Does it make sense to construct a restaurant around a child's obsession? Absolutely, if that obsession is trains and all things train related. In the Chicago area alone, no less than three restaurants have a train theme. One has to admit, the train imagery is child friendly, and the gimmicks are cute: A model train delivers heaping baskets of hot fries and other food to various locations around the central counter.
Subtlety does not exist at the All Aboard Diner, and this isn't the place you try to get a table at for anything important to anyone over, say, 12 years old. From the minute you walk in, the restaurant conducts an all-out assault on your senses, not letting you forget for even a moment where you've chosen to dine. From the Thomas the Train Engine videos on the screens all over the place, to the train engine overhead that circles the entire restaurant, to the train whistle sounds that cannot be ignored, it is clear you are in train country.
As such, of course, kids rule here. The diner has them well taken care of: There's a party room set aside from the already spacious main dining room, and the restaurant goes a charming step further than most places to ensure safety by making the entirety of the space absolutely peanut free. Beyond that, adults don't need to make any compromises to bring their children here either, as there are a selection of vegan items on the menu as well.
Of course, among the vegan food and allergy-free offerings are their meatier counterparts, with hot dogs, sandwiches and burgers ranging from $4 to $9, as well as more 'serious' entrees that top out around $13. If all the trains become a little much, or if you just feel the need to celebrate them with something that has a bit more bite than ice cream cake, the 'bar car' serves up frosted pints of a few choice domestic drafts and some wine from Raywoods Vineyards.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Bill Burman