In 2015, Chicago-native chef Edward Kim was approached by Eater Chicago to create a limited-edition burger for the publication's Burger Week promotion, which featured stacks of patties curated by chefs that wouldn't normally put the beefy dish on their menu. Kim initially resisted the idea, because the kitchen at Mott St wasn't outfitted with a flat top to grill burgers on. But then Kim slipped on a patch of ice on his way to work and broke his leg—suddenly, he was stuck in bed and had all the time in the world to dream up his ideal burger.
"I had two versions, one that I threw the kitchen sink at—it had lamb pancetta and kimchi and all these other ingredients, I thought that was gonna be great," Kim said.
When he tasted that version, he came to the conclusion that it was too salty and too much of a mess to serve. But his back-up creation tasted pretty good, even the cold version of the dish that he nibbled while bedridden. Members of his kitchen staff who ate a freshly-made burger at Mott St agreed, and the Mott Burger was born.
Initially, the two quarter-pound patties cooked in miso butter and stacked with American cheese, hoisin aioli, pickled jalapeños, diced onions and sweet potato frizzles were only available to order if you snagged a seat at Mott St's bar. This was mainly due to the fact that the kitchen was sautéing each burger to order, making it difficult for the kitchen and dishwashers to keep up with a high volume of orders. That didn't stop folks from lining up in front of Mott St to experience the burger, especially after it showed up on several local and national lists touting the "best burgers in Chicago," including Time Out Chicago's own list.
The burger took on a life of its own, eventually spurring Kim to develop a concept based around his creation, partnering with his wife Jenny and his sister Vicki. Mini Mott debuted in a Logan Square storefront in 2018, finally offering a way to taste the Mott Burger without the strict guidelines surrounding the dish at Mott St.
"The guiding light [for Mini Mott] has been what do we want in a burger shop," Kim said, explaining how he approached the evolving menu at the casual spot. "We have wings, we have different sandwiches. There are times when the menu becomes more robust, and sometimes we take a step back and consolidate it."
Mini Mott's outpost at Time Out Market boasts a very focused menu of burgers and fries ("We probably have the smallest menu in the building," Kim said). One innovation that Mini Mott brought to Fulton Market from is original Logan Square location is a vegetarian-friendly version of the Mott Burger, that switches out beef patties for jackfruit. Kim explained that he's not a fan of vegetarian substitutes like plant-based burger patties—he prefers to use vegetables in an unprocessed form.
"Whenever you try to make [food] that is an imitation of something else, usually it falls flat," Kim said. "When you make something that’s good in and of itself, it’s much easier to judge on its own."
Whether you prefer your Mott Burger with jackfruit or beef, today it's easier than ever to snag the coveted creation, which remains on the menu at Mott St (where its only available before 7pm) and is prominently featured at Mini Mott and the Mini Mott location inside Time Out Market Chicago. Kim acknowledges that the combination of ingredients like miso, hoisin and sweet potato frizzles (inspired by the potato chips he put on sandwiches as a kid) may seem like an unlikely mash-up, but he sees the Mott Burger as a representation of the melting pot of influences that characterizes contemporary American cuisine.
"When I look at Mott, it’s fusion and it’s hodge-podge, but I think it’s very natural versus being forced," Kim said. "When you grow up in Chicago, you have a Korean friend, you have a Mexican friend, you have a Polish friend—you have so many exposures and, to me, that’s what American food is."