Most of us start the morning out all wrong — a quick cup of Greek yogurt, a furtive granola bar from your child’s backpack, or (shudder!) a Frappuccino concoction — and ignore the oft-proven fact that, yes, breakfast is definitely a meal that deserves more attention than you’re giving it.
You’ve just fasted for eight hours, the industrious among us have already run five miles/swum 50 laps/Werq’d it out, and lunch (if you’ve got time) is a few hours away. It’s time to protein load, people. So listen up.
Here are 11 restaurants with killer toast, avocado or otherwise; eggs every which way; bacon that’s perfectly crispy; breakfast pastries to die for; and a good cuppa Joe. Trust me, you’ll beg for an early meeting just to have an excuse to eat the delectable morning repasts on offer. And yes, I know that the Dutch Baby at Walker Brothers Pancake House is amazing, and that Sarkis’ greasy egg sandwiches are a North Shore right of passage. But we ALL know that, right? And breakfast-centric favorites like Lou Mitchell’s, Yolk, Egg Harbor, Toast, Valois and Wildberry Pancakes & Café have all gotten plenty of ink over the years. So let’s expand our horizons and check out these other restaurants that happen to have great breakfasts, but also a life beyond the morning, too.
Tucked away in the Green Exchange office building, you’ll find this gem. The honey is from the rooftop hive, the berries — along with sundry other herbs and veggies — were likely picked in the garden outside, weather permitting. Arbor is known for their bowls (Baked Grits & Eggs, $8, with roasted root veggies and Wisconsin parmesan) and boards (Baller Crêpes, $9, buckwheat crêpes with vegan ricotta, that rooftop honey and Georgia pecans) and is open for breakfast from 6:30 a.m. on weekdays. 2545 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago, 312-866-0795
Biscuits and breads are the stars here, and not only are they made in house, but the flours are milled on site. Mind blown. So if you aren’t a carb fan, maybe look elsewhere, but for those of us who aren’t insane, immediately order the Ben Biscuit ($8.75) and weep as the baked Parmesan egg melds perfectly with the “Holland-style” aioli and house-cut thick bacon, plus dressed spring greens so you can feel healthy. Too complicated? Get the Toast Plate ($6) with three slices of daily bread, house-made seasonal butter and jam as a go-with your strong coffee. Depending on location, breakfast is served from 7 or 7:30 a.m. weekdays, and 8 or 8:30 a.m. on weekends. Lincoln Square: 4610 N. Western Ave., 773-654-3610; Ravenswood Manor: 4642 N. Francisco Ave., 872-806-2901
There’s a lot to adore at Beatrix’s breakfast, starting with the freshly squeezed juices (Carrot, Apple and Ginger Snap, $5.95, a particular pleasure) and the La Colombe nitro and coffee drinks. Progress to healthy (Quinoa Cakes with Poached Eggs, $12.95, with tomato-basil sauce and herbs), exotic (Spicy Chicken Tinga, $10.95, with sunny eggs, avocado and corn tortilla, or Shakshouka, $10.95, with poached eggs, kale, feta and warm naan bread) or the downright indulgent (Braised Pot Roast & Egg sandwich, $8.95), but keep in mind the counter filled with stellar pastries and cookies. Save some room! Breakfast is served from 7–11 a.m. weekdays. River North: 519 N. Clark St., 312-284-1377; Streeterville: 671 N. St. Clair, 312-642-000; Fulton Market: 834 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, 312-733-0370
A Wicker Park favorite since 1993, they’ve spread out to two other locations because the demand is there. The Vegetarian Croissant Sandwich ($10.95), stuffed with muenster cheese, spinach, tomato, mushrooms and egg and grilled, has been on the menu since day one. You won’t want to miss the amazing pancake varieties (all $10.50), including Cranberry and Orange Pancakes with vanilla bean cream sauce and gingersnap crumbs, or the Pumpkin Spice Pancakes with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon swirl, topped with vanilla-orange zest whipped cream. Heaven! Bongo Room is open for breakfast at 8 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends. Andersonville: 5022 N. Clark, 773-728-7900; South Loop: 1152 S. Wabash, 312-291-0100; Wicker Park: 1470 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-0690
Logan Square was thrilled to welcome this all-day café in the European style, an ambitious spot with a killer gianduja croissant, the tenderest biscuits, and a decided penchant for breakfast charcuterie and smoked fish. Everything is à la carte, so if you want to order the Avocado Toast ($8) topped with smoked trout ($5), no one will stop you. Sharing is encouraged, so go ahead and split that amazing Tart Plum & Almond French Toast ($14) as a side dish. Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. on weekdays (note: closed Tuesdays) and 8 a.m. on weekends. 1001 N. California Ave., Chicago, 773-904-7660
This has quickly become Evanston’s go-to spot for meetings and those “working from home.” It’s not just the WiFi that brings in the crowds, but the comfy all-day lounge seating (don’t panic, there are tables, too!) and the terrific food. The Sweet Potato Bowl ($9), chock full of brown rice, kale and coconut curry topped with a poached egg, is my current favorite, but I’ve also spent quality time with the Avocado Wrap ($7), the griddled whole wheat tortilla wrapped protectively around scrambled eggs, guacamole, queso fresco and pico de gallo. The Freddo Cappuccino is a must, and the pastry selection is ridiculously comprehensive. Breakfast is served daily from 7 a.m. 812 Grove St., Evanston, 847-868-8078
Everyone’s downsizing, and Jay Lovell is no exception. He’s ditched the big fancy Lake Forest restaurant for small and comfortable in Highwood. Breakfast here is on the Southern side, with dishes like Chicken Fried Steak Breakfast ($14), Stone Ground Grits with Chorizo Gravy ($7), and fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits ($3 each). Don’t miss the Homemade Cinnamon Buns ($6) — they’re well worth the calories. Breakfast is served daily from 8 a.m. 766 Sheridan Road, Highwood, 847-780-3930
Oh, that sassy Stephanie Izard. She makes food so darn much fun, mixing and matching styles with abandon — and it’s all sorts of tasty to boot. Start the day with a smile on your face courtesy of her Everything is Everything Crumpets ($15), served with lox, fried egg salad, tzatziki cream cheese and pickles; or perhaps This Little Piggy Went to China ($14), a sesame-cheddar biscuit with sunny side up eggs, Szechuan pork sausage, and chili garlic chive sauce. Don’t forget the Dark Chocolate Chip Crunch Pancakes ($12)! Breakfast is served daily from 7 a.m. 820 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-888-3455
Every time I visit, I tell myself that I’m breaking out of my rut and ordering something, anything, but Jorge’s Black Bean Cakes & Huevos Borrachos. But we all lie to ourselves sometime, right? Try these homemade black bean cakes topped with chorizo and poached eggs (or soyrizo and scrambled tofu, if that’s your thing), adobo sauce, avocado, queso fresco and sour cream. That’s a home run right there. FYI, I make someone at the table order the Blackberry Bliss Cakes ($9.95) layered with vanilla mascarpone cream so I can eat those, too. Breakfast is served Tuesday–Friday from 7 a.m., and weekends from 8 a.m. 5707 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-561-1600
This is the only “hotel” restaurant on the list, because Pierrot Gourmet, situated at street level on the corner of Superior and Rush, feels much more like a stand-alone restaurant. There’s a distinct European feel, aided by dishes like the Power Muesli ($14), a Swiss morning mix of organic oats, seed, almond milk, bananas and berries; a beautiful Quiche Lorraine ($15) brimming with bacon, leeks and tangy Gruyère; and the Breakfast Flatbread ($14) with fromage blanc, bacon, scrambled eggs, cheese and oven-dried tomatoes. Go whole hog with the Crème Brûlée Latte ($6.75) and a top-notch Almond Croissant ($4). Breakfast is served daily from 7 a.m. Peninsula Hotel, 108 E. Superior St., Chicago, 312-337-2888
Perhaps you’ve noticed I obsess a bit about food. Full confession: I still dream of the 5 Loaves Spicy Salmon Croquette Omelette ($8.50) with sautéed spinach and feta cheese, and I had it 18 MONTHS AGO. What can I say? It was straight-up scrumptious. It came with a biscuit, but one was definitely not enough. The Deluxe Breakfast Sandwich ($7), served on crispy rye toast and layered with fresh spinach, tomatoes, cheese, fried egg and turkey, was also memorable, and everything was super reasonably priced. Of course, no one would think less of you if you opted for Fried Chicken on a Belgian Waffle ($11) dripping with butter and maple syrup. Add a jar of sweet tea or lemonade and pat yourself on the back. 405 E. 75th St., Chicago, 773-891-2889
Because you’re not the only one who’s hungry…
We hope you’ll get the chance to check out all of these incredible local restaurants, but the next time you do, take a moment to remember how fortunate you are to be able to enjoy such fabulous food. Feed your stomach, then your soul by paying forward your good fortune and supporting one of these food-centric nonprofits.
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Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.