Yes, sometimes looks can be deceiving. And sometimes looks are there for a very important reason, as a warning. The key to discerning between the two is in reading the signs.
Are the booths and chairs worn down but still clean?
Do the waitresses seem harried, as if there is plenty of work to do?
Are the menus simple and fairly small? Those are the telltale signs of a good hole-in-the-wall, and they’re all the things I found at Abraham’s Western Cafe (4716 N. Western Ave.), as well as some pretty tasty food.
Inhabiting the skin of an old bank, Abraham’s isn’t trying to be fancy. Powered by the cooking skills of the titular Abraham Essaili, it is a diner that loves being a diner. It’s a burger joint and a breakfast spot, and it gets a little loud when the tables are full.
Perhaps Abraham wouldn’t take kindly to the designation as a hole-inthe-wall, because even as the restaurant has seen plenty of use over the years, it is still clean and orderly and quick to serve. The staff are busy but friendly. The prices are fair if not cheap. And the food is good. It’s tasty.
Probably the most ordered menu item is the grilled onion burger ($4.25) or the onion burger with cheese ($4.85), and that is because everybody loves a burger and those who don’t are wrong and they know it. They live a half life, hidden in the shadows, afraid to reveal their true nature. They are like vampires, except no one thinks they’re cool.
Oh, the burgers. They’re good, good. If you get the one with cheese, ask for just mustard and a pickle with your grilled onions and meat. Mayo and lettuce and tomato are fine, but they distract from what you really want: the sweet char of onions and the fatty beef patty.
There are variations. The chilicheese burger ($5.45) requires a knife and fork ... or at least a new shirt for after lunch, if you decide to get all handsy. The double burger ($5.85) has more meat. You get the picture.
I much preferred the chili on the skinless frank sandwich ($5.45) than in the bowl. The sliced hot dog and chili on a bun matched about any chili cheese dog I’ve found in the city. And the grilled cheese ($3.85) is kind of the platonic ideal of your childhood sandwich. Gooey American cheese, crisp buttery bread, toasted, but not burnt — simple and delightful.
Generally, diner salads are to be avoided, but Abraham’s fattoush salad ($5.45) is big and flavorful. The lettuce is a romaine mix — nothing special — but the dressing is a Lebanese classic, and the addition of kalamata olives elevates this well past the bland iceberg and ranch number most diners serve.
For breakfast, I recommend everything. Really. For all his acumen with burgers and fries, I truly loved the simple Abraham’s breakfasts even more. Two perfectly fried eggs, thin and crispy (but not overdone) bacon and some hot, griddle-fresh pancakes are $5.45. Swap in ham or a little patty of sausage for the bacon, or get some hash browns and toast instead of pancakes.
Ask for some of Essaili’s homemade cream cheese (made from his homemade Greek yogurt) and smear it on toast with some jelly. Good lawd.
If you want something heartier, the omelets were also top-notch. I got the ham and cheese with jalapeños (with hash and toast or pancakes on the side for $6.85), and I couldn’t have been happier. He really packs those omelets full.
Abraham’s isn’t trying to redefine the diner or elevate the form. It’s there to feed people and feed them well. In a city that is bristling with great breakfast and lunch options, the simple menu at Abraham’s Western Cafe is a winner (and an affordable one, to boot).