. For an extra indulgent meal, pair it with the cherry-chocolate chip milkshake.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

9. Eggy's Diner

Restaurants Diners Loop

Craving crepes? You got it. Pining for pancakes? Eggy's serves those, too. Hankering for something healthy? Choose from a Greek yogurt parfait or steel-cut oats. With Eggy's mile-long menu, we could go on for days, but here's one reason to really love this modern Loop diner: The kids' menu is packed with affordable choices for your little ones, including silver dollar pancakes, mini waffles and a melty grilled cheese.

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Photograph: Galdones Photography

10. Eleven City Diner

Restaurants Diners Loop

Owner Brad Rubin scoured the country to research this Jewish deli/diner. His pastrami is tender, fatty and full of flavor; the milkshakes are thick and oversized; matzo balls are enormous; and the brisket is good enough that any grandmother would want to claim it, Jewish or not.

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Photograph: Chandler West

11. Edgebrook Coffee Shop

Restaurants Coffee shops Sauganash, Forest Glen

People go to other diners for greasy bacon and eggs, fatty hamburgers and limp french fries. But they come to this one, a 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 can 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.

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Photograph: Chandler West

12. Glenn’s Diner

Restaurants Diners Lincoln Square

A classic diner with a seafood bent? At Glenn's, it works. Locals flock here Tuesday through Thursday for the "First Catch" deal, which offers up a half-pound of fresh fish, a potato, veggies, a cup of soup and a small salad for just under $20. Looking for a sweet morning pick-me-up instead? Glenn's has over 25 varieties of cereal on offer, served with ice-cold milk in a chilled bowl with a side of fresh fruit.

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Photograph: Courtesy St. Lou's Assembly

13. Saint Lou's Assembly

Restaurants American West Loop

From the creators of Moneygun, Longman & Eagle and Revival Food Hall, this West Loop cafeteria-style diner offers upgraded takes on "Meat N Three," allowing hungry diners to match their protein with three side dishes. Of course, you can order à la carte, with decadent options like tres leches pancakes and the patty melt, which is layered with caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and special sauce.

14. Nookies Tree

Restaurants American Lake View

We’ll admit it: We’ve never really considered trying the food here when we were sober enough to taste it. No. 3 in the local “chain” of diners has always been a 3am favorite of Boystown barhoppers, so we were pleasantly surprised to find that, in the light of day, this place can cook. Fruit-topped pancakes and French toast are hits, as are the skillets (we love the Good Ol' Boy with eggs, bacon, onions, hashbrowns and sausage gravy). It’s a great way to start the day—or end the night.

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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

15. Belmont Snack Shop

Restaurants Diners Avondale

Situated just off the revamped Belmont Blue Line station, this no-frills Avondale diner slings breakfast, burgers, wings and sandwiches 24 hours a day. As long as you're not expecting smiley servers or Instagrammable eats, Belmont Snack Shop does the trick for classic cravings—and at bargain prices, to boot. The egg sandwich is a reliable bet for breakfast, and the turkey club is a hearty lunch option that's done right.

Kids eat free at Hollywood Grill.
Photograph: Martha Williams

16. Hollywood Grill

Restaurants Diners Wicker Park

Does this 25-year-old diner even have locks on its doors? It certainly doesn't need them: The colorful, retro spot feeds hungry (and, often, drunk) Wicker Parkers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Like many great diners, you can always order breakfast items such as crepes, skillets, pancakes and eggs. The rest of the menu covers serious ground with salads, steaks, seafood, sandos and so much more.

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White Palace Grill
Photograph: Martha Williams

17. White Palace Grill

Restaurants Diners West Loop

The waitress calls you doll, hun or honey. You’ll let her call you whatever she wants if it means getting some of the best diner food in town. A scoop of soft butter and warm syrup transforms a stack of plain pancakes, and they’re flanked by the city’s only diner bacon worth its fat.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

18. Jeri’s Grill

Restaurants Diners North Center

There is a bevy of 24-hour greasy-spoon diners in this city, but none of them offers anything as curious as Jeri’s “jailhouse special,” a plate of fried bologna, eggs, hash browns and toast. Kind of makes you wonder what Jeri was up to before the grill, doesn’t it? Get there before 2pm for the biscuits and gravy; the rest of the cheap eats are served all day and include fries and patty melts.

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