Chicago may be known as a hot dog city, but here's a secret—our burgers are just as good as our sausages. The best burger restaurants serve everything from smashed griddled patties to thick burgers piled with creative ingredients. And, of course, they serve some of the city's best French fries and best milkshakes as well. Here's where we head to satisfy our burger cravings.
RECOMMENDED: Best Chicago restaurants
Best burger restaurants in Chicago
The second location of the late-night hot dog and fried shrimp joint is a little glitzier (televisions, seats), but the most important difference is that it also offers burgers, thin, griddled patties with perfectly melted cheese, LTO and special sauce. With fries, the double cheeseburger is less than $5, which makes the Red Hot Ranch Burger not only the best burger, but the best deal as well.
The Chicago chain serves a perfect facsimile of a fast food burger, but its local status means we don't feel quite so bad indulging in a bacon and cheese-topped M Burger or a super spicy Hurt Burger, piled with jalapenos, pepper jack and spicy barbecue sauce. Round out your meal with a rich, creamy shake, and ask what the special "secret" flavor is on your visit.
Uncommonly 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 that 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, greasy Vienna shops as his inspiration, we’re equally stoked he chose not to follow their practices.
When DC Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn opened the first Chicago outpost of his casual burger joint, he airlifted the menu straight from DC. That explains the name of the Prez Obama burger, which hits all the right notes and textures, from sweet onion marmalade to salty bacon to sharp Roquefort and pungent horseradish mayo. Order fries so you can make a trip to the mayo bar for sriracha mayo, and don't leave with trying the creamy, gooey toasted marshmallow milkshake.
As the name implies, this an offshoot of Au Cheval, and the menu is inspired by the restaurant’s most famous item—the cheeseburger. This isn’t the exact same burger, but enumerating the differences feels like splitting hairs. It’s a little smaller and $1 cheaper. You can add bacon (it’s thinner than at Au Cheval), and lettuce and tomato, though the burger doesn’t need them. The super-thin patties themselves don’t add much flavor, but the perfectly melted cheese, Dijon, onion, pickles and puffy bun add up to a delicious combination.
Allen Sternweiler’s adorable burger joint doubles as a butcher shop. It’s a DIY affair: Customers pick their meat, bun, spice rub and 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 beef, go with “Grandma’s onion soup” rub and flank your burger with an order of the accomplished fries—you’ll be glad you did. Tack on a scoop of the house-made custard, and you’ll be even happier.
Creative (but never overdone) toppings make the smashed-patty burgers sing at DMK sing. Try the No. 4, with roasted hatch green chili, Sonoma Jack cheese, smoked bacon and a fried egg. For $3, make it a double. The fries aren't to be overlooked either, and since they're available in two sizes, you'll be able to try both the cheddar and scallion and the blue cheese and bacon without overdoing it.
The Beverly neighborhood has a relaxed small-town-in-1965 feel, and one of the contributing reasons is this dose of Americana, both old enough and friendly enough to be your grandmother. The namesake burger is old-school minimalist, a deeply satisfying quarter-pound patty of fresh ground round sauteed in its own juices and served with the simplest toppings—grilled onions and ketchup-mustard-pickle on a feather-light bun. Just as good are the fresh-cut fries, cooked in beef tallow, and as long as you’re dining as if it’s 1965, finish up with a thick chocolate shake.
The servers here sport more ink than a Bic factory, and the metal is cranked up so loud you can’t hear yourself talking, but therein lies the charm. Squeeze through the ass-to-elbows crowds and up to the long bar, where you might be in for a lengthy wait. What’s the draw? Well, the Slayer burger, for one—a pile of fries topped with a half-pound burger, chili, cherry peppers, andouille, onions and Jack cheese on a pretzel bun. That, and the extensive menu of craft beers, including plenty of limited edition local brews to get before they’re gone.