Bongo Room (South Loop)
1152 South Wabash, (312)291-0100
Breakfast is the redheaded stepchild of cuisine. No short-order Homaro Cantu or Grant Achatz has popped up to redefine breakfast. Bongo Room is one of the only restaurants re-inventing morning nosh. The cilantro-jalapeno tortilla filled with guacamole and fluffy eggs and topped with ancho chili cream is as fat as Popeye’s forearm. Haute Eggs Benedicts are replete with duck eggs, lump crab cakes and steak. The real stars though are the Butterfinger-like pancakes dripping with toffee butter, or the chocolate-tower French toast laced with mascarpone and covered with banana-flavored crème anglaise.
Bongo Room (Wicker Park)
1470 North Milwaukee, (773)489-0690
2030 South Wabash, (312)842-8856
Earlier this month, cities around the world commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Bossa Nova, but it didn’t take an anniversary for Cuatro to realize the outstanding potential that the Bossa Nova musical tradition posed for the taste buds. Coupled with the refreshing openness of the space, the “Bossa Nova Brunch” menu remains true to its Latin American roots and offers a variety of egg dishes, salads and sandwiches served to the music of Bossa Nova combo Bossa Tres. Although this menu is only offered on Sunday mornings, it does a fine job of rounding out the weekend before the dinner menu steps in for the remainder of the week.
1635 West Irving Park, (773)248-2030
Let’s get something straight right away—if it’s not well past midnight and you’re not adequately sauced, there really isn’t much of a reason to go here. In fact, though a minimal amount of investigation suggests the Diner Grill is open in the day, we’ve never been there without preceding it with an evening of leisure. Set up with a classic diner feel (stools at a counter and all) this spot’s claim to fame is its shockingly cheap prices, and also, of course, The Slinger. For those who don’t know: a bed of hash browns, two cheeseburgers patties, grilled onions, two eggs over-easy, drowned in steaming-hot chili, plus two pieces of toast, all for under ten bucks. Yes, it tastes about as good as it sounds, but we devoured it on a bet, and have the Diner Grill official certificate of completion to prove it.
1434 West Chicago, (312)243-0477
There’s plenty of reasons to make this your go-to weekend brunch spot, but none better than the Eggs Flo, a French-toast-like brioche topped with thick grilled smoked-turkey steak drizzled with leafy ribbons of fresh spinach, and two poached eggs, hollandaise sauce and asiago cheese. One bite and you’ll love waking up so much you’ll wish you were a morning radio-show DJ.
2971 North Lincoln, (773)528-1413
With everything you could ever ask out of a twenty-four-hour diner—great breakfast food from a know-what-you’re-gonna-get menu, an excellent late-night drunken-debacle crowd—Golden Apple might take the prize as the best “classic” example of where to get your early-hours grub. Best known perhaps for its vintage, showy sign that hovers above Lincoln Avenue, Golden Apple may not be wildly adventurous in its cuisine, but the split-personality of the family-friendly diner by day and the inebriated hunger-pool by night was enough to get “This American Life” to spend an entire day there.
1460 West Chicago, (312)243-7100
Located just down the street from West Town brunch favorite Flo, the Green Zebra has recently earned a reputation as “one of the best-kept brunch secrets in town,” but before fretting about the potential toll a meal will take on your wallet, take a look at its Sunday brunch menu. With a price range between three and thirteen dollars, the Zebra serves up a stark, yet delicious, vegetarian contrast to its pricey dinner plates while embracing a more casual atmosphere throughout. The new addition to their weekend routine becomes a preferable way to experience the restaurant’s atmosphere complete with less crowding and a more intimate dining experience.
731 West Maxwell, (312)226-8000
Don’t miss the “City of Chicago” omelette, a six-egg City Council ban waiting to happen, filled with Polish and Italian sausage, steak, chorizo, pork chops, bacon, grilled onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Don’t forget to take a cue from the restaurant name and indulge in the hash-browns platter filled with mounds of sweet-potato hash browns, rosemary-flecked new red potatoes, creamy grated Idaho russets blended with cheddar cheese, onions and sour cream and topped with crushed corn flakes and, rounding out the sampler, a mating of shoestring Idahos and maple-syrup sweet potatoes sautéed with roasted garlic and a rich Romano cheese crust.
3523 North Halsted, (773)528-2109
There’s no better way to start the day than with an aquarium-sized pitcher of margaritas made from Herradura reposado tequila, Grand Marnier and freshly squeezed lime juice at this Boystown spot. The name of the restaurant translates as “little mornings,” a traditional Mexican birthday song, but there’s nothing little about their Chilaquiles, a stomach-pleasing casserole of tortilla strips, creamy scrambled eggs and spicy chorizo tossed with jalapenos and green chilies and topped with oozy queso fresco. If you prefer your eggs runny, the huevos rancheros, two sunny-side-up eggs slathered in chili-infused red salsa, is just the answer.
1959 West Chicago, (312)491-9230
Lorraine’s Diner in Ukrainian Village is the best worst breakfast you will ever eat. It swims in grease, is served by grumpy waitresses and never, ever fails. In fact, their slogan on the menus says it all—“We have bitchy waitresses and dirty dishes—but damn good food.” A building that looks like it’s your grandparents’ musty basement, it’s really not recommended to go here sober or before 2am, because you might accidentally realize where you are or what you are eating. But for that late-night binge, this place is custom-made. They’ll slop you with enough of that classic, soul-satisfying, stomach settling food to give you enough energy to keep moving, or enough contentment to fall asleep right at the counter.
Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant
565 West Jackson, (312)939-3111
301 South Halsted, (312)454-0748
Breakfast can be a vast wasteland of impossibly long lines ending in arid omelets, but at Meli, the frittatas are light airy affairs. Chef Frank Georgacopoulos gets in everyday at 4:45am to whip up scratch pancake batters, and his Steak Benedict is a buttery fillet of beef topped with a bulbous poached egg and the lemony zing of drizzled hollandaise sauce that’s whipped up fresh every hour.
Nuevo Leon Restaurant
1515 West 18th, (312)421-1517
This Mexican diner in Pilsen is one of the best places to find quality Mexican breakfast in Chicago. Family-owned for almost fifty years, the almost ironic Aztec design doesn’t take away from any of the fun. With meals ranging from three-to-six bucks, it’s the most cost-effective way to get some really solid food that so often goes wrong anywhere else. Check out the huevos rancheros for that classic taste or the huevos con chorizo for something a little different but still familiar. Don’t fill up on the chips they load on your table at the start of your meal; all the dishes come overflowing with rice and beans themselves.
Orange on Harrison
75 West Harrison, (312)447-1000
The South Loop outpost of a popular Lakeview eatery (later joined by an edition in Roscoe Village) offers an inventive menu (pancake flights, green eggs and ham) matched by its signature juice bar, wherein patrons “design” their own fresh juices from a checklist of possibilities. And don’t forget to start with a serving of frushi, their own “fruit sushi” invention.
Orange on Clark Street (Lakeview)
3231 North Clark, (773)549-4400
Orange On Roscoe (Roscoe Village)
2011 West Roscoe (773)248-0999
Original Pancake House
2020 North Lincoln Park West, (773)929-8130
Forget that this place was temporarily closed for failing to meet city health code standards—a look at the diverse menu will have you wiping syrup stains off your face in moments. The OPH takes traditional breakfast a step further by adding new twists to the items you’ve come to know so well. Bits of bacon baked into each pancake? Loads of golden brown apples heaped on top of a massive flapjack? A side order of Lingonberries? You could close your eyes, point at a random spot on the menu and be pleased every single time.
1754 West Balmoral, (773)561-8573
A quaint little breakfast spot tucked in the western edge of Andersonville, Pauline’s offers goods with an inventive but subtle creativity yet maintains the timeless charm from a diner from the 50s or one you might find in the South. With hands down some of the best hash browns in the city—potatoes tossed with the perfect amount of green and red peppers and onions to put it over the top—the egg portions are something to behold as well; any one of the five-egg omelets will make you forget about food for a while. Pauline’s is housed in a small space, so on weekends there most likely will be a wait; if you’ve been waiting for a while the staff will supply you with delicious, freshly squeezed complimentary orange juice.
3510 South Halsted, (773)847-9058
This is the Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” ideal of diners, a place where the plate glass steams from the heat of the flat-top which is covered in a chicken-coop’s worth of sizzling eggs and crisping hash browns. From the ancient “icebox” in back which frosts over to the wooden storage drawers behind the counter bowed and warped with age, everything here is original. They don’t speak cappuccino or latte either. Coffee is a mug full of stiff fresh-filtered drip, and the waitresses are just as bold as the drink. Though it isn’t exactly breakfast fare, Ramova’s chili is some of the best around, and shouldn’t be missed.
1440 East 57th, (773)752-3899
A Greek diner on Hyde Park’s quiet 57th Street corridor, Salonica provides a pleasant, vaguely ethnic, comfortable atmosphere to wake up in. While Greek specialties like saganaki and gyros are great for lunch and dinner, for breakfast you may want to stick with the more traditional (but still delicious) omelets, pancakes and French toast. You’ll need cash (because they don’t take credit cards) but not much (because it’s cheap). While you’re there, check out the bottled olive oil sold behind the counter; it comes from Salonica’s own farm in Greece.
Sweet Maple Café
1339 West Taylor, (312)243-8908
Bringing a little Southern fare to Taylor Street, Sweet Maple knows how to draw a crowd. As eager patrons are told to wait to astounding lengths either outside or in some of the most uncomfortable positions within the restaurant, seated customers at one of their ten or so tables are hospitably accommodated. The menu is limited, yet generous—perhaps too generous unless entertaining the idea of a heart attack. Biscuits, grits, fried chicken and gravy in addition to the all-too-familiar omelet are served up nearly to perfection and, if eaten properly, will put anyone into a food coma.
A Taste of Heaven
5401 North Clark, (773)989-0151
Tucked way up north in the heart of Andersonville is Chicago’s best-kept secret when it comes to breakfast. Ranging from their pesto omelet, breakfast burrito or grilled cheese omelet, you really can’t go wrong and will most likely be full for days after. A Taste of Heaven is originally an exquisite bakery and café, and some of their tastiest desserts have morphed into dishes like cream-topped Katie Pancakes. Their coffee, scones and other baked goods are a solid hit, especially if you don’t want to, well, have a sugar-induced heart attack.
1518 East 53rd, (773)667-0647
“See Your Food!” proclaims the window of East 53rd Street brunch joint Valois, a welcome change from eateries that serve only invisible dishes. A Hyde Park institution, Valois has been serving up generous portions of traditional breakfast dishes since 1921. Food is served cafeteria-style, and customers order over a bar that separates the barely controlled chaos of the kitchen from the lively conversations of the dining area. On weekend mornings it can seem like the center of the neighborhood, starting at 5:30am when the doors open and the first bleary-eyed University of Chicago students stumble in for an early breakfast or a late midnight snack.
White Palace Grill
1159 South Canal, (312)939-7167
The White Palace Grill in the South Loop is a greasy spoon if there ever was one. Just over the bridge on Roosevelt, the twenty-four-hour diner seems out of place nestled amid the chain stores and strip malls that now typify the area, but that doesn’t stop people from making the trek. They come from all over the South and West to bask in the Palace’s fluorescent glow while being served up giant-sized portions of country-fried steak and eggs by the grouchy wait staff, who see their biggest surge in customers after the bars close for the night. College kids certainly flock to Palace to enjoy the questionable food and Chicago-themed murals that line the walls, but anyone who’s out late near the Loop is likely to stop, making it a favored choice of drunks and cops alike.
Windy City Café
1062 West Chicago, (312)492-8010
The unassuming River West spot succeeds in its simplicity and relative anonymity—with rarely a massive crowd bulging out the door, service is quick, food is prime, you’re in, you’re out and you’re about your day. In fact, the meals here are surprisingly good; while everyone else is obsessed with the new upscale must-visit brunch joint, we’ll take our eggs fresh and our pancakes fluffy, and that’s enough, thank you very much. Also a good stop for Blue Liners on their way to the Loop, as the restaurants about twenty feet from the Chicago stop.