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Best Breakfasts in Chicago and the Suburbs

SUNNY-SIDE UP: Whether you’re in the market for a healthy meal or a carbo-bomb of yesteryear, morning in Chicago is better than ever—and we’ve got 75 ways to prove it.

Longman & Eagle   Photos: Anna Knott

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This homage to Southern cooking has so much bric-a-brac, it looks like a rummage sale gone wild. But someone in the kitchen must have the patent on fried green tomatoes, eggs Sardou (hooray for artichoke hollandaise), and fried catfish (a giant juicy, crispy fillet) with eggs. The grits should be better, but the Bloody Mary means business. 825 Church St., Evanston; 847-733-9030

Usually the problem with taking kids to breakfast is not their behavior, for once—it’s the line. Dodo, a cheerily grungy spot in the meatpacking district, never seems to have one, and its playful menu shifts from ambitious stuff like Japanese pancakes and hash with andouille sausage to a triple stack of pancakes with melty chocolate chips. 954 W. Fulton Market; 312-226-5300

With kitschy barn décor, including a mounted jackalope, this child-friendly Southerner feels like the most fortuitous of road trip discoveries. And fortunately, there’s no attempt to gussy up the grub. Straightforward chicken-fried steak with cheese grits—in all its gut-busting glory—is exactly what we crave as a vacation from froufrou brunches. 2803 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-489-4600

This Southwestern café, with its Bloody Marias and tremendous breakfast tacos and burritos, is tough to resist. Exhibit A: the Smothered Burrito, a thick spinach tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs, black beans, Jack cheese, and pico de gallo, capped by a homemade sauce made with red chilies that come straight from a farmer in New Mexico. 1434 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-243-0477

The blasé crowd, which seems to consist of artists, musicians, and people with beards, is way too cool to express its love for the veg-friendly fare at this rugged hipster clubhouse. We’re not. The La Bazza Bowl (brown rice, eggs, black beans, sautéed veggies, tofu, kale, and Chihuahua cheese wrapped in corn tortillas) is great. 1123 N. California Ave.; 773-342-9076

Hidden inside an opulent Gold Coast department store, Fred’s has a breakfast that beats those at nearby hotels by a Mag Mile. Window seats offer a morning-after view of Rush Street, and the kitchen offers indulgences such as double-cheese omelets, brioche French toast, and smoked pork hash (with alluring burned edges). If Fred’s is too rich for your blood, forget Barneys. [W] 15 E. Oak St.; 312-596-1111

So what if you’re the youngest person eating here? Gotta love a place that has a menu of weekend breakfast specials as long as your arm, with the likes of biscuits and gravy (which often sells out) and French toast featuring homemade blueberry bread. That’s in addition to oodles of regular dishes, such as burrito-size hash-brown-encrusted omelets and oven-baked apple pancakes. They are pretty special too. 1145 S. Elmhurst Rd., Des Plaines; 847-758-9407

It’s a given that Mindy Segal is going to nail the sweet stuff, but the true finds are her breakfast sandwiches. Simple in theory but well executed, with bright vegetables and fluffy eggs stacked on house-made buttery brioche or pumpernickel, these beauts more than hold their own next to the toothsome doughnuts. [W] 1747 N. Damen Ave.; 773-489-1747

Only Ina Pinkney, the self-proclaimed Breakfast Queen of Chicago, could make scrapple into something romantic. She serves a pan-fried brick of cornmeal (studded with corn kernels, black beans, and Cheddar), eight thick andouille sausage wedges, and two perfect sunny-side-up eggs separately. As you dig in, flavors mix slowly, like teenagers at a dance; soon they’re waltzing like old flames. 1235 W. Randolph St.; 312-226-8227

As is commonly the case with spots named for a particular item, Jam’s jam isn’t its pièce de résistance; in fact, this neighborhood haunt excels in nearly everything. Savory and sweet share the spotlight, so opt for a half order of tender malted French toast and chase it with the egg sandwich stuffed with pork shoulder. 937 N. Damen Ave.; 773-489-0302 (mid-October, Jam expects to relocate to 3059 W. Logan Blvd.; 773-292-6011)

Nutella plays a prominent role at this decidedly unhip newcomer near DePaul. Pancakes, French toast, and waffles can all be prepared using the stuff, but there’s also a giant jar of it on every table—just in case something needs a little fix. The regular waffles did. The veggie burrito, however, got everything right, and how often is a place willing to adjust the overhead vent to make you more comfortable? 958 W. Webster Ave.; 773-327-5266

The aromas of bacon and coffee hit you the moment you walk in the door, so by the time you wind your way through this big old-fashioned dining room, your tummy is doing nip-ups. Calm it down with soft scrambled eggs loaded with nubbins of zesty kosher salami or tender blintzes filled with a rich, fluffy cheese blend. 7200 W. Dempster St., Morton Grove; 847-470-1900

At this sweet 25-seat boîte, the galette aux oeufs can be had with two eggs any style, three ingredients from a selection of five, and one cheese from a list of five—meaning the permutations are many. In a classic case of less is more, eggs over medium paired with a buckwheat crêpe gently folded around spinach, ham, and Gruyère was un grand succès. 939 S. Main St., Lombard; 630-613-9511


Photograph: Anna Knott; Food Stylist: Mary Valentin

If only the B-grade dishes measured up to the A-plus décor and the drinks. (No dipping jam for our dry Monte Cristo? Harrumph.) As it is, we’ll be content to sit on one of the adorable tree-stump barstools and sip a chocolate-cherry mocha or a coconut-caramel latte from the list of fun and funky coffees—a delicious, if dangerously convenient, indulgence for residents of the surrounding condo town. 1251 S. Prairie Ave.; 312-360-0101

With a menu devoid of colossal portions and yuppified creations (an order of bacon and eggs comes with an optional can of PBR), Longman’s laid-back daily brunch instead showcases seasonal goods. We adored the ultrafresh morel mushrooms and house-made fromage blanc in our Market Omelet—and the Dark Matter custom coffee blend. 2657 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-276-7110

Lou’s refuses to fade into the sunset, still packing in both suits and tourists by offering the fluffiest omelets in town, delivered by servers as vintage as their surroundings. Unexpected winners, like a moist malted waffle studded with hefty bacon chunks, dot the booklike menu. 565 W. Jackson Blvd.; 312-939-3111

The décor is eclectic (colander chandeliers), the crowd diverse (families, singles, blacks, whites), and the menu global (apple-ricotta blintzes, Swedish pancakes, Omelette Mumbai). Amid such variety, huevos rancheros with chorizo makes perfect sense. The feisty combo of crumbled sausage bits, tomatoes, and avocados is right on—and mixed with the soupy black beans, it’s even better. 514 Main St., Evanston; 847-869-4064

You can’t order WRONG at Lula. Whether you fancy a superbly foamed Intelligentsia cappuccino or a gin-tinged Bloody Mary, griddlecakes teeming with farmers’ market berries or a savory strada, you know you’re in for a top-notch brunch. The crowd waiting out front—even after an expansion—shows everyone else knows too. 2537 N. Kedzie Blvd.; 773-489-9554

Manny Mejia, M. Henry’s ex-chef, helped craft the menu, and his dynamite hotcakes, layered with fruit, mascarpone, and granola, made the cut. M. Henry food minus the enchanting M. Henry atmosphere—but minus the full morning’s time commitment? Not a bad swap. 1969 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-883-9000

Most everything on the menu at this breakfast nirvana sounds good, and whatever you order probably will be. Save yourself the mental energy and get Dad’s Skillet: Two organic cage-free eggs melt into tender grilled skirt steak and chunks of andouille sausage swimming with onions, peppers, tomatoes, and provolone, all on a bed of crisp baby red potatoes. 540 N. Wells St., 312-527-1850; 301 S. Halsted St., 312-454-0748

If you believe in hair-of-the-dog hangover cures, then Mercadito’s brunch is like an Afghan hound. Bloody Marys, micheladas, and sangritas flow like the Rio Grande, a DJ spins everything from hip-hop to jazz, and you might as well get a refreshing guava mimosa with your Pan Mexicano, a custardy French toast drizzled with goat’s milk caramel. The rest of your recovery is your business. [W] 108 W. Kinzie St.; 312-329-9555

Here’s what I demand from a breakfast joint: fresh-squeezed orange juice, bottomless coffee cups, fluffy pancakes, good pig in some guise, and fast servers. They don’t even have to be nice. (There’s nothing in there about décor, because that early in the day, who cares about such things?) M. Henry fulfills the above requirements and goes far beyond, with wonderful sides like apple-maple chicken sausage and crisp sheets of yuba. The menu boasts Chicago’s best breakfast sandwich, Fannie’s Killer Fried Egg Sandwich: an enormous crispy sour boule layered with over-medium eggs, thick applewood-smoked bacon, plum tomatoes, oozy Gorgonzola, and fresh thyme. And, as ambassadors of a new day, the servers are pretty darn pleasant. 5707 N. Clark St.; 773-561-1600

Brioche French toast, hearty dishes like weekend-only huevos rancheros jammed with layers of scrambled eggs and grainy tortillas, and mugs of Intelligentsia coffee continue to lure the stroller set to this vibrant counter-service spot. The ordering system is awkward, and the staff can be snooty, but we’ll put up with just about anything for that granola. 1920 W. Division St.; 773-395-9434

Bridgeport’s breakfast darling knocks it out of the park with seasonal specials such as pancakes topped with fresh Seedling Farms apricots and cherry compote or a skillet chock-full of homemade chorizo and grilled shrimp. Regular menu items, like grease-laden huevos rancheros, don’t fare nearly as well. 3267 S. Halsted St.; 312-929-2486

You know you’re in good hands when your doughnut arrives shellacked in the butteriest butterscotch ever, with bacon chunks piled in the middle and three tiny doughnut holes on the side. Nightwood’s constantly evolving brunch demonstrates the right way to do farm-to-table cuisine, with thoughtful but not overwrought dishes served with cordial restraint by friendly Chicago hipsters. I skip simple favorites—house-made granola with yogurt, Slagel Farm eggs cooked to order—and go for Sopa Verdolaga, an umami-rich Mexican beef and fish broth supporting a perfectly poached egg, and the raisin-nut bread pudding alongside a revelatory farro salad studded with guanciale and spring peas. From the bracing michelada beer cocktail through the ham and cheese “Pop-Tart” and pour-over coffee for two, there’s not a false note. How nice is that? [S] 2119 S. Halsted St.; 312-526-3385

The seasonally changing $33 prix fixe menu at this sanctuary perched next to a swan-dotted lake doesn’t overwhelm with choice—you pick one of four options for each of three courses. But the dilemmas this poses are endless. Example: Trout cucumber salad with chive sour cream and cucumber sorbet, or warm corn-on-the-cob soup with a blueberry-lemon pancake and paper-thin smoked bacon crisp? Best bet: Bring a group, have each person order something different, and sample it all. Yet even this approach is fraught with danger. The corn soup, with its tuffet of a pancake afloat in the middle, was so killer I didn’t want to share, incensing my tablemates. And a war nearly broke out for the last bite of the amazing semisweet cucumber sorbet. Just agree beforehand to play nice. 2610 N. Cannon Dr.; 773-477-5845


Photography: Anna Knott

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