The West Loop is Chicago's New Burger Capital
Considering the West Loop and Fulton Market areas were once primarily a meatpacking district, it’s not entirely surprising the neighborhood is filling up with beef. Sure, everyone knows the Au Cheval burger is among the best in town (and arguably best in the country), but lately the area has seen a huge uptick in burger entrants. From a new outpost of Umami Burger to upcoming locations of Shake Shack and Kuma’s Corner, these are the spots beefing up the West Loop.
The O.G.’s of the West Loop’s burger boom are Grange Hall Burger Bar and Au Cheval. The former is a modest, pastoral haven slinging homey fare you might expect to eat on an actual farm. It’s tranquil, sunny and wholesome, with food so fresh it actually feels healthy to polish off one of their beef burgers, though they have vegetarian and alternative options as well. Just down the block is the antithesis. Dark, loud, impossibly crowded, and often painfully difficult to get into, Au Cheval demands a lot from its customers. Including wait times that often clock around three hours. But once you’ve acquired a spot, the food makes it entirely worthwhile. This modern “diner” has a lot of indulgent food, including fried chicken and bologna sandwiches, but the single dish that catapulted Au Cheval into the national spotlight is its burger. This thing is a behemoth, stacked with double patties on insanely buttery buns. It’s bluntly beefy, rich, and bad for you in all the right ways. For quite a while now, Au Cheval has reigned handily as the leader of the burger pack in the West Loop, and the city at large for that matter. But that could all change, as the area experiences a massive shakeup of newcomers.
Chief among those newcomers is The Loyalist, a casual neighborhood spot further west down Randolph from acclaimed husband-wife duo John Shields and Karen Urie Shields. With an upcoming fine dining spot Smyth still forthcoming on the second floor, The Loyalist makes for a nice and accessible foray into the West Loop dining scene for the couple, who recently moved back to Chicago from the East Coast. Here, the bill of fare is contemporary and highly elevated bar bites and shareable plates, along with burlier items like their namesake burger. Open mere weeks, the restaurant is already amassing substantial acclaim for their burger, and it’s easy to see why. Served on a toasted sesame seed bun, this thing is glorified Americana to the max, made with shaved onions, housemade American cheese, pickled cucumbers and onions and onion-infused mayo.
Another new contender is Umami Burger, which added its second Chicago location on Randolph Street. Along with non-burger dishes like gochujang short rib sliders, Japanese wings and chicken sandwiches, Umami is really bringing their A game to the West Loop scene with this one. Exclusive to this location is the Monte Cristo burger, a behemoth of sweet and savory with vanilla custard-soaked fried buns, prosciutto, Gruyere fondue, powdered sugar, and a side of maple syrup. Of course, the heavy-hitting roster of beef and non-beef burgers are also available, like the signature Umami with Parmesan frico, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions and umami ketchup.
Still to come are two big name burger spots honing in on the Fulton Market district a couple blocks north. Shake Shack is poised to open its fourth Chicagoland outpost (third in the city proper) on Morgan Street by Lake Street. This will be unique in that Shake Shack is the first quick service burger spot to land in the neighborhood, and considering the obsessive popularity of its other locations, this one should be a big hit. Then there’s Kuma’s Corner, the Avondale-based heavy metal-inspired burger joint popularized for their hulking and often controversial creations. For their third Chicago location, Kuma’s is looking to open inside the forthcoming Brooklyn Bowl, which is taking shape currently on Fulton across from The Publican.
The West Loop has never been beefier.
- Matt Kirouac