Tag: diner

All Aboard The Choo Choo Restaurant



By Adrian Naves




Outside view of The Choo Choo diner located at 600 Lee St in Des Plaines.


There was a time when cell phones were something only secret agents had access to, by taking off their shoe and placing it on their ear. A time when TVs had antennas and 16 inches was considered a big screen. A time when people would go to a diner and grab a burger and milkshake – a place where people would hang out and grab a bite without hurting the wallet. Nowadays it’s quite a rarity to find a low-cost eating joint that you can take your friends and family that isn’t some sort of fast food place.

Then there are diners that stand the test of time – one such diner that is still standing, after a brief hiatus from the COVID pandemic, is the family friendly The Choo Choo Restaurant. The restaurant under new management, has reopened its doors after two years after COVID forced it to shutdown. With the help of a new owner, The Choo Choo restaurant has resumed operations in 2022 and is still chugging along.


Children enjoy the sight of the model train.


The Choo Choo restaurant has a charm and vintage dine-in experience. The Choo Choo is located at 600 Lee St. in Des Plaines, open Tuesday to Saturday, from 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Customers fondly remember The Choo Choo restaurant with a model train, fitted with food baskets delivering food to customers. The Choo Choo opened its doors nearly 70 years ago, with diners looking for creative ways of creating different dine-in experiences. In 1951, original owner, James Ballowe and his wife Marilyn, wanted to open a business that would be an enjoyable experience for all ages. Ballowe had hoped that The Choo Choo would quickly become popular for both kids and adults, “Trains go fast, and that’s how we wanted our customers to be served,” Ballowe once said. The idea of this restaurant style came from his younger brother Roy Ballowe, who served in the Philippines. One soldier complained about the “Gravy Train” used to serve fellow soldiers, sparking an idea to Roy. “Why not serve hamburgers on a model train? Kids love both of ‘em,’’ Roy said.


Cheeseburger and fries delivered by the model train in The Choo Choo diner.


In 2000, the Ballowes passed on the business to Jean Paxton – who took over and continued The Choo Choo until 2020 when she passed away at 63. The Choo Choo laid dormant at 600 Lee St., waiting for someone to take control of operations.

Restaurant owner Dale Eisenberg took ownership of The Choo Choo. The hope was to upgrade the operation without changing what made it special, “I do not want to change the essence of what made The Choo Choo so popular,” said Eisenberg. While the food and family atmosphere are the main driving force of the diner, but so is the model train, the ‘50s feel and vibe, kid-friendly atmosphere, and historic value makes The Choo Choo a unique and special place. “Family connectivity is the driving force here,” said Eisenberg.

For more information about The Choo Choo, please visit thechoochoo.com.