GENEVA – There are very few things more quintessentially American than a diner.
The sounds of a griddle sizzling, coffee cups clanking, incessant chatter from a cramped dining room and the round-the-clock smell of bacon and eggs create a sense of nostalgia. A charming, all-American town like Geneva would be amiss without one.
When the iconic Mel’s Diner closed last year, I was thrilled to find that it was being replaced by another diner.
The owners of Mel’s reopened as State Street Diner in the same location (630 W. State St.), offering customers a reinvented menu featuring American diner-type entrees alongside authentic Mexican food.
After walking through a forest green door into a crimson-colored building on the corner of State and 7th streets, my dining companion and I scanned a slender baby-blue dining room for a place to plop.
“Just sit wherever?” I questioned the waitress standing behind the counter – a pot of coffee in her hand.
“Yep, sit wherever you want,” she said warmly.
The row of tables lining the wall with the window were occupied, so we chose a two-top near the rear of the restaurant opposite a large mural that depicted a church or building in the hacienda architectural style.
“Can I get you two something to drink,” said the same woman who greeted us.
I asked if they served any coffee drinks like cappuccino, since I hadn’t had my caffeine fix for the day. Coffee – yes. Cappuccino – no.
One coke and a water later, my dining companion and I inspected a hefty menu serving a compilation of hearty as well as health-conscious American and Mexican breakfast items, salads, tacos, burritos and a bevy of burgers and sandwich selections.
“Do you have any recommendations – it’s our first time?” I asked.
Pointing to the back of the menu, the waitress mentioned Mexican dishes such as the Burrito Suizo (starting at $6.99), comparing its size to that of a football.
My dining companion looked instantly intrigued – “I’ll have that.”
Biscuits and Gravy, burgers, buttermilk pancakes, the club sandwich and most of the Mexican entrees were other popular items she mentioned.
Yes, we were dining in a diner, and maybe I should have ordered a burger with fries and a malt (the malt at a cost of $4.99) or milkshake ($4.25), but whenever I come across an eatery serving breakfast all day, I have a hard time ordering anything else.
So, I opted for a half order of the Biscuits and Gravy ($2.99) and a Southwestern Chicken Skillet ($8.99) with home fries (or hash browns) green peppers, onions and cheddar cheese with scrambled eggs and a side of wheat toast (English muffins are also available).
Most tables were occupied by 12:30 p.m., and our waitress – seemingly a one-woman show – calmly took orders, kept drinks topped off, delivered food and checked on customers with haste.
The impeccable service continued when our orders appeared in front of us in no time at all.
Strangely, my skillet didn’t arrive in its namesake cast-iron frying pan, but my attention quickly turned to the burrito. It’s heft and girth, and colorful splaying of homemade red ranchero sauce, melted cheese, guacamole and creme, certainly made an entrance. At first glance, the drizzling of creme fittingly resembled the laces of a football.
“Whoa,” was my knee-jerk reaction.
The tightly wrapped tortilla kept chicken, refried beans, rice, lettuce, avocado sauce and MORE cheese intact, but it’s tender shell was no match for my fork and steak knife. As I sliced through its layers from top to bottom, I also realized that my mouth was no match for this burrito.
Anyone with an appetite, on a budget and not wanting to sacrifice quality for quantity or price, needs to visit State Street Diner and get the Burrito Suizo with chicken, chipotle chicken, steak or carnitas. Keep in mind the price goes up $2 for dinner, so go for lunch.
Other interesting Mexican menu items included the Pastor Tacos ($9.95) with pork, pineapple pico de gallo, red cabbage and Guajillo salsa; Fish Tacos ($10.95); and Chipotle Chicken Tortas ($5.95) with sauteed chicken, onion, garlic and chipotle with refried beans, queso fresco and avocado alloli.
Sitting in a plateful of pork-infused gravy, the biscuits were soft and teamed nicely with the creaminess of the gravy. Although, the dish could have used a kick of spice or a stronger flavor of pork sausage and pepper.
I liked the idea of half orders on the menu, because it allows customers to try a multitude of items. In addition to a half order of biscuits and gravy, the menu also features half orders of French Toast ($3.99) and a short stack of Buttermilk Pancakes ($3.99).
Unlike a lot of urban diners, State Street is not open around the clock. My suggestion is to come for breakfast or lunch. The service is quick and delightful, you have full range of the menu and will end up paying less for burritos.
It may seem strange ordering Mexican dishes at an American-style diner, but if you think about it; that is the epitome of American culture.
The beauty of State Street Diner is that you can order bacon, eggs and flapjacks one day and Huevas a la Mexicana the next.
•The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Kane County Chronicle. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits different restaurants during the month and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.
State Street Diner
Address: 630 W. State St., Geneva
Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday; 6
a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sat-
urday; and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Dress code: Casual
Serves: Breakfast, lunch and