With May being National Burger Month and Memorial Day around the corner, there's no time like the present to delve into Chicago's best burgers. With so many burger-focused spots and stellar burgers around town, it's an arduous task to narrow down, but I'll do my best.
(Burger at Acadia)
My favorite burger in Chicago can be found at Owen & Engine. For a myriad of reasons, this British-tinged restaurant and bar makes the meanest burger in town, starting with the house-baked bun and progressing through the striation of simple, focused add-ons. The beef itself is succulent to the supreme, finely ground and cooked delicately so as to ensure a tender, toothsome bite. A light layering of caramelized onion is all this thing needs, preserving the potent integrity of the beef itself and keeping it front-and-center where it belongs.
A close runner-up to Owen & Engine is Au Cheval. The oft-lauded burger at Restaurant Row's preeminent diner/bar lives up to the fanfare, what with its billowy bun, thin double patties, and oozy, cheesy sauce. I'm a huge fan of the thinner patties, especially when doubled, and especially when cooked as diligently as this place. It comes a la carte, so be sure and order a side of their insane fries.
Acadia may be best known for its ritzy motif and fine dining tasting menus, rightfully so, but don't overlook the burger. Chef Ryan McCaskey's burger on the bar menu has developed a level of renown all its own, but with the chef's recent reinvention of the burger, it's worth a revisit. Loosely inspired by his childhood obsession with Burger King provisions, the new Acadia burger is the stuff of fast food-inspired dreams, a double-decker behemoth topped with housemade bacon, "special" sauce, garlic dill pickles, Gruyere, and smoked cheddar Mornay. Some potato salad on the side doesn't hurt. Except your cardiovascular system, but it's worth it.
Speaking of fast food, it doesn't get any better than M Burger. I actually have a mad obsession with these counter-service burgers, the masterwork of Lettuce Entertain You. These things reduce me to the kind of obsession I used to have for McDonalds as a kid, but this time it's more wholesome because I have taste buds and integrity. And these burgers are legit. They boast the same quickservice comforts of fast food nostalgia, with the thin patty, the shoestring fries, and the shakes, but flavors are actually discernable and legit. Order the signature M Burger with some bacon and special sauce, chase it with a strawberry shake, and find Nirvana.
National Burger Month doesn't necessarily entail pure beef. For that quintessential turkey burger, you need to hit up Eleven City Diner. Taking on a burger that is infamously dry and bland, the Jewish nostalgia-infused diner does a masterful job reinventing and reviving this standard. This burger is marvelously moist and tender, pungent with herbs and seasonings, heaped on a fluffy bun, and served with a side of piquant sauce for smearing and/or dunking. They're raising the bar on turkey burgers in a big way.
Looking to start your way with the breakfast of champions. Get thee to Grange Hall Burger Bar for their breakfast burger, a burger that does much more than merely slap a couple strips of bacon atop some beef and call it a day. This place does it right. The laudable burger is actually served open-faced atop a bed of syrup-soaked, spiced French toast, providing the perfect marriage of sweet and savory in one nifty breakfast plate. It's of course served with a sunnyside-up egg and bacon, plus some sharp cheddar. The novel, risky combo pays off, making for a memorable meal in the a.m.
For its breadth of burger options alone, 25 Degrees does a stellar job with ground proteins. Not only can customers craft their own, but the burger-focused bar features a handful of crafty combos, from an Italian-inspired creation topped with tomatoes, Burrata, crispy prosciutto, and pesto, to a yellowfin tuna burger topped with arugula, crispy onions, and spicy aioli.
- Matt Kirouac