Not so Nice: Ed Debevic’s (Restaurant, River North)

Location: 640 N. Wells
Phone: (312) 664-1707
Cuisine: Diner
Reservations: No

It’s one of the only restaurants in the Western world where the sole objective is to insult the diners until they reach pre-suicidal thought, a paradox considering the Windy City has some of the nicest people in the U.S. It sounds displeasing. But believe me, Ed Debevic’s is a great stop for families and adults alike. I ate lunch at Ed’s recently with a friend from out of town who wanted a unique Chicago experience. You want unique? This is it.

The welcoming “Eat at Ed’s” sign illuminated in the window is a funny afterthought when you step inside. We opened the door and were met with a coarse grunt from the hostess and a “get in line, Slim Jim” directed at me. I took that as a compliment. The hostess pointed to the giant arrow-shaped sign above, warning about the harassment we would get if we crossed the waiting line. And they aren’t kidding. I saw a six-year-old sniffle off tears after getting scolded for crossing the line — his dad laughed. The salty staff, from hostesses to the waiters, quickly dig deep to zing you throughout your time here. In my case, very deep, because I am, after all, two shades short of perfect. Regardless of what my waiter said, I don’t have a miniature Tootsie Pop head!

You’ll notice the 50’s theme right away; from shiny plastic booths you can see the vintage tin signs that line the walls and jukeboxes that pepper the diner. But don’t ask your waiter about them. Mine told me to shove my questions back through that gap in my teeth. My Liberian friend laughed. The waiter asked why her laugh sounded like a dying cat.

He slapped paper deli hats on our heads and chucked napkins towards our laps before berating us for our order. Each insult forced our smiles wider, prompting more jabs from the waiter. All the while, I fantasized how awesome dining out would be if all restaurants allowed the waiters to talk like this.

I’ve read sub-par ratings on the food, but I was happy with my Chili-Five-Way. The prices are good for a downtown eatery in a rather touristy area. The average price of an entree is a smidge under ten dollars. Entrees worth checking out include Ed’s Mom’s Meatloaf, the Delux Chili Dog, and Hoppin’ Johns Atomic Burger. Each comes with a side of your choosing. I suggest the Atomic Fries. Ed’s also offers a solid salad selection and a dessert menu that has favorites such as Mom’s All-American Apple Pie. And you can’t leave a 50’s style diner without trying a classic milkshake or the World’s Smallest Sundae. Hint: it’s in a shot glass. It’s “almost as small as [my] head,” as my waiter pointed out.

When it comes to the food, you get what you pay for. Reasonable prices equals reasonable food. But people don’t come to Ed Debevic’s for the food. They come for the verbal assault and the slice into their self-esteem. I recommend you go, though be prepared to walk out questioning a certain aspect of your physical appearance. Like an odd-sized head. Which I do NOT have!


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About Cheryl Thomas

Cheryl grew up in rural northern Indiana, where everyone is somehow related to a farmer and horse and buggy stations are in the Wal-Mart parking lots. She moved to Chicago a few months after graduating from IU and has since fallen hopelessly in love with the city. She likes trying new deep dish places, exploring used bookstores and dive bars, chatting with strangers on public transit, and all sorts of writing - especially fiction and playwriting.

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