The second coming of Kuma’s it’s not, despite Leadbelly’s striking similarities in theme (photos of rock bands all over the walls, Pearl Jam concert playing on the TVs), fare (burgers, fries), emphasis on craft beer (three rotating local brews on tap, many others in bottles) and location (Far Northwest Side, specifically Portage Park) to its predecessor. Unlike Kuma’s, though, Leadbelly will not see people flocking from all over the city and suburbs to queue up for three-hour waits. But for a quick neighborhood option, this tiny, counter-service-only spot is a solid alternative.
The bulbous buns, made in-house, stand up well to the insane mess that is the Midnight Special, a somehow-delicious heap of chipotle-cream sauce, jalapeno-jack cheese and pico de gallo sprinkled with, yes, Chili-Cheese Fritos. But when bookending the more straightforward Leadbelly burger—lettuce, tomato, onion, Sriracha pickles and choice of cheese—the thick bun renders the whole thing far too dry. That boring burger at least allows you to appreciate the meat, a thick patty made of a ground-in-house beef blend mixed with pork belly, which lends a noticeable smokiness. The double-fried fries, served in a cute little metal fry basket, manage to stay crispy underneath a mound of fresh Parmesan and garlic. And all burgers come with a forgettable, brittle butter cookie—another cute touch, but the thick, rich chocolate shake is a far better dessert.