Chicago Diner Journeying to the tail-end of boys town (pun intended), at the corner of Roscoe and Halsted, you’ll find a charming building where the Chicago Diner resides. This being one of the few places I’d heard of before moving to the city, I was eager to try their veggie friendly fare. The Diner was recently listed as the #3 diner in the entire country, my parents enthusiastically passed that gem along while helping me pack some of my childhood boxes that were lingering behind. Not only is it situated in the neighborhood with which I inhabit, but I’m also a well-known flexitarian, always looking for delicious and creative vegetable based options.
This 1983 Lakeview establishment brings in customers of all ages and backgrounds, my last visit I watched a human new to this planet vigorously consuming milk from its mother’s breast. So there you go. Given the neighborhood, street, employees and fare, you can gather upon seconds of walking in that the key demographic is twenties hipsters. Boy if you don’t have visible tattoos or cut your own hair good luck trying to get a job there. I have visible tattoos and I still feel like an ordinary square in there. But it doesn’t take away, the scenester servers are very friendly, knowledgable and as it turns out quite skilled at cutting their own hair or piercing their own body parts.
It’s very simple inside but not without charm. It’s narrow and doesn’t seat many, like most city restaurants and bars, but has a few diner style tables, about 6 four-top booths, and a few backless barstools. The ceiling is tall and the booth side wall is brick, with windows so high you can’t see out of, each with beautiful painted glass window frames hanging over. There’s a large cooler with a variety of bottled beers, sodas and juices if you want to pass on Lake Michigan’s finest tap water.
At night this place is a mad house; you will wait, and if you don’t, it’s for one of two reasons. 1: You’re by yourself and can sit at one of the four barstools by the diner’s bar. or 2: Someone is waiting for you and already been blessed with a table. But at lunch it is only moderately packed and I’ve never waited for a table during the day. They do have an enclosed riff-raff waiting area with heaters and pitchers of water or tea. The hosts are apathetic and sarcastic and mostly fun to mess with, by all means test your boundaries. I have.
Down to the nitty, gritty. The grub. It’s pretty damn good. As previously mentioned, it’s a vegetarian/vegan diner. Meat free since 83 is their hippie slogan. What’s great about it is they’ve made a concerted effort to give you the flavors and comfort foods you like from all regions of the country without the animal or environmental sacrifice. They have a slew of sandwiches and “burgers” from “Steak and Cheese” to “Ruebens.” They have “country-fried steak,” “biscuits ‘n’ gravy,” and a “BBQ bacon burger.” These options are in quotations on the menu to give you the idea of flavor they’re going for, making you feel comfortable and familiar. You should know you have the option of vegan or dairy cheese, or none at all, for the real health nut.
They also have a plethora of creative, healthy vegetable options with no promise of meat flavor or substitute. I’ve had the avocado and black bean tostada, pot stickers, nachos and my personal favorite of everything I’ve tried is this “soul bowl.” This thing packs a health punch along with great flavor. It has red quinoa (pronounces KeenWah, not kwinOA), smashed sweet potato, avocado, flashed greens (kale and spinach sauteed in onions, garlic and ginger), black bean puree and walnuts. I went crazy and mixed it all together and really enjoyed the flavors bouncing around my taste buds, let alone how energized the nutrient rich food left me.
In true diner style they have shakes and other home-made desserts as well, made with non-dairy forms of milk. I loved the s’more shake and plain ole vanilla and chocolate do not disappoint either.
With the American waist band and cholesterol on the never-ending rise, it’s important we recognize how much our diet is the culprit, never mind the endless environmental implications factory farming has caused. As one who is very compassionate toward animals, even more so than humans at times, I’m the hypocrite who could never slaughter, shoot, or kill the animal myself. I’d be eating the poisonous berries and suffocating before I looked them in the eye, so I often unconsciously stuff my face without thinking what those poor creatures are suffering through so I can eat their hormone, antibiotic and no doubt fecal filled body parts. Cutting down our meat consumption would have many obvious benefits, to individuals and society as a whole, and to have healthy, tasty, awareness-driven eateries run by cool kids like the Chicago Diner is making our city, and world, a better place. And I thank them for it.
Eat. Drink. Open your eyes. And ears. Enjoy.