20 of Chicago’s Most Beloved Closed Diners

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A sign reading “Open 24 Hours” and “Jeri’s Grill” hangs outside a diner.
Some diners burn out, others fade away.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

Paying tribute to the diners that Chicago depended upon

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Some diners burn out, others fade away.
| Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

As Eater concludes Diner Land, its week-long celebration of diners across the country, a few concerns continue to pop up.

The biggest disagreement is a fundamental one: What defines a diner? What disqualifies a restaurant from being considered a diner? Is it late-night service? Maybe it’s the prices? For example, Ina’s, the beloved breakfast restaurant in West LoopWas Ina’s a diner? There’s no general consensus. Some continue to cling to their halcyon memories of the ‘60s or in whatever manner that TV and film use them as plot devices. But, as Uncle Mike’s Place proves, not all diners have to be from the same template.

Diners, no doubt, are vaults of nostalgia. And they’re harder to find around Chicago. There’s a variety of causes, but locals cling to memories of their favorite spots. For that reason, Eater Chicago is paying tribute to the fallen, assembling a few of the city’s most cherished diners that have closed. This is not a comprehensive list, and recency, bias, and age impact the ones selected. To effectively pay homage to your favorite shuttered diner that wasn’t recognized, please leave a comment or send an email using the tone of your favorite angry server. They would appreciate it the most.

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A suburban time capsule of a diner founded in 1978, What’s Cooking had a distinct Ashkenazi Jewish deli bent, sating patrons of all backgrounds with homey hits like kreplach, massive matzo balls in soup, and corned beef sandwiches alongside breakfast standards. It closed in 2012.

If diner signage is an art unto itself, Big Top Restaurant might well have been the Louvre. Housed inside an otherwise unremarkable squat suburban building, the diner was crowned by a red-and-yellow replica of a circus tent and had a soaring neon sign that proclaimed it “famous for our fountain creations.” Big Top encapsulated the essential elements of any diner: solid breakfast items, friendly service, and affordable prices. The diner closed in 2019 after more than four decades in business. Right down the block, another famed diner, Golden Flame, was extinguished after CVS bought the property.

It was all eggs all the time at Over Easy, a cozy Ravenswood haunt crammed with photographs, paintings, and sculptures of eggs. Fans flocked to the diner for numerous egg dishes, most notably Sassy Eggs — two runny yolks on a pile of chorizo-jalapeno-red pepper hash, smothered in cheese, sour cream, and ancho ketchup. In 2017, the Tribune dubbed it “Chicago’s crown jewel of egg dishes.” It closed in 2021 after 15 years.

Jeri’s Grill, a neighborhood institution that was open 24 hours per day for nearly six decades in Lincoln Square, ended its tenure in May 2020 amid the earliest and most uncertain stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Arguably the dictionary definition of “no frills,” Jeri’s served up all the hits: patty melts, hash browns, milkshakes, and biscuits and gravy, in a timeless atmosphere that provided special comfort to third-shift and hospitality employees in search of a meal after work. Its closing was met with a period of mourning by neighbors, fans, and even famous faces like Laura Jane Grace of punk band Against Me! Upon announcing the closure, second-generation owner Frank Di Piero summed up the diners’ legacy in a sign posted to its door: “Jeri’s Grill was a part of the past living in a modern world. Unfortunately, the past can no longer survive in this post-pandemic world… if these walls could talk they would tell beautiful and sad stories of many lives.”

A Greek diner with a Civil War-themed menu, the Lincoln Restaurant paid homage to one of Illinois’ most famous sons, complete with an enormous sign bearing Abraham Lincoln’s face at the corner of Lincoln, Damen, and Irving Park. Home of the Honest Abe Burger and a weekly Banjo Night, the diner was a fixture dating back to the 1970s. It closed in 2013 but its building and sign remained for another three years before being razed.

There was no Jim at Jim’s Grill, a hole-in-the-wall diner that began its tenure as a hot dog spot in the early 1980s. Instead, there was David Choi, a chef who moved to Chicago from California in 1984 to help his sister run the business. Choi’s arrival was a catalyst that transformed Jim’s into a restaurant ahead of its time, serving Korean and vegetarian food while luring a host of then-underground musician regulars like Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan and Dead Rider guitarist Todd Rittmann throughout the 1990s. The diner closed in the mid-2000s, but Choi’s cooking can be sampled at Amitabul.

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A 56-year-old after-bar landmark in the neighborhood formerly known as Boystown (now dubbed Northalsted), Melrose Restaurant wasn’t just a diner — it was a community hub for local families, nighttime party people, a welcoming spot for anyone drawn to its old-school neon sign. Founded in 1961, Melrose bore witness to immense changes in the area, though adherents never tired of its chrome stools, laminated countertop, and novel-length menu stacked with hits like massive omelets and corned beef hash. It’s since been taken over by Eggsperience.

After a quarter century of providing Avondale with a reliable, affordable — albeit divey — 24-hour diner, Belmont Snack Shop’s tenure came to a screeching halt in 2020 when a fire gutted the building. Despite a brief moment of hope that the worn restaurant, an unfussy retreat for neighbors, late-night partiers, and commuters alike, would rebuild, co-owners Nelson Rodriguez and Paul Schiller ultimately closed for good. To fans, the loss represented more than a simple closure. The diner was a relic of a working-class neighborhood that’s undergone rapid change in recent years.

Sealed into the annals of history by comedian John Mulaney, the Salt & Pepper Diner began its reign in 1965 on Lincoln avenue and went on to earn generations of fans over many decades with its milkshakes, burgers, and unironically retro vibe. The original diner closed in 2013 but a Wrigleyville outpost remained until 2016, when it was displaced by a massive redevelopment project that brought about multiple restaurant closures.

Johnny’s Grill, an iconic greasy spoon immortalized by the Art Institute of Chicago, was a casual breakfast and lunch mainstay for more than 30 years, winning the hearts of neighbors, industry workers, and local officials along the way. It closed in 2014 but reopened over a year later with a more cheffy menu. Johnny’s closed permanently in 2017 and has since been replaced by ‘90s-themed sandwich spot Big Kids.

In a word, the Golden Cup was solid. A frequent retreat for hungover locals and weekend warriors, the diner earned fans with simple breakfast classics and a mellow atmosphere. It closed in 2010 after around 20 years in business.

The iconic site of complex local history, the original Belden Deli was a 24-hour Ashkenazi Jewish diner founded in 1957 in a small strip mall at the northeast corner of Clark and Belden. Beloved for both its old-school fare and rich cultural symbolism, it still lives large in the hearts of deli devotees long after the restaurant closed in 1989 and its building was razed. It was then replaced by a huge development containing another now-relic — Tower Records — and in 2012 wound up housing a new Belden Deli (from different owners) that lasted less than a year, and in 2013 became Eleven Lincoln Park, an outpost of South Loop’s Eleven City Diner that closed after four years.

The Original Mitchell’s was a two-location chain, with spots on North and Clark and another on Clybourn and Racine. Often confused with Lou Mitchell’s, the menu was a little different, a descendant of Jewish delis but with more breakfast foods. Eventually, Mitchell’s became Michael’s North with a new logo, but the menu was kept more or less the same. The restaurant was wiped out in 2012 when a luxury residential development opened. 

Wicker Park’s death as an edgy and affordable neighborhood was announced with the closure of Leo’s Lunchroom, a welcoming restaurant with exceptional breakfast fare. The customers really came from a variety of walks of life; at the end of its life, the backroom was covered with promo material from Hoop Dreams, the exceptional documentary about Chicago high school basketball. Leo’s was around for more than four decades, one of the only restaurants along Division Street, a far cry from the new construction that dominates west of Ashland. Leo’s was a place to center yourself, to grab a great meal to get the morning to a tremendous start. Nothing has filled the void since it closed in 2005.

This West Town diner wasn’t flashy, but before the area erupted, with some folks comparing Chicago Avenue to Randolph Restaurant Row, restaurants weren’t common. Lorraine was a dependable spot that closed in 2012. The restaurant’s tagline, proudly displayed on the awning, was “we have bitchy waitresses.”

The Ohio House space is currently a revolving door, with Leghorn Chicken and Cafe Tola the latest to make use out of the tiny restaurant attached to a hotel. While real estate boomed in River North, affordable restaurants became an endangered species. The Ohio House provided a beacon until closing in 2013. It had a 53-year run.

Retro mid-century charm was the main attraction at Depot American Diner, which embraced nostalgia with blue-plate specials, egg creams, phosphates, and fresh pies for dessert. Depot earned a nod from Flavortown mayor Guy Fieri and was featured in a 2009 episode of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Famed for its 35th Street Special Sandwich (corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss), friendly longtime staff, and proximity to the home of the Chicago White Sox, Bridgeport Restaurant bustled for at least 75 years before shutting its doors in 2022. Adored among regulars for steak and eggs, melts, and pancakes, the diner appeared on NBC procedural dramas Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire.

The Clarke’s chain was once mighty, with locations in Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, Evanston, Rogers Park, and Lakeview. The restaurant’s heyday in the ‘90s, before Wi-Fi, and its menu wasn’t anything terribly novel: burgers, salads, wraps, and more. But hordes of DePaul, Loyola, and Northwestern students, along with after-bar revelers, crowded into this space on a regular basis.

Billy’s Grill flew under the radar on the southwest side until closing before the pandemic in 2018. This family-owned diner wasn’t much to look at, but fans loved the burgers and omelets. A beacon for an affordable and delicious meal.

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A suburban time capsule of a diner founded in 1978, What’s Cooking had a distinct Ashkenazi Jewish deli bent, sating patrons of all backgrounds with homey hits like kreplach, massive matzo balls in soup, and corned beef sandwiches alongside breakfast standards. It closed in 2012.

If diner signage is an art unto itself, Big Top Restaurant might well have been the Louvre. Housed inside an otherwise unremarkable squat suburban building, the diner was crowned by a red-and-yellow replica of a circus tent and had a soaring neon sign that proclaimed it “famous for our fountain creations.” Big Top encapsulated the essential elements of any diner: solid breakfast items, friendly service, and affordable prices. The diner closed in 2019 after more than four decades in business. Right down the block, another famed diner, Golden Flame, was extinguished after CVS bought the property.

It was all eggs all the time at Over Easy, a cozy Ravenswood haunt crammed with photographs, paintings, and sculptures of eggs. Fans flocked to the diner for numerous egg dishes, most notably Sassy Eggs — two runny yolks on a pile of chorizo-jalapeno-red pepper hash, smothered in cheese, sour cream, and ancho ketchup. In 2017, the Tribune dubbed it “Chicago’s crown jewel of egg dishes.” It closed in 2021 after 15 years.

Jeri’s Grill, a neighborhood institution that was open 24 hours per day for nearly six decades in Lincoln Square, ended its tenure in May 2020 amid the earliest and most uncertain stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Arguably the dictionary definition of “no frills,” Jeri’s served up all the hits: patty melts, hash browns, milkshakes, and biscuits and gravy, in a timeless atmosphere that provided special comfort to third-shift and hospitality employees in search of a meal after work. Its closing was met with a period of mourning by neighbors, fans, and even famous faces like Laura Jane Grace of punk band Against Me! Upon announcing the closure, second-generation owner Frank Di Piero summed up the diners’ legacy in a sign posted to its door: “Jeri’s Grill was a part of the past living in a modern world. Unfortunately, the past can no longer survive in this post-pandemic world… if these walls could talk they would tell beautiful and sad stories of many lives.”

A Greek diner with a Civil War-themed menu, the Lincoln Restaurant paid homage to one of Illinois’ most famous sons, complete with an enormous sign bearing Abraham Lincoln’s face at the corner of Lincoln, Damen, and Irving Park. Home of the Honest Abe Burger and a weekly Banjo Night, the diner was a fixture dating back to the 1970s. It closed in 2013 but its building and sign remained for another three years before being razed.

There was no Jim at Jim’s Grill, a hole-in-the-wall diner that began its tenure as a hot dog spot in the early 1980s. Instead, there was David Choi, a chef who moved to Chicago from California in 1984 to help his sister run the business. Choi’s arrival was a catalyst that transformed Jim’s into a restaurant ahead of its time, serving Korean and vegetarian food while luring a host of then-underground musician regulars like Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan and Dead Rider guitarist Todd Rittmann throughout the 1990s. The diner closed in the mid-2000s, but Choi’s cooking can be sampled at Amitabul.

A 56-year-old after-bar landmark in the neighborhood formerly known as Boystown (now dubbed Northalsted), Melrose Restaurant wasn’t just a diner — it was a community hub for local families, nighttime party people, a welcoming spot for anyone drawn to its old-school neon sign. Founded in 1961, Melrose bore witness to immense changes in the area, though adherents never tired of its chrome stools, laminated countertop, and novel-length menu stacked with hits like massive omelets and corned beef hash. It’s since been taken over by Eggsperience.

After a quarter century of providing Avondale with a reliable, affordable — albeit divey — 24-hour diner, Belmont Snack Shop’s tenure came to a screeching halt in 2020 when a fire gutted the building. Despite a brief moment of hope that the worn restaurant, an unfussy retreat for neighbors, late-night partiers, and commuters alike, would rebuild, co-owners Nelson Rodriguez and Paul Schiller ultimately closed for good. To fans, the loss represented more than a simple closure. The diner was a relic of a working-class neighborhood that’s undergone rapid change in recent years.

Sealed into the annals of history by comedian John Mulaney, the Salt & Pepper Diner began its reign in 1965 on Lincoln avenue and went on to earn generations of fans over many decades with its milkshakes, burgers, and unironically retro vibe. The original diner closed in 2013 but a Wrigleyville outpost remained until 2016, when it was displaced by a massive redevelopment project that brought about multiple restaurant closures.

Johnny’s Grill, an iconic greasy spoon immortalized by the Art Institute of Chicago, was a casual breakfast and lunch mainstay for more than 30 years, winning the hearts of neighbors, industry workers, and local officials along the way. It closed in 2014 but reopened over a year later with a more cheffy menu. Johnny’s closed permanently in 2017 and has since been replaced by ‘90s-themed sandwich spot Big Kids.

In a word, the Golden Cup was solid. A frequent retreat for hungover locals and weekend warriors, the diner earned fans with simple breakfast classics and a mellow atmosphere. It closed in 2010 after around 20 years in business.

The iconic site of complex local history, the original Belden Deli was a 24-hour Ashkenazi Jewish diner founded in 1957 in a small strip mall at the northeast corner of Clark and Belden. Beloved for both its old-school fare and rich cultural symbolism, it still lives large in the hearts of deli devotees long after the restaurant closed in 1989 and its building was razed. It was then replaced by a huge development containing another now-relic — Tower Records — and in 2012 wound up housing a new Belden Deli (from different owners) that lasted less than a year, and in 2013 became Eleven Lincoln Park, an outpost of South Loop’s Eleven City Diner that closed after four years.

The Original Mitchell’s was a two-location chain, with spots on North and Clark and another on Clybourn and Racine. Often confused with Lou Mitchell’s, the menu was a little different, a descendant of Jewish delis but with more breakfast foods. Eventually, Mitchell’s became Michael’s North with a new logo, but the menu was kept more or less the same. The restaurant was wiped out in 2012 when a luxury residential development opened. 

Wicker Park’s death as an edgy and affordable neighborhood was announced with the closure of Leo’s Lunchroom, a welcoming restaurant with exceptional breakfast fare. The customers really came from a variety of walks of life; at the end of its life, the backroom was covered with promo material from Hoop Dreams, the exceptional documentary about Chicago high school basketball. Leo’s was around for more than four decades, one of the only restaurants along Division Street, a far cry from the new construction that dominates west of Ashland. Leo’s was a place to center yourself, to grab a great meal to get the morning to a tremendous start. Nothing has filled the void since it closed in 2005.

This West Town diner wasn’t flashy, but before the area erupted, with some folks comparing Chicago Avenue to Randolph Restaurant Row, restaurants weren’t common. Lorraine was a dependable spot that closed in 2012. The restaurant’s tagline, proudly displayed on the awning, was “we have bitchy waitresses.”

The Ohio House space is currently a revolving door, with Leghorn Chicken and Cafe Tola the latest to make use out of the tiny restaurant attached to a hotel. While real estate boomed in River North, affordable restaurants became an endangered species. The Ohio House provided a beacon until closing in 2013. It had a 53-year run.

Retro mid-century charm was the main attraction at Depot American Diner, which embraced nostalgia with blue-plate specials, egg creams, phosphates, and fresh pies for dessert. Depot earned a nod from Flavortown mayor Guy Fieri and was featured in a 2009 episode of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Famed for its 35th Street Special Sandwich (corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss), friendly longtime staff, and proximity to the home of the Chicago White Sox, Bridgeport Restaurant bustled for at least 75 years before shutting its doors in 2022. Adored among regulars for steak and eggs, melts, and pancakes, the diner appeared on NBC procedural dramas Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire.

The Clarke’s chain was once mighty, with locations in Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, Evanston, Rogers Park, and Lakeview. The restaurant’s heyday in the ‘90s, before Wi-Fi, and its menu wasn’t anything terribly novel: burgers, salads, wraps, and more. But hordes of DePaul, Loyola, and Northwestern students, along with after-bar revelers, crowded into this space on a regular basis.

Billy’s Grill flew under the radar on the southwest side until closing before the pandemic in 2018. This family-owned diner wasn’t much to look at, but fans loved the burgers and omelets. A beacon for an affordable and delicious meal.

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