Best burger in Chicago: Which restaurants serve the best hamburgers and fries
Your guide to Chicago’s best burgers.
Photograph: Jason Little
Acadia: the ultimate
You talk a big game, pretending to waver between the scallops and the veal. But you know what you really want: the burger. And it's a good move, because chefs are putting more thought, energy and time into their burgers than ever before, piling on the primo ingredients yet typically selling the finished product for less than anything else on the menu. Here, we celebrate patties both high-end and low, including the best five burgers in Chicago:
The glamorous side of flipping burgers
Two burger lovers debate thin and griddled versus big, fat and cooked-to-order. Follow us Most popular in Food & Drink Eric’s case for a thin, griddled, greasy-spoon burger Burgers are personal—one of those foods that can trigger instant nostalgia. My own archetypal burger requires the elemental combination of soft bun, thin beef patty given a flip or two on the griddle, minced onions, satiny melted American cheese, piquant ketchup and mustard, and the cool tang of pickle chips. This classic formula evokes riding home from school in the 1980s in my mom’s minivan and swinging through the drive-through. Yes, my first burger love was the McDonald’s cheeseburger. I gave up the industrially produced fast-food stuff long ago for old-fashioned burgers made in diners and grills. Ideally, a hand-formed, loosely packed ball of ground chuck is smashed onto a searing-hot griddle, sealing in juices and forming a crispy crust on the surface and edges of the burger; then topped sparingly. (Beware of frozen patties tossed onto a char grill, which produce a burger that tastes more of the grill than beef.) In today’s age of piling burgers high with ungodly indulgences such as pulled pork or foie gras, it’s getting harder to find a thoughtfully prepared old-fashioned burger in Chicago, but the five here manage to adhere to old-school ideals. Kevin’s Hamburger Heaven At the counter of this pillbox of a greasy spoon, watch the grill man flatten fresh balls of chuck into patties. Ask f
When it comes to commodity beef, these spots just say no. Follow us The Burger Point The burgers at this South Loop spot, named for its location at the “point” of Archer and State, take ten minutes to prepare, and if you read the menu, you’ll know the restaurant owners are not sorry for it. On that piece of paper, you’ll not only learn they do not apologize for slow food, but the beef is all grass-fed, never frozen and ground fresh daily. But what no one tells you is that the burgers are de facto cooked to medium-well, and that the signature item—the Burger Point Burger with roasted chili peppers—is hot enough to burn your face off. You’ve been warned. 1900 S State St (312-842-1900). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8. Butcher & the Burger Allen Sternweiler’s adorable burger joint doubles as a butcher shop. It’s a DIY affair: Customers pick their meat, their bun, their spice rub and their toppings before the burger is made to order. It’s possible to make mistakes (we found the pork patty a little lackluster), but if you stick to grass-fed beef, go with “Grandma’s onion soup” rub and flank your burger with an order of the accomplished fries, you’ll be happy. Tack on a scoop of the housemade custard, and you’ll be even happier. 1021 W Armitage Ave (773-697-3757). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10. Indie Burger There are only three things you need to know about Indie Burger. First, Indie Burger is, uh, super indie—there are, like, band posters on
The South Side gave birth to the Big Baby cheeseburger, but who's the burgerdaddy? Follow us Ask anyone in the city about Chicago-style hot dogs and chances are they'll be able to rattle off the canonical list of toppings as well as provide their opinion about where to get the best. But ask the same question about Chicago-style burgers and you'll likely be met with a blank stare. Other than "cheezborgers" at the Billy Goat, there's no style that's commonly associated with our city. But about 35 years ago a double cheeseburger known as the Big Baby was introduced at several small, Greek-owned fast-food joints on Chicago's Southwest Side. According to Jim Lilas—owner of Nicky's on Archer Avenue—around 1967, a Greek guy named Nick Vaginas (yes, that's his real name) opened the joints, then sold them and returned to Greece. But the restaurants that still bear his name, and their many offshoots continue the Big Baby tradition. There are dozens of places, still mostly on the Southwest Side, serving almost exactly the same burger under the same name (see "Whining for a Big Baby?" for a sample). When you're looking for them, the area around Midway Airport (and beyond) seems to be crawling with Big Babies. The concoction isn't complicated: When you order, the grill man slaps down two one-sixth–pound beef patties onto the griddle and prods them a bit with a spatula as they cook. A sesame seed bun is placed alongside on the griddle to toast and soak up a few spatters of fat.
Follow us Bandera A mega-rotisserie serves as the heart and hearth of this cozy Mag Mile restaurant, where the simple, high-quality American food has a dash of Tex-Mex flavor. Rotisserie chicken and lamb find their way into many of the oversized sandwiches and salads, and the veggie burger stuffed with rice, veggies and sweet potatoes is one of the best in town. It’s popular with the suits during lunch, and in the evening, tired shoppers looking for a substantial dinner stop in for a meal that won’t challenge their palates or their purses. 535 N Michigan Ave, second floor (312-644-3524). El: Red to Grand. Bus: 3, 65, 145, 146, 147, 151, 157. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $20. Heartland Cafe Heartland is as much a playground for twenty- and thirtysomethings as it is a restaurant. Local music acts ranging from folk to rockabilly to jazz flock to its stage as frequently as the local art on the walls changes. Top billing, however, belongs to the menu. To the delight of vegans, vegetarians and the cholesterol conscious, organic whole wheat breads, a vegan lentil burger and spicy black bean burger are offered. Red-meat seekers won’t be disappointed with the free-range buffalo burger and turkey alternatives to bacon and ham that arrive plated next to their generously sized omelettes. The general store adds to the close-knit community feel, selling a range of items from clothing and books to fair-trade coffee and jars of honey. 7000 N Glenwood Ave (773-465-8005). El:
Daniel Rosenthal is trying to make every burger in Chicago a sustainable burger. Follow us Daniel Rosenthal has put a plate of two naked, cooked hamburger patties between us. He pokes at the first one, made with conventionally raised, factory-farmed, certified Angus beef—what Rosenthal refers to as “commodity beef”—and takes a bite. “There’s a richness to it,” he says. “It’s what you’re used to eating.” He moves on to the other patty, made with 100 percent grass-fed beef. “It’s got a little tanginess to it. What I call a genuine beef flavor.” “Aggressive,” I say between chews. “Flavor foward,” Rosenthal suggests. Well, fine. Rosenthal can call grass-fed beef whatever he wants. But if aggressive isn’t his chosen adjective for what these patties taste like, it is at least an apt description of his goal for them. Rosenthal is on a mission to get every burger in Chicago to be a grass-fed burger, and he’s moving toward this slowly, steadily—and unrelentingly. He knows it won’t be easy. In fact, he knows that better than most. Rosenthal is in the process of switching all the animal products in his nine restaurants (which include the city’s Sopraffinas) to sustainable choices. (Grass-fed beef is widely accepted to be better for the environment, not to mention for cows.) But so far, he’s only made the switch at Poag Mahone’s. Now, the burgers at Poag’s (which GQ listed in its July 2005 article “The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die”) meet Rosenthal’s standards for