Night and Day: 24-hour dining on the South Side

(Ellis Calvin)

(Ellis Calvin)

This time last year, the Weekly came out with its first guide to 24-hour restaurants on the South Side. In that issue, we covered classics like Izola’s, Depot, and the original Maxwell Street Polish stands. We’re back this year with a few more selections from the South Side nightscape. From the welcoming diners of Bridgeport and Pilsen to a dim sum restaurant in Chinatown to a fishery along the Chicago River, we present the second course of our after-dark dining manual.

Scott’s Hamburger Heaven
1546 W. 35th St. (773)890-1042
Sitting down at a booth in Scott’s Hamburger Heaven, you get to wondering if the name is meant to be sacrilegious. Decked out for Halloween, campy ghoulish figures hang from the water-stained drop ceiling and little plastic spiders stud the windowsill, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the place were almost as creepy and bug-ridden year-round. The Bridgeport joint’s bill of fare is almost identical to that of its progenitor, the legendary Kevin’s Hamburger Heaven, and covers a range of accidentally ingenious spins on standard diner staples. In true truck-stop form, Scott’s serves breakfast in perpetuity. The hash browns are delightfully greasy, and the omelets are rather airy but come blanketed in a thin, pernicious sheet of melted “cheese.” A whole section of Scott’s menu is devoted to hamburgers, although with a dish called “The One and Only,” how could you order any other burger in good conscience? The signature patty is homemade, over-salted, and stacked with sweet grilled onions, limp pickle slices, and cheese. Meat lovers face the perennial catch-22 of taste and hygiene, as the menu forewarns, “Tenderness not guaranteed on ‘Well Done’ Steaks, or Medium well.” If it’s any consolation, you can order all the meat-n-egg combinations you’ve been craving at Scott’s. The “Pork Chop-N-Egg Sandwich” might actually be decent, while the “T-Bone Omelette” is recommended only for the hardiest patrons. As a side, consider the “Summertime Special Fruit Salad,” which is colorfully described as a “melody of in season fruits,” or perhaps some spicy “Japapinios.” Scott’s may not be paradise, but there are some similarities: like the Pearly Gates, you’ve got to pay in advance (cash only) and the staff reserves the right to refuse you service. If the afterlife is anything like Scott’s Hamburger Heaven, take comfort in the fact that you can look forward to an eternity of heartburn and hilarious typos. (Rachel Wiseman)

Don’s Grill
1837 S. Western Ave. (312)733-9351
A warmly lit, cozy diner on the border between Pilsen and Little Village, Don’s Grill can brighten up your late night. Its cheerful faux-brick space is plastered with kitschy posters, and its fluffy pancakes taste like Bisquick and smell like an American morning. Stick with breakfast food for guaranteed satisfaction; the cherry pie ($2.50), though it looks good, is only mediocre. The French toast ($3.69) is better than average, and the hash browns ($1.69) are better than serviceable. For a midnight pick-me-up, Don’s won’t let you down. (Sam Feldman)

“Little” Three Happiness
209 W. Cermak Rd. (312) 842-1964
Three Happiness’ s original location doesn’t have a large dining room, and on weekend nights it can fill up fast. If you’re craving Chinese late one weeknight, though, Three Happiness is the place for you, conveniently located only one block from the Red Line Cermak-Chinatown stop. It’s not the quickest or cheapest late-night joint–you won’t find anything on the menu for under $3–but while you wait you can enjoy samplings from the weird world of Chinese music videos. Among the appetizers, the creamy crab Rangoon is a solid choice, and the potstickers are also good. The egg rolls taste a bit like chalk and mustard, but not in a bad way. The beverage selection is surprisingly classy, with offerings like White Zinfandel, Chablis, Burgundy, and a sweet, thick plum wine that tastes a lot like mead. Reviews tend to vary wildly, perhaps because the quality of the food is uneven, but if you’re not a connoisseur and you’re tired of diners and Polishes, Three Happiness is a good bet. (Sam Feldman)

Steak ‘N’ Egger
1174 W. Cermak Rd. (312)226-5444
On a dark, industrial stretch of Cermak Road, a coal-powered generating station operates round the clock for the seemingly sole purpose of electrifying a brightly-lit diner across the street. “We doze…but never close!” boasts, or, perhaps, admits, the fluorescent, aging sign in the parking lot of Steak ’n’ Egger. The menu is extensive but pitches few surprises, from the eponymous Steak ’n’ Egger to the Chopped Steak ’n’ Egger, the Country Fried Steak ’n’ Egger, or even just the Two Egger with a side of hash browns and toast. Ordering becomes a complex procedure as we wrestle with dinner versus breakfast orders, half orders, combinations, condiments, and salad options. “Dressing?” “Um, vinaigrette?” “Not here, hun.” We should have known. A short wait and the waitress delivers approximately what we ordered. While not exactly bad, the imitation vanilla milkshake, the candy cinnamon in the pumpkin pie, and the coffee in plastic mugs serve mostly as a reminder of how much better it could be. For late night eating, the fried chicken is just what the doctor ordered, even if we didn’t. The biscuits and gravy are top-notch and the cheeseburger is decent. Steak ’n’ Egger falls a bit short of an ideal diner, but those only exist in movies anyway. (Ellis Calvin)

Lawrence’s Fisheries
2120 S. Canal St. (312)225-2113
Driving north on Canal Street near Chinatown, Lawrence’s Fisheries’ towering sign is a beacon of light on a late Thursday night. Inside, people are lined up along a stretch of countertop between two ordering stations, not quite drooling in anticipation of grabbing a steaming brown bag of freshly fried fish. At Lawrence’s, it is scarily easy to eat an entire meal consisting of battered, fried food.

What distinguishes Lawrence’s from other fried seafood I’ve had, even in cities much closer to the sea, is the crunchy batter coating that is far from the greasy mess of past experiences. Our fish was well cooked and flavorful without tasting like it had been swimming in Lake Michigan just a few minutes before. At $6 for a half-pound, the frog legs are a low-cost way to expose your palate to foods you didn’t think could be found on the South Side of Chicago. As for the oysters, a word of caution: they are truly flavor bombs in the style of Grant Achatz. Be careful when biting into one not to squirt hot oyster juice in the face of the person opposite you.

A sign outside advertises “GREAT TASTE & 0% TRANS FAT PER SERVING.” At least if you’re clogging your arteries, you’ll be doing it one-hundred-percent naturally at Lawrence’s. And that’s more than can be said for some establishments. (Mackenzie Cramblit)

White Palace Grill
1159 S. Canal St. (312)939-7167
At the intersection of a canal, a derelict train yard, and retail stores all but abandoned at two in the morning, the White Palace Grill is a literal beacon of light. Step inside and you’ll find the diner you thought only existed in movies. The unyielding flux of inebriated college kids and chrome-laden furnishings make this a lively, yet comfortable joint. White Palace Grill is the sort of diner where you would want to become a regular. The bacon and cheese Chicago Burger comes with the option of soup or salad and crisp, golden fries. The wall that displays Michael Jordan playing Go Fish with Mayor Daley, and waitresses like Teresa make White Palace Grill the best pit stop this side of the Loop. (Carl Brozek)