13 of Chicago’s Most Iconic Restaurants
Chicago is an exceptional foodie city, but you don’t have to eat at Michelin-starred restaurants to enjoy the exceptional food culture. City (and suburban) restaurants are where Chicagoans of all types gather for quick, hearty food and hot coffee. These 13 are among the most iconic.
A quick note on what we considered “dinner”. We mainly searched for places that offered a large menu with a wide variety of breakfast and lunch options, as well as square tables, booths, maybe a counter – which you might imagine when you think of a restaurant.
Daley’s Restaurant, 6257 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
In 1892, construction workers were working 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 connection to the Daley political family—had arrived in Chicago to work on the railroad lines. But when he arrived here, he saw a different need: food. So he opened a temporary catering establishment in Woodlawn near the new “L.” This was the beginning of Daley’s Restaurant, one of Chicago’s oldest restaurants. Daley’s is still there today (although it has since moved across the street), serving classic fare like club sandwiches and burgers, as well as southern favorites like catfish and sides like cornbread dressing and black-eyed peas.
Chez Lou Mitchell, 565 W. Jackson Blvd.
Fancy a breakfast? Head to Lou Mitchell’s, where they’ve been making omelets, waffles and more since 1923. It was founded by William Mitchell, who opened the first restaurant across the street, naming it after his son, Lou. The current building was built in 1949. It sits near the terminus of historic Route 66, so it’s a great starting point for any trip along the Mother Road, which helped make the iconic Lou Mitchell. You will probably have to wait for a seat, but you will be fed; everyone gets holes of freshly baked donuts while they wait, and women and children get Milk Duds.
Palace Grill, 1408 W. Madison St.
As the oldest restaurant in the West Loop, the Palace Grill has made a name for itself as a Blackhawks hotspot. The team stops in before games to order breakfast sandwiches, and patrons can also dine there before each game. 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 Palace Grill. Today it is owned by George Lemperis. Here you’ll find everything you need for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus shakes, alcohol and a special menu section dedicated to Hawks.
Frances’ Brunchery, 2552 N. Clark St.
Once a classic Jewish deli (and home of this writer’s first job in Chicago), Frances’ Brunchery was once called 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 was male or female. It morphed from there into a deli-diner hybrid, selling towering sandwiches and matzoh dumpling soup. Since 2018 it has 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 dishes 24 hours a day for Chicagoans and visitors. Saul Bookman – whose brother-in-law was restaurant king Jack DeMar (the same man who opened the Palace Grill) – opened it with his son; they operated it until 2000. Bookman was 87 when he sold the business to George Liakopoulos. He died three weeks after the sale. The White Palace Grill is particularly popular with the late-night after-bar crowd.
Dell Rhea Chicken Cart, 645 Joliet Rd., Willowbrook
In the 1930s or 1940s, Irv Kolarik opened a lunch counter in an old gas station along Route 66. In an effort to sell more food, Kolarik partnered with two local chicken farmers, who taught him how to fry chicken. The dish was a hit, and soon the Chicken Basket outgrew its space. The restaurant as it stands today opened in 1946. In 1963, Dell Rhea purchased it, adding its name to the business. Fried chicken is still popular.
The Point Pancake House, 1952 N. US Highway 41, Gurnee
The name of the point is quite appropriate – it is at the place in Gurnee where Route 21 and Highway 41 form a sharp intersection. It opened in 1954 and remains family-owned and operated to this day. And even though the name contains “pancakes” (and they are 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 second-hand sign touting the name The Wheel-A-Round. The name has since changed to Lakefront Diner and then Stella’s, but it has remained in the same family. Jimmy and Stella’s kids, Maria and Gus, run the place now. It’s a classic restaurant with a massive menu, with everything from milkshakes and burgers to waffles and skillets.
Golden Nugget, four locations in the city
A 24-hour restaurant popular with students in the city, The Golden Nugget serves classic dishes in all of its restaurants. Think things like club sandwiches, buttermilk pancakes, waffles, burgers, and skillets. The chain opened in 1966, owned by Howard Quam, a restaurant owner who also owned establishments in Las Vegas.
Chicago Diner, Logan Square and Lakeview
Beginning in 1983, Chicago Diner offered meatless meals to the city’s masses. The concept was initially scoffed at – so the owners designed it as an old-fashioned restaurant 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 a thousand island dressing over 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.
Although the Golden Apple has only been open since 1984, the building itself is 20 years older and opens like a nugget of gold. The restaurant has a large number of regular customers, famous and not (Tina Fey used to write scenes there), many of whom have been enjoying the skillets, clubs, kebabs and more for years. He was even featured on the radio show This American Life, which documented a full 24 hours of activity at the restaurant.
Ed Debevic’s, 159 E. Ohio St.
Ed Debevic’s is the place to go to accompany a meal with the sass and snark of the servers. The 50s-themed restaurant opened in 1984, created by the mind of Rich Melman, co-founder of Lettuce Entertain You. Ed Debevic’s is known for its burgers, jukeboxes, rude servers and the world’s smallest sundae. Servers are required to audition for their role in order to keep the “charm” of the restaurant alive. So, is Ed Debevic a real person? It is certainly legendary, according to the restaurant.
Peach’s, 4652 S. King Dr.
Peach’s may not have opened until 2015, but it’s quickly become a popular soul dining spot — not necessarily a restaurant, but definitely a possible list inclusion. Chef Cliff Rome opened it after about seven years of planning. Grab a table, booth, or counter seat and enjoy dishes like Shrimp and Grits or 7-Up Pancakes.