My 15-month-old nephew says "choo-choo" about a thousand times a day, so it seemed like a no-brainer to take him to a local restaurant bearing that name: The Choo-Choo in Des Plaines.
The tiny diner doesn't look like much from the outside; you could easily pass it without a second glance. But the building has been serving food since 1951 and if the line out the door during a recent Saturday lunch rush was any indication, they have some pretty satisfied customers.
Inside, there's not much space to spread out-I estimated seating for 50 people-but train memorabilia distracts from the cramped quarters. From the railroad crossing sign that cheekily reads, "Stop, Look and Eat," to the two-person train ride, the locomotive is king. The highlight is the model train that delivers food to those seated at the counter-but parties that require high chairs must sit in a booth.
With a 30-minute eating limit for each table, there's little time to linger over your meal, although the excellent and polite service guarantees you don't waste any of that precious time waiting. Our food arrived, piping hot from the grill, in a remarkable six minutes. And the tastiness of this standard diner fare-think burgers, BLTs and grilled cheese-meant that we scarfed it down quickly.
The restaurant retains its '50s charm with authentic treats like hand-dipped milkshakes, root beer floats and from-the-bubbler lemonade. The seemingly original cash register (no credit cards or checks accepted) and vintage decorations add to the throwback appeal.
After waiting 40 minutes to be seated, we grown-ups were ready to be wowed. But in reality, The Choo-Choo isn't really for us. Just looking around at the excited and remarkably well-behaved children throughout the restaurant, though, it was clear they were all having a ball.
And the first word we heard when we got back in the car? "Choo-choo," of course.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.