Athenian RoomThe theory goes like this: The first time you eat at this Greek spot, you may try the gyro salad—well-spiced slices of meat atop simple greens—and you’ll think, Not bad. Next time, you’ll try the creamy taramasalata on warm pita, and say: “Pretty good.” But according to the customer base that swears by this place, it’s on your third visit—when you order the juicy chicken kebabs or the vinegary Greek fries—that the spell is cast. 807 W Webster Ave (773-348-5155). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.
bopNgrillStraight-shooters at this sparse Rogers Park spot can do well with “bop plates” like traditional Korean-style barbecue chicken, but we prefer the Korean-American mash-ups like the loosely packed burgers topped with an oozing fried egg, funky kimchi and a squirt of gochujang (fermented chili paste). Surprisingly, the cream of the crop is a side: piping hot french fries drowned in a creamy mess of cheddar, bacon and kimchi. Yeah, we know, others do it, too—but bopNgrill does it best. 6604 N Sheridan Rd (773-654-3224). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.
Edzo’s Burger ShopUncommonly thick Nutella shakes, fries with truffle salt—where does the low-brow end and high-end begin at Eddie Lakin’s burger shop? The answer is it’s intertwined, because the most crucial, highfalutin things Lakin does—grinding his own meat and hand-cutting the potatoes for his fries—pervade almost every dish. The burgers actually taste beefy, and the fries are textbook examples in frying. So while we’re happy Lakin took those surly Vienna shops as his inspiration, we’re stoked he chose not to follow their practices. 1571 Sherman Ave (847-864-3396). Lunch (closed Mon). Average main course: $7.
Hot Doug’sDoug Sohn’s homage to encased meat is packed with suits, students and blue-collar lunch breakers, all of whom wait in longer-than-long lines and put up with limited hours to get dogs and brats served with Doug’s untouchable flair for flavor. Doug has veggie dogs for vegetarians and specialties like cranberry-and-cognac chicken sausage for high-brow hot-doggers. But his famous fries cooked in duck fat are only for his customers who come out on Fridays and Saturdays. 3324 N California Ave (773-279-9550). Lunch (closed Sun). Average dog: $2.50.
Phil’s Last StandThis “last stand” of local blogger/food enthusiast “Chicago Fat Phil” serves Fatsos (burgers) until 4am on weekends, in a room where the main decor element is hundreds of the stand’s business cards glued to a wall. Though this place is newish, it has the soul of a classic, and anything that goes in a fryer—crispy-on-the-outside french fries, sweet shrimp coated with crunchy panko-like breading—comes out damn near perfect. 2258 W Chicago Ave (773-245-3287). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $4.
Redhot RanchSometimes you’ll see a local stroll up to the counter and try to order. “Got burgers?” he’ll ask. “Tacos?” The answer is nope and nope. Whatever used to inhabit this shack clearly excelled in variety, but the new dive takes a different tactic: minimal selection, flawless execution. Juicy Depression dogs are served with fresh-cut fries that are crisp on the outside and pillowy inside; shrimp, available by the half or full pound, are entirely greaseless. And all of it is served until 4am during the week and 5am on weekends. 2072 N Western Ave (773-772-6020). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $3.