Friday, August 30, 2013

Restaurant Review: The Chicago Diner in Chicago...

The Chicago Diner is a place that I love, and it’s a place I’ve eaten in many times, so it seems crazy to me that I’ve never actually done a post on it before. Well that ends today my friends!

For those of you who don’t know The Chicago Diner is this hip, little, all-American diner that’s been serving up delicious vegetarian and vegan comfort food on Halsted Street since 1983. Over the decades they’ve won a lot of awards and a lot of notoriety, I don’t know a single vegan in Chicago who hasn’t been to ‘the diner’ and I know many vegans cross-country who’ve been there as well. More then likely if your vegan or vegetarian friend hear’s that you’re coming into town they recommend the diner. When you first go vegetarian or vegan and need a dining out option, everyone recommends the diner. It is the place. In fact it’s actually the very first all vegetarian restaurant I ever ate at in Chicago. This was four years ago now, before I’d even gone vegetarian let alone vegan. It was back when I’d first given up red meat and pork, when I was branching out, expanding my horizons and finding new and healthy food options. I can’t for the life of me remember how I found out about it - I didn’t know any vegetarians in the city at the time - but I did, and I’m so, so glad I stumbled across this wonderful Oasis in the city.

Potato Skins 

On my very first ever trip to The Diner I played it safe and ordered the Cajun Black Bean Burger with Sweet Potato Fires and vegan cheese. I loved it. I think we also ordered an appetizer that night but it was so long ago now I can’t remember. On my next trip to the diner I tried The Radical Reuben with a side of coleslaw and was blown away. Next I tried the Dagwood Classic - another Reuben style sandwich with avocado on it - with a side of fries and was equally blown away.


For appetizers I’ve had their wings, their nachos, and their stuffed potato skins, all of which are excellent but my absolute new favorite appetizer at the Diner is the poutine! Seriously guys, vegan poutine! Okay, so if you’re not Canadian this may not excite you the way it excites me, but trust me when I say this is easily the best thing on the menu. I should disclose that even though Poutine is considered to be one of Canada’s ‘national dishes’ it is not actually something I ever liked. I’ve never been a fan of cheese curd, nor a fan of dipping fries into gravy but there’s something about knowing you can never have a certain cultural delicacy again that’s a little bit sad. So when I saw that the Diner was now making Poutine I jumped at the chance to try it. Hands down, honest to Buddha this is the best Poutine - vegan or otherwise - that I have ever had. For real. You get a plate of giant waffle cut fries, smothered in gravy, and vegan cheese sauce, topped with vegan sour cream, vegan seitan bacon, green onions and jalapenos, and it is mouth watering amazing! If you go to the Diner you NEED to order this!


The Diner is also well known - dare I say famous? - for their vegan shakes, and this notoriety is not unjust. I’ve tried quite a few of their blissfully creamy offerings and my hands down favorite is the Lucky Leprechaun, but then of course I’m a sucker for mint and chocolate together. This is like a way better, way tastier, non-nausea inducing, cruelty-free version of a Shamrock shake. Other great flavors that I’ve tried include the Chocolate Peanut butter, Mocha, and Chocolate chip cookie dough.

Tinga Street Tacos 

On a trip to the Diner back in July I tried a new item featured on the menu called the Tinga Street Tacos. Which contain chicken-style seitan simmered in spicy sauce, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. Served in flour tortillas, with a side of refried black beans, Mexican rice, vegan sour cream, guacamole, lettuce and tomato. I definitely enjoyed this meal, but I’ll be honest and say the chicken-style seitan wasn’t my favorite, On the other hand the refried black beans, and Mexican rice were some of the best I’ve had. Definitely a worthwhile meal, and so filling that after Poutine and a shake I could only eat one and a half tacos and had to box the rest.

Tinga Street Tacos 

On this particular trip my husband got the new Karma burger with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. He loved both, and I had an itty-bitty bite of his burger and have to say that it was quite delicious!

Vegetable Stir-fry

On our most recent trip to The Chicago Diner earlier this month I got the BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger which was a delicious veggie seitan patty, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, BBQ sauce, and seitan bacon on a wheat bun. This burger was so good. Halfway through I was getting too full to finish it but it was just so good I had to take those last couple of bites. I don’t often order vegan bacon cheeseburgers when I dine out but that day I was really in the mood for one and man did it hit the spot. I ordered a side of mac & cheese to go with it and I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t impressed with that. The mac was just noodles with melted Teese and I felt it was a bit underwhelming in flavor, but then again I’m pretty picky about my mac & cheese as it’s not a food I generally love anyway.

Bacon Cheeseburger with Mac & Cheese

For his meal my husband got the vegetable stir-fry which tofu, which was cooked in a tamari-sake, sesame sauce. He really enjoyed it and I snagged a few pieces of broccoli which were excellent.

The Chicago Diner also has quite a few dessert options, all of which are vegan however I have never had enough room after eating here to actually get dessert. The portions may not look massive but trust me when I say that they fill you up. It’s almost always too much food for me to eat, and I’m a girl who always clears my plate. So suffice to say I’ve never gotten dessert here, but maybe one day. One day!

Vegetable Stir-fry 

Now if you’re wondering about atmosphere, the Diner certainly has that in abundance. The Halsted location Is quite small, and it’s often very busy so you sometimes get jammed in there but the staff is always super friendly and super helpful. Service is prompt, despite the mad rushes, and you gotta love the diner’s mixture of old-time kitsch with a smidge of modern hipster. Oh, and they just recently opened a new location in Logan Square, so if you live in Chicagoland and haven’t been to the Diner I implore you to go! If you don’t live in the city but plan on visiting it sometime in the future, well, make sure you make your way over to the diner for some of that poutine and a shake. You won’t be sorry, I promise!

The Chicago Diner

Halsted Location 
3411 N Halsted St
Phone: 773-935-6696
Logan Square Location 
2333 N. Milwaukee Ave
Phone: 773-252-3211

PS: Apologies for some of the shitty quality photos. Unfortunately The Chicago Diner is one of those places that either has really bad lighting or really good lighting, you know what I mean? If you get stuck in a booth or you get stuck in the back the lighting is terrible. If you're lucky enough to get a window seat, or get seated near the front the lighting is much better. Of course there's less privacy up front and it's not a great place to be seated in winter but them's the breaks, yeah?

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