The Chicago Diner: Three Radical Decades

By Suzanne Deveney, Foodable Contributor

It was 1983. People said it wouldn’t survive, especially in a meat-loving town like Chicago. After all, this was the home of stockyards and steakhouses. But Mickey Hornick and his partner Chef Jo Kaucher proved everyone wrong when they opened one of the first vegetarian restaurants in Chicago. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Old Meets New

Vegetarians and carnivores alike have been heading to the original Chicago Diner since it first opened 30 years ago in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Last year, Hornick and Chef Jo added a second location in one of the hippest neighborhoods in Chicago: Logan Square. 

Quickly becoming known for great restaurants at affordable prices, Logan Square was a perfect location. Lots of foot traffic, a huge bike community, proximity to public transportation, and a younger demographic keep the place bustling for brunch, lunch and dinner. 

It’s quite different than their original location, which has more of a typical diner vibe. The Logan Square spot feels completely different and better suited to the trendier neighborhood. Sunlight shines through the large front windows, soaking the wood finishes throughout the restaurant in warm light. Tables for two line the walls of the space, and in the center are booths that, if fully utilized, can hold ten or twelve people, making it a great place for a larger group.  

The building itself is US Green Building Council LEED Gold certified, and was constructed using recycled building materials and reclaimed wood for doors, the bar top, and other fixtures. The kitchen uses high efficiency equipment and appliances – which brings us to the best part: the food. 

 
 

Pile It On

Don’t let the fact that The Chicago Diner is meat-free keep you from this place. Their Radical Reuben is the stuff of culinary legend, and rightly so. Voted Reader’s Choice for 'Best in Midwest' by Vegetarian Times, the award-winning sandwich arrives at the table piled high with steaming corned “beef’ seitan, grilled onions, peppers, sauerkraut, vegan Thousand Island dressing, and oozing either vegan or dairy cheese. The marble rye is just what you’d expect on any great Reuben sandwich: soft and chewy, but hearty enough to stand up to the load it’s carrying. Be sure to have plenty of napkins nearby – you’re going to need them once you dig in.

Their sides are just as good. The sweet potato fries never disappoint, especially if you request them crispy. And who can resist waffle fries? Served crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, they make the perfect pairing to any of the classic sandwiches or burgers. 

From Vegan Shakes to a Full Bar

No visit to The Chicago Diner is complete without one of their vegan shakes. The chocolate chip cookie dough shake is particularly popular, and although large enough to share, you won’t want to. Other items on the menu include a wide selection of appetizers, soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, and desserts – pretty much everything you’d expect from an upscale diner, but all vegetarian or vegan. 

If you don’t like to wait for a table, go early for dinner. There’s a full bar, including a great selection of craft beers. If you’re lucky enough to grab one of the barstools, you can always eat there instead of waiting. The bartenders are knowledgeable and friendly and they definitely know how to make a mean Manhattan. 

And of course, if you’re feeling inspired to try some of the recipes yourself, be sure grab a copy of their newly released cookbook on the way out. 

A must visit if you’re in Chicago, The Chicago Diner is located at 2333 N. Milwaukee.