Best Nonironic Retro Diner

Central Kitchen and Tap

Critics' Picks

There was a moment recently where everyone was going to open a diner, which meant his or her take on a diner—Stephanie Izard's cheerfully wack one, Brendan Sodikoff's swankily hip one, and so on. But any "take" is always partly ironic, because if you didn't want a diner refracted through someone's newer, hipper sensibility, you'd just go to an actual diner. And nobody eating on Randolph Street is doing that.

It's a different story in Jefferson Park, on the northwest side, where Central Kitchen and Tap took over an existing elderly diner and spiffed it up with new food and a full bar . . . without adding any more irony than an old Pac-Man machine. The Mexican-American chef makes soothing comfort-food classics like pot roast and porchetta sandwiches entirely from scratch; the host, a near double for TV food personality Ted Allen, beams friendliness at everyone who comes in. It's not a take; it's a real diner that wants to make familiar food well. What a concept.