The sign outside Valois Cafeteria might seem a little confusing at first: See Your Food, it says. But once you get inside this historic Hyde Park eatery, it makes perfect sense. The menu of traditional comfort food is plastered above the counter, but it's barely needed, as the smorgasbord is laid out for all to see.
A cheerful employee serves up healthy (though not necessarily healthful) portions of everything from chicken pot pie and mac and cheese to turkey and gravy-soaked mashed potatoes (breakfast is also served until 4 p.m.). Sandwiches will take a little longer, but the chef's call of "r-r-r-reuben!" makes the wait worthwhile. After receiving your food, slide your tray down to the end of the counter and pay up. You won't be paying much, as you can get your fill for under $8, so there's no excuse for not having enough cash (Valois does not accept credit cards).
The large space (the cafeteria recently underwent a renovation that eliminated the need for communal seating) is filled with small tables at which a smattering of college students, local cops and residents sit, their trays packed with food. A few employees make the rounds, providing small glasses of water to thirsty customers, and clearing trays as necessary.
The walls are covered in painted tributes to Hyde Park landmarks, and the whole restaurant has a vintage feel. As a fellow diner noted, it's the kind of place where you'd expect to see someone sitting down with pie and coffee for a quiet, satisfying meal. With the glass dessert case constantly beckoning, that's a very real possibility.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Ben Rubenstein