When most restaurants close, the Chicago eating public just shrugs its collective shoulders and sets its sights on the latest exciting opening in Logan Square. But not with these restaurants—these are the places we truly miss, and not always because the food was so great or the atmosphere was so alluring. These restaurants were doing something novel at the time, or they hold some kind of nostalgia for us. Luckily, in most cases there are alternatives that fill the void these restaurants left but—sigh—never completely.
RECOMMENDED: Chicago businesses we miss
Banquet on a Bun
What it was: The hungry, horny and high pouring out of Faces, the discotheque with a membership card, could stumble across Rush Street and scarf down greasy burgers at this diner. We're far too young to have firsthand experience, but we still dream of sitting on the chrome stools in the pink neon glow every time we watch Risky Business, when Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay enjoy a bite after some slo-mo CTA shagging.
What's taken its place: Still seeking a gastrointestinal lube job at 4am with a side of nostalgia? Tackle the off-menu "Dick Burger"—topped with bacon, egg and hash browns—at Diner Grill, the tiny counter spot in Lakeview.
What it was: This family-owned spot served well-executed Cuban- and Mexican-inspired fare just off the Irving Park Brown Line stop in Ravenswood for 17 years before closing in 2013. Staples like ropa vieja, honey-roasted pork chops and ceviche were served alongside finely crafted mojitos by a friendly (and, we'll say it, impossibly attractive) staff; weekend brunch featured chilaquiles and a terrific chorizo benedict.
What's taken its place: Though Logan Square is a trek to sate North Center Cuban cravings, D'Noche, Cafe Con Leche's nighttime alter ego, offers a solid approximation of Café 28's menu and ambience.
What it was:Charlie Trotter's was one of the most iconic restaurants Chicago has ever had. Helmed by a complicated chef, the restaurant was open for 25 years and, by the time it closed in 2012, had changed the face of Chicago dining. There were eight-course tasting menus with dishes like roasted Muscovy duck with bitter melon and duck consommé, but no matter what was on the menu, dining at Trotter's was an experience.
What's taken its place: These 14 restaurants. Trotter's incredible legacy has stretched all across the city, as alumni of his kitchen have opened some of the best restaurants in Chicago. From Grant Achatz's Alinea and Next to Real Kitchen, a take-out restaurant, you can still taste the influence Trotter left on the Chicago dining scene.
Chimney Cake Island
What it was: This small Edgewater shop, which closed in June 2013, specialized in its namesake chimney cakes, a delicious Transylvanian pastry that’s rolled onto a wooden pin and baked. The thin doughnut-crepe treat could be pulled off in spirals.
What’s taken its place: As far as we can tell, you can’t get chimney cakes anywhere in Chicago. But Hungarian bakery Veseky’s in Berwyn at least makes sweets from that part of the country.
The Dog House
What it was: Occupying a 6-by-12-foot trailer that was purchased for $1,100, the Dog House opened in 1963 on North Ave in Villa Park, serving a simple menu of hot dogs, french fries and tamales. Owner Dick Portillo changed the stand's name to Portillo's in 1967 and ditched the trailer for a storefront.
What's taken its place: While there's still a location in Villa Park, Portillo's has grown into a 50-location Midwest chain that reportedly sold for $1 billion to a private equity firm in July.
What it was: Before Wicker Park became Lincoln Park West, it was an edgy, angry enclave for irate hipsters wearing clunky boots and clunkier glasses. Their epicenter was Earwax, a vegetarian café with sometimes-decent art on the walls and perturbed art-school students behind the counter. The café also featured movies for renting, but you can bet they were David Lynch and Fellini and Kurosawa and if you want to watch something pedestrian like Scorsese you can go back to Wrigleyville, frat boy. Gentrification and the occasional rat sighting (whoops!) led to Earwax angrily closing its doors in 2011.
What's taken its place: Heartland Café, minus the good vibes.
What it was: Doug Sohn is closing his revered hot dog temple on October 3, but we're mourning the end of our interactions with Doug as much as the sausages themselves. Doug Sohn is Hot Doug's, and while the bratwurst is perfect and the creative links (like a hot sauce chicken sausage) are great, Doug is the best part. He's cheerful and funny and he takes every single order, so everyone gets a few minutes to chat with him, long line be damned.
What's taken its place: If you want a creative hot dog, you can go to Hoppin' Hots or Franks 'n Dawgs. But there's no one in Chicago who so embodies a restaurant the way Sohn embodies Hot Doug's.
What it was: Ina Pinkney ran Ina's, a charming breakfast restaurant in the West Loop, for 12 years before closing it last New Year's Eve. She was best known for her Heavenly Hots (thin pancakes served with a compote of peaches, raspberries and blueberries), but we also loved the vanilla bean waffles. She now writes a breakfast column for the Chicago Tribune, and while it's delightful, it's no replacement for the best breakfast spot in town.
What's taken its place: A notable new breakfast place hasn't opened since the closing of Ina's, so we'll pick an old standby: Southport Grocery. It's only open for breakfast and lunch, and the menu consists of trademark dishes like cupcake-batter pancakes and sweet and savory French toast, but you can also just get a basic omelette or granola.
The Mashed Potato Club
What it was: Named for its signature dish, which could be garnished with more than 100 toppings including jelly beans and pickled beets, the Mashed Potato Club was an eccentric outpost in River North. Patrons could order martinis and Jell-o shots at a bar decorated with tinsel, nude murals and Mr. Potato Head toys, while taking in nightly entertainment like drag shows and cabarets. The party came to an abrupt end in 2002 when the restaurant closed its bright yellow doors for good.
What's taken its place: It's hard to think of a comparable spot, but if you want to get drunk and eat potatoes smothered in strange toppings, hit a bar in Wrigleyville and soak up the booze at Big Cheese Poutinerie.
Ohio House Coffee Shop
What it was: A quintessential greasy spoon diner in River North, the Ohio House Coffee Shop was the kind of place where you could nurse a hangover for less than $7. Located next to the Ohio House Motel, the 27-seat diner was known for its "Deuces Wild" special, consisting of two pancakes, two eggs, two strips of bacon and two sausages. After 53 years in business, the Ohio House closed in 2013 when it lost its lease.
What's taken its place: A second Leghorn Chicken location will open in the former Ohio House digs later this year, but those searching for affordable diner fare will find it at the Cozy Corner Diner and Pancake House in Logan Square.
What it was: One of restaurateur Terry Alexander’s first restaurants (see also: Tizi Melloul, The Violet Hour, The Publican, Nico Osteria), Okno opened in Wicker Park in 1997 where Standard Bar & Grill is now. Novel at the time for having a techno-spinning DJ in the dining room, Okno was also known for its space-age design and its second-floor bathrooms featuring translucent glass doors that left little mystery of what was happening inside.
What's taken its place:Bub City's women's bathroom is surprising, but not really in a good way.
What it was: Kristine Subido’s Filipino chicken haven in Uptown was admittedly hit or miss, and the bizarrely shaped, nearly windowless space wasn’t doing it any favors. But, oh, that country bird chicken sandwich (fried chicken topped with Gouda, pimento mayo and shaved onion).
What’s taken its place: Since Pecking Order closed in July, Subido’s food has been popping up at farmers’ markets and other food events. Watch the restaurant’s Facebook page for the next appearance. If you need Filipino food, like, right now, hit up Chrissy Camba’s Laughing Bird.
What it was: BYOB with exceptional pastas, chef/owner Theo Gilbert’s Terragusto was an immediate hit when it opened in Roscoe Village eight years ago. It was such a hit, in fact, that Gilbert opened another location in Lincoln Park in 2009. And then shuttered both. And then opened Ripasso, closed that, and then opened Starland and closed that. We still dream about the pasta neri.
What’s taken its place: When we’re craving perfectly al dente pasta, we head to Due Lire in Lincoln Square.
What it was: Sumptuously designed in a hip Moroccan style, this Mediterranean restaurant in River North was a date-night go-to. The domed, dark Crescent Room, home to many a bachelorette and birthday party, featured low tables, pillow seating and multicolored Moroccan lamps hanging from the ceiling. The restaurant closed in 2010 after 10 years.
What’s taken its place: Well, literally, it’s GT Fish & Oyster that takes up the 531 N Wells St space. But for refined Mediterranean, the best place to go these days is Taxim. If you want high-end, Naha puts out a mean mezze platter at the bar.
What it was: Trio, owned by Henry Adaniya (who now operates a gourmet hot dog restaurant in Honolulu), was a much-lauded fine-dining restaurant in Evanston. It closed in 2006 after 12 years, but the restaurant launched the careers of Grant Achatz, Rick Tramonto, Gale Gand and Curtis Duffy, among other important Chicago chefs.
What's taken its place: Through December, Next Restaurant is serving a version of a Trio menu from 2004. Travel back in time to taste a dinner Achatz served to Alinea and Next co-owner Nick Kokonas, which led to the pair teaming up to open Alinea in 2005.
What it was: This Wicker Park coffeehouse opened in a converted warehouse in 1989 and closed less than a decade later, but it was a defining one for the gentrifying neighborhood. Urbis Orbis served as a social center where the artists and musicians moving in to the area could linger all day over a cappuccino (unlike at the neighborhood's old-school, low-rent diners) and put on performances at night. No wonder it felt like an affront when MTV turned the building into the first Chicago Real World house in 2001, even though Urbis had closed three years earlier; it was a sign of the next wave of gentrification coming with condos. (The building is now a Cheetah Gym.)
What's taken its place: Though the crowd is less singer-songwriter, more graphic designer, Filter has a lock on the all-day camping set in the Wicker Park of today.