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Restaurants: Oldies but Goodies, August 31, 2008

Nineteen long-standing restaurants still worth a visit

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Oldies but Goodies

Nineteen long-standing restaurants still worth a visit

The Bagel3107 N. Broadway | 773-477-0300

$Kosher/Jewish/Deli | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11| Reservations accepted for large groups only| BYO

A big bowl of Mish-Mash Soup—chicken broth with noodles, kreplach, rice, kasha, and a matzo ball—is the object of many a flu-addled diner's pilgrimage to this much-loved Lakeview deli. Other menu items, while not as overtly therapeutic, have similarly comforting effects. They include an array of hearty sandwiches, daily soups, and hot entrees. Breakfast is served all day. The room has been given a recent face-lift, but retains its Broadway theme. A takeout counter in front does brisk business. —Martha Bayne

Burt's Place8541 N. Ferris, Morton Grove | 847-965-7997

$$Pizza | Lunch: wednesday-friday; dinner: Sunday, Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Monday, Tuesday | Cash only

Ham radios, antique telephones, and oversize kitchen utensils decorate this spot situated on a quiet road in suburban Morton Grove and run since 1971 by owners Burt and Sharon Katz. The pizza leans toward Chicago-style deep dish but avoids the gut-busting mismatched proportions commonly found in that concoction: Burt's mid-deep is well balanced, with a tart tomato sauce that complements the fragrant sausage and good-quality mozzarella. The key, though, is the deeply caramelized crust, crisp with cheese and skating right up to burnt. Pizzas are made to order and can take up to 35 minutes or so, but if hunger dictates an appetizer, salad, cheesy garlic bread, or jalapeño poppers will soothe the edges. There aren't many pizza places that can say they've been on the cover of Saveur, but Burt's can. —Gary Wiviott

Daley's Restaurant809 E. 63rd | 773-643-6670

$Southern/Soul Food | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

Daley's is one of the oldest existing restaurants in the city, if not the oldest, though ask any waitress exactly how old and you'll get a different answer every time—usually something like "A long time, baby." The previous owner, Nick Kyros, says an Irishman opened the place in 1892 and ran it until his father took over in 1918; now he's turned it over to his son Michael and co-owner Nick Zar, though he still hangs around some. Today the majority of his employees and customers are neighborhood folks who pack in for massive portions of mostly solid, sometimes-from-scratch soul food at practically historical prices. It's not hard to eat incredibly well, though you have to be selective. The biscuits are light and fluffy, but the mashed potatoes are instant. The chicken gumbo is tangy and thick but mined with canned green beans. One serving of smothered chicken can look like it was fed on steroids while another looks starved. The beefy, cheesy patty melt is a sure thing, as is a side of cabbage with bits of ham, and just about anything can be livened up with the bottle of spicy red pepper vinegar on each table. Nobody stays alive for more than a century without doing something right. —Mike Sula

Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket645 Joliet, Willowbrook | 630-325-0780

$$American, Burgers | Lunch, dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday

Back when Route 66 was the main route west you could buy Blue Bird bus tickets at Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket. Now the restaurant's a bit off the beaten track, but it's still in the business of fried bird, and still well worth the ride. The deliciously meaty chicken, rather sparsely breaded in the old-school style, is cooked to order—there's no poultry drying under heat lamps here. Coleslaw is creamy and not too gloppy; potato salad, specked with shreds of red spuds, is obviously homemade. So too the baking powder biscuits, the taste of which seems almost unreal in this day and age. In addition to chicken, there's a nice selection of steaks and hamburgers and some fish and seafood, including catfish and oyster po'boys. A darkened lounge with a full bar recalls the time when having one for the road was still considered acceptable, and there's a live banjo band on Wednesdays. —David Hammond

Diner Grill1635 W. Irving Park | 773-248-2030

$American, Burgers, Breakfast | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: 24 hours every day | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

Open round the clock and offering counter service only, the Diner Grill has the grizzled, noirish look of a 70s art film, but the food is great, especially the burgers. Like my buddy John says, it's the decades' worth of grease built up on the grill that provides the flavor. For the true Diner Grill experience, get the Slinger: two hamburger patties covered with cheese, topped with two eggs, blanketed with hash browns, then inundated with a couple of scoops of chili and served with slices of white bread on the side. It's impressive and, best of all, tasty (though I did throw a little A.1. in there just to jazz things up). If you finish the whole thing, the cook will give you a little certificate testifying to your prowess. —Chip Dudley

Gene & Georgetti500 N. Franklin | 312-527-3718

F 7.1 | S 7.2 | A 6.0 | $$$$ (6 reports)Steaks/Lobster | Lunch, dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, Monday-Thursday till 11

Regulars and insiders have the honor of dining on the first floor at this River North landmark; the rest of us are banished to the second level, where the floors slant and the waiters are indifferent. But though finer and certainly friendlier steak joints have opened since its heyday, Gene & Georgetti still has everything that made it great in the first place: a low-key location, designer-free ambience, stiff martinis, and bigger-than-big steaks. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Gene's and Jude's2720 River Rd., River Grove | 708-452-7634

$American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, Sunday-Thursday till 1| Cash only

A Gene's and Jude's hot dog, like a Cezanne painting, represents the apotheosis of a form, inessentials stripped away, almost the Platonic ideal of the hot dog. No tomato, and you don't dare ask for ketchup. What you get at this middle-American icon is a perfectly warmed wiener with world-class snap, nestled in a steamed bun and layered with mustard, relish, onion, sport peppers (if you want 'em), and fries. That's right: the fries, fresh cut with a hand-operated mechanism straight out of the Eisenhower administration, are laid gently on top of the dog, creating a steamy union of dog and fry that miraculously benefits both. There's always a long line of hungry hot-dog freaks, and it's always standing room only in this bright yellow-lit room, lined with a white wooden shelf bearing industrial-strength salt shakers (made of glass jars with holes hand-punched in the top). The locals consider this stand a national treasure, and when you bite into one of Gene's and Jude's franks ($2.20, fries included), you'll see why. Don't be shy about ordering more than one: I've seen big guys order a six-pack to go (which usually means no further than the truck). —David Hammond

Hashalom2905 W. Devon | 773-465-5675

$Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Kosher/Jewish/Deli | Lunch, dinner: Sunday, Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Monday, Tuesday | Reservations accepted for large groups only | Cash only | BYO

"Best falafel in town" is a claim plastered on signboards worldwide. But often it's the quiet, less boastful places that really own the title. For more than two decades Hashalom has been serving up perfectly crisp chickpea falafel on a stretch of Devon just slightly off the beaten path. Beyond what may be the city's tastiest falafel is a hybrid Moroccan-Israeli menu that should please carnivores and vegetarians alike. Meats like the tender lamb kebabs have a nice fire-grilled flavor; kefta, patties of lamb and beef served over rice in a spicy tomato sauce, make a hearty entree. Braised lamb shank, stuffed Cornish hen, and beef goulash round out the meat selections. On the veggie side, appetizer samplers, available in both Israeli and Moroccan versions, can easily make a whole meal with warm pita. Or try the bourekas—crispy sesame-seed phyllo triangles stuffed with potato, spinach, cheese, or beef—with a bowl of one of the delicious house-made soups. With its laminated menus, hodgepodge decor, clientele of regulars, and surprisingly low prices, the vibe at Hashalom feels like a corner diner. Friday and Saturday nights there's a couscous special: mounds of properly steamed veggies or chicken and semolina grains enhanced by a cup of stewed sweet almonds and raisins. —Michael Morowitz

Jim's Original1250 S. Union | 312-733-7820

$American | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: 24 hours every day | Reservations not accepted

Jim Stefanovic—whose family fled the Russian Revolution and wound up working at a Maxwell Street hot dog stand in the late 30s—is said by some to have invented the Maxwell Street Polish sausage sandwich. Located blocks from the now painfully gentrified old market location, Jim's Original serves a dandy dog that pops with griddled onions and a splash of standard dog-stand mustard, condiments added to all the sandwiches here, including a respectable fish sammie. Jim's pork chop sandwich is an excellent rendition of the workingman's classic; to eat, grip the bone through the bun and nibble gingerly all around. You'll be entertained by the street-smart efficiency of the crew, cracking wise about their "secret seasonings" and the failings of nearby Express Grill (owned by a Stefanovic relative). There's an allure in the gritty vibe of this place after dark, when it's washed in sweaty yellow light, serving people who pull up in their cars for a quick snack a la trunka. —David Hammond

Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli1141 S. Jefferson | 312-939-2855

F 8.0 | S 6.8 | A 6.0 | $ (5 reports)American, Kosher/Jewish/Deli | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

rrr Some things are never as good as they used to be. The delis of yesteryear were palaces, serving sliced meat a mile high for $1.98. Now? At Manny's the latkes are very good, light and crisp, fluffy and flavorful—you don't need a side of applesauce to enjoy. But you should have had them before! They were potato ambrosia, splendor in the grease. And these prices: $10.95 for a sandwich in a cafeteria? A strange one too: instead of paying at the end of the line like G-d intended, you pay on the way out, after you eat. But Manny's has been here since 1942, and they know what they're doing. They serve brisket, roast beef, corned beef, very lean, and pastrami, fatty in all the right places, piled high on rye. Too high! How are you supposed to eat all this? So share or get a doggie bag. What else are you going to order at a place like Manny's—a veggie burger? And look, they have all the condiments right on the table, mustard in both colors, your salt, your pepper, sugar and ketchup, a napkin holder. Years ago all the big shots ate here; now it's all hoi polloi. But you can still get a cigar at the register, a piece of candy, some gum, your choice of Tums or Rolaids. See, at Manny's they know what they're doing. —Jeffrey Felshman

Margie's Candies

1960 N. Western | 773-384-1035

$American, Ice Cream | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1, other nights till midnight

The legendary ice cream parlor at the intersection of Western, Milwaukee, and Armitage dishes up sundaes with enough embellishments to satisfy the most demanding sweet tooth: bananas, cherries, nuts, fluffs of whipped cream, hot fudge in a pitcher on the side. A Chicago institution since 1921, the cozy room stuffed with dolls and other knickknacks has transported more than one Rater right back to grandma's house. And, as one aptly puts it, "Who else but your grandmother would give you such a huge bowl of ice cream?" Margie's also serves a limited menu of diner standards—burgers, fries, grilled cheese—but most patrons say skip the real food, have another dessert. —Martha Bayne

Moon's Sandwich Shop16 S. Western | 312-226-5094

$Breakfast, American | Breakfast, Lunch: seven days | Cash only

Moon's grill men have skills: silky-soft eggs envelop cheese, bacon is perfectly crisp, juicy sausages burst with flavor, and eggs sunny-side up are so yellow golden you'd swear they were smiling. Add to this the best grits in Chicago, pancakes dotted with pats of butter, and endless coffee. At lunch salami or burgers get dressed with a warm bun and sweet grilled onions. Daily specials shine, particularly a dense meat loaf studded with green pepper and succulent, tender short ribs served with slightly too smooth but tasty mashed potatoes and gravy. But the real star of the show is the corned beef, whether in a hot, steaming sandwich sliced on the spot, piled high on platters as a breakfast side, or served as a small mountain with mashed potatoes, corn, and gravy. Moon's is easy to miss, its tumbledown facade hard by a pawnshop and vacant lot. But in operation since 1933, it's an urban gem, the heart-, soul-, and belly-filling anchor of a rapidly changing neighborhood. All-counter seating encourages conversation, as does the staff's spirited intramural banter. Gary Wiviott

Myron & Phil's3900 W. Devon, Lincolnwood | 847-677-6663

$$$Steaks/Lobster, Kosher/Jewish/Deli | Lunch: Tuesday-Friday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

In 2000, when noted jewel thief Joseph Basinski groped a female police officer at the bar in Myron and Phil's (and then suckerpunched his mistress in the parking lot), it was only the latest in the restaurant's long history of adventures with the underworld. But that's only one reason to love it. This Lincolnwood steak house is the Jewish answer to Gene & Georgetti's old-school vibe. You could make a meal in the bar alone, where stiff, well-poured drinks are mitigated by quality snacks like salty garlic bread, chips and salsa, cheese on Ritz crackers, and occasionally bialys. These aren't the best steaks in town, but they're good enough for pols, wiseguys, and celebrities as varied as Jackie Mason and Jenny McCarthy (plus lots and lots of grandparents). The hospitality extends to the dining room, where fressers sit on big studded leather chairs that could have been upholstered out of Rob Halford's codpieces, and meals commence with the relish tray, an antiquated and magnanimous gesture that includes bialys, thick slices of pumpernickel, pickled tomatoes and peppers, and chopped liver. There's live music Thursday through Saturday. —Mike Sula

Original Rainbow Cone9233 S. Western | 773-238-7075

$Ice Cream | lunch, dinner: seven days | reservations not accepted

The specialty of this family-owned spot is the eponymous rainbow cone—a manually assembled scoop of chocolate, pistachio, strawberry, and "Palmer House" cherry-walnut ice cream plus orange sherbet on a pointy cake cone—but there are 17 single-flavor options as well. The atmosphere's efficient but fun: patrons line up in a roped queue to order from cashiers who yell back endearing shorthand like "baby white" (for a small vanilla cone) and "heebie-jeebie" (for chocolate peanut butter), and there are picnic tables behind the aging pink stucco building. —Kiki Yablon

The Parthenon314 S. Halsted | 312-726-2407

$Greek, Mediterranean | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till midnight

Few Chicago restaurants have delivered the goods as well and for as long as the Parthenon. Because Greek food tends to be cheap, people often don't take it seriously. But the Parthenon gives you a lot of flavor for your money. I've never had a better taramasalata (fish roe whipped with sour cream), and the tzatziki (yogurt with cucumbers and garlic) has none of yogurt's usual sourness. The Parthenon claims to have invented saganaki (flaming cheese), and it's always a kick to watch a waiter light up five or six portions at once. The meats (mostly lamb and pork) are on the fatty side, but, hey, this is essentially soul food, and the fat's where the flavor is. A favorite is the fried sweetbreads, which are crisp and light and usually available only at much fancier places. The wine list offers a variety of Greek reds and whites, but most people get the retsina, which goes down well with the rich meats and is especially good well chilled on a hot summer night. The Parthenon keeps redecorating and expanding to keep up with the times. But year in and year out, it's one of Chicago's best buys for flavor. —Steve Tomashefsky, Rater

Sabatino's4441 W. Irving Park | 773-283-8331

$$Italian | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 12:30; Wednesday till midnight; Monday, Tuesday, Thursday till 11:30

Tuxedo-clad hosts, strolling musicians, no-nonsense pours at the convivial bar—Sabatino's old-school Italian- American appeal is universal, as evidenced by the happy throngs. Warm, crusty loaves and addictive pizza bread come to the table in a blink of an eye, though proceed cautiously—dinners include soup (stracciatella with spinach is a favorite), salad, and a side of pasta. Terrific starters include garlicky shrimp de jonghe (a Chicago original), textbook baked clams, and bresaola, razor-thin air-cured beef with arugula and Parmigiano Reggiano. Pastas range from spaghetti with Angelo's special meat sauce to zuppa di mare, a lovely mix of lobster, scallops, shrimp, calamari, clams, and mussels in a light tomato sauce with linguine. For secondi, fresh fish, simply prepared, or veal, in particular veal saltimbocca, are good choices; me, I hit the classics—chicken Vesuvio, a veal chop, or thick-cut New York strip. Flaming tableside desserts, quickly becoming a lost art, are a specialty; here are anachronistic delights like baked Alaska and cherries jubilee. The interesting wine list ranges from damn reasonable to three rings and more (the ancient cash register at the bar totes a maximum of $49.99 at a time), and that's not to mention the veteran waitstaff, complimentary valet parking, Wednesday lobster special, and sing-along piano player on weekends. —Gary Wiviott

Schaller's Pump3714 S. Halsted | 773-376-6332

$$Bar/Lounge, American | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, Monday-Friday till 2, Sunday till midnight | Cash only

This Bridgeport institution right across the street from the 11th Ward office has a reputation for being a Sox bar. And so it is, though the night I went there the south-side crowd, much of it white-haired, was more interested in jawing than watching the game—and this was with the White Sox in a pennant race. The menu is old-school meat-and-potatoes, and I'd never go back for the food, but anthropologically this place is of interest, the epicenter of "We don't want nobody no one sent." —Kate Schmidt

Superdawg6363 N. Milwaukee | 773-763-0660

$American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, other nights till 1 | Cash only

From the time you spot Tarzan-clad Superdawg and his coy wienie sweetie towering over Milwaukee Avenue to the moment you beckon a carhop with the flip of a switch, you know you're at a tailfin-era original the likes of which Ed Debevic's or Chevy's can only dream of being. The Superdawg itself is one of Chicago's outstanding hot dogs, an oversize garlicky natural-casing wienie as plump as a 50s starlet. The Superburger—a thin patty fried to a crispy crust and dotted with tiny diced onions—might be even better. Both "lounge contentedly," as the charmingly corny restaurant copy has it, in crinkle-cut fries; accompaniments include pickles and pickled green tomatoes (though not, on the dogs, ketchup). Spoon-thick shakes round out the four food groups. Superdawg has a walk-up window and a few outdoor tables, but there's no substitute for eating in your car, just because this is America and you can. —Mike Gebert

The Village71 W. Monroe | 312-332-7005

$$$Italian | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1, Sunday-Thursday till midnight

This is a great place to bring out-of-towners. Go upstairs. Fake outdoor Italian village built in the 1940s. This brings joy to all. The food is adequate—huge portions, nothing memorable, nothing bad. In short, the quintessential Chicago joint. It isn't possible to be unhappy while sitting in this restaurant. Literally, no one has ever done it. That's a gift to all the people of Chicago. Oh, don't forget to notice the photos of dead opera stars in the upstairs waiting room. The upstairs bar's nice too. The basement restaurant's frightening—never go there, ever. —Ira Glass

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