Jim's was likely once owned by someone named Jim and undoubtedly served up over-easies and home fries to a blue-haired clientele. But the diner is now run by a guy named Dave, whose family has been turning out bool-go-gi and other Korean delights there for 28 years.
The place retains the orange swivel seats and neighborhood friendliness of its diner days. But the food (a sweeping tour of home-style Korean cuisine) and the philosophy (a notch earthier than New Age) clash pleasingly with the decor. Jim's is the sort of place you can lunch daily in good conscience. --Leah Eskin
HOT SIZZLING SHANG HI Monday was a headache of fresh computers and tangled software, requiring, it seemed, a break for sizzling shang hi shrimp. Charmingly, it came in a white pie plate whose belly, once I'd cleared a path through the thick stew of hefty veggies and pungent mushrooms heavy with red-hot sauce, revealed the recipe for cherry pie.
BI-BIM-BOP Thursday it was raining. I abused and abandoned yet another umbrella, took a seat by the window, and got to talking with a guy who's making a comeback from heart surgery. His wife had spent weeks of hospital incarceration smuggling in Jim's tofu and noodles. Dave stopped by to check up on the customer's health, spicy noodles, and chiropractic needs. I tried the bi-bim-bop. In addition to having an adorable name, it turns out to be a bowl of rice snuggled under patches of shredded and sauteed carrots, bean sprouts, zucchini, and cabbage, alongside a thatch of meat (I had chicken) and crowned with a fried egg. Add a spot of red miso and a shot of sweet plum sauce for a mild melange.
SPICY STIR FRIED NOODLE VEGETABLES Wednesday I was downtown but daydreamed of Jim's noodle vegetables, a fragrant tangle splashed with soy and brightened by sweet, sharp kimchi.
VEGETABLE PANCAKES Tuesday I shared elbow room with a habitue knotted into a head scarf who set her stack of Tupperware on the counter, spooned up miso and a make roll, collected her replenished tubs, and left without a word. There's a certain humorless contingent at Jim's that seems to view delicious food as so many vitamin pills. I browsed a stack of old Readers and tried the vegetable pancakes, a sweet mash of whole wheat, scallions, carrots, bean sprouts, yams, and whatever else happens to be in season. These baby cakes come thinner and a touch gummier than the soy version. A crisp set over rice makes a divine interlude.
SOUP Dave was busy calculating horoscopes on the back of an order pad. The Year of the Rat starts February 19. I took comfort in a bowl of miso, which is darker and richer than any founnd sushiside. Mysterious seaweed greens troll the depths.
SOY CAKES Friday was hectic, allowing the narrowest sliver for my daily Korean vacation. Despite the crush of wholesome lunchers in knit hats, I snagged a spot at the counter and was feasting on soy cakes in no time. These are hearty, moist, fresh-tasting wonders, grilled on the spot and guaranteed to keep you in good spirits all day.
Dave teaches cooking classes too. He'll even come to your home and stir-fry up a five-course feast followed by a few "words of Buddha."
Tea is brewed by the cup on a standard kitchen stove, one of Jim's most disarming features. It comes in pungent ginger, ginseng, sleep-inducing "energy" brew, and Lipton's.
Jim's is at 1429 W. Irving Park, but this spring Dave plans to export his wholesome menu to a new place on Southport. He'll return Jim's to its "greasy, smoky, fleshy" origins and its counters to the sort of regulars who like to linger over coffee and oral autobiography. Dave's brother will run the egg-and-pork end of things. Hours are 7 AM to 3:30 PM Monday through Friday, 7 AM to 2:30 PM Saturday, and 7 AM to 1:30 PM Sunday. Call 525-4050 for more.