Restaurant Review: R.J. Grunts

On June 10, 1971—50 years ago—Chicago’s restaurant scene changed forever when R.J. Grunts, with its irreverent menu and innovative salad bar-opened across the street from Lincoln Park Zoo. The brash young owner, Rich Melman was dubbed a wunderkind, and the Lettuce Entertain You (LEYE) franchise (currently L Woods, Wow Bao, RPM, Wildfire, etc.) was born.

Named for the two owners and the sound a girlfriend made when she ate, R.J. Grunts explains that they cater to “the neurotic compensation of eating with our all-American menu that includes the tastiest burgers in town and hand-spun shakes and malts. That funky lifestyle of the ’70s is still exuded in our style, décor and music.

What fascinated Chicagoans then…and now about Lettuce Entertain You restaurants is its personal commitment to serving the freshest ingredients in unique ways. All the clever names in the world wouldn’t matter if the meals and beverages didn’t live up to the LEYE motto, which was: “Our goal is not to be the biggest, but to be the best we can be.”

At R.J. Grunt’s,  half a century of quality and insouciance is blended into their handcrafted burgers and fries, as well as weekend brunches. The Gruntburger is described as “the cosmic cornerstone of culinary karma. Carefully hand crafted with fried onions, blue cheese & all that other stuff.” Medium rare or well-done? Please specify. This meal would be perfectly paired with a SEÑOR GRUNTS’ MARGARITA with tequila, agave nectar and lime on the rocks. Grunt’s Grinds is their own of coffee, blending the highest end arabica coffee & “filter the water to keep it from tasting crappy.” 

The legendary salad bar has changed with the times. Gone is the all-you-can-eat abundance of greens, tomatoes, mushrooms, cheeses, beets, and 50 other choices. Now, customers can experience the Digital Chopped Salad Bar, along with a lengthy explanation:


“After many, many, many, many years of watching your failed attempts at a salad, I’ve found that some of your concoctions are quite disgusting, and frankly have gotten on my nerves. I mean come on, Broccoli-Cheddar Soup as a dressing? Flicking Garbanzo Beans across the room? Picking up Jell-O with your bare hands? Well now, welcome to my newest creation–the Digital Chopped Salad Bar. I don’t know how my chefs did it, but they somehow fit the salad bar into your phone. Alas, the future has arrived. Come on and take a byte.”

Start your meal with eclectic options like Pickle fries or Nachos Nirvana before unique dinner options including Steak on a Stick. “I had this bright idea after a night of camping with no cookware,” explained Mr. Grunt. “Tender cuts of steak untenderly assembled on an enormous toothpick with mushrooms, onions & bell peppers. assembled on an enormous tooth-“ Or this explanation for Cedar Plank Salmon, “I was going to reside my house but this seems like a better use of my old cedar planks. Maple Dijon glazed and served with grilled asparagus.”

Desserts are a must here. Giant shakes and malts come made with yogurt or premium-grade ice cream and in any flavor imaginable, including dreamsickle. You can also try their Cookie in a Bowl: a giant chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven, topped with vanilla ice cream & hot fudge. The sequel has caramel sauce and a cinnamon cookie.

R.J. Grunts is located at 2056 N Lincoln Park W, Chicago, IL 60614. It’s a perfect place to take the kids for a treat, lunch or dinner after a day at Lincoln Park Zoo. For more information, click here. 

Alison Moran and Dean’s Team Chicago