The Definitive Guide to Burger Dining - part 2


National chains were not included unless they originated or are based in Chicago. That eliminated the very good Washington DC based Good Stuff Eatery (22 South Wabash Ave) that serves up kick ass burgers and awesome shakes and sides. Also no Johnny Rockets, Shake Shack, Five Guys nor 25 Degrees.


The restaurants were judged in several categories. Number of specialty burgers offered, the originality or creativity involved in the specialty burgers, taste of the burger (or burgers) I ordered, creativity of the sides, creativity of the beverages, creativity of desserts [NOTE: A meal isn't a meal without dessert. Even McDonald's understands that!) Did the restaurant at least offer a vegetarian option? What was the restaurant's atmosphere and how was the service. Finally, was it priced appropriately?


For the taste part I looked for presentation and if it was cooked properly (I always want medium unless it's McDonald's). Did the flavors and textures work? Did the bun work or was it too dry or, worse yet, falling apart? How did the sides taste? And what about that beverage and dessert? Please note for the record that every joint on this list cooked the burger properly.


And now the top ten Best Burger Joints in Chicago (marked on the map with blue stars):



(1) SPRITZ BURGER 3819 N Broadway - Anyone who knows me already knows why Gale Gand, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh's burger venture is my pick as the best burger joints in the city. If you aren't looking for it, you might pass right by it, but you will be looking for it. It is directly across the street from the IHOP on Broadway just north of Addison. The decor is rather simple, but hey... this is a burger joint! They offered ten different specialty burgers including the stock mushroom burger, jalapeno burger, and a bleu cheese/bacon burger.


But the one that caught my eye - and the one I snarfed down - was the Madron burger topped with Spam (yes as in Hormel Spam), an egg, and Hollandaise served open-faced using bread pudding as a bun base! As chef Emeril would say: BAM!! With it I had some kick-ass Parmesan tater tots and Gale's root beer. To finish the meal - I let the calories roll with the roasted pear cheesecake and the lemon meringue pie... just cuz! The tab was $45 including tax and tip. This is a place that gets it. So much imagination yet they kept the core menu: burger/fries/pop/dessert. The bread pudding bun base is culinary genius!


(2) LOCKDOWN BURGER BAR 1024 N Western - This is a very close second. And I mean very close! What Spritz lacks in atmosphere, Lockdown easily makes up for it with it's rock-n-roll/prison setting. Music is blasting constantly with what the owners call virtual rock concerts all day long on 14 big screen televisions. Back in the kitchen, the cooks are serving up 16 specialty burgers including the build-your-own burger. The burgers all have prison names like Punk Bitch, The Big House, Flight Risk, etc. I went with Cruelty to Animals which featured the 10 ounce burger topped with bacon, prosciutto and a really good braised pork. On the side I snarfed down the mac-n-cheese loaded with bacon and washed it down with a very tasty Not Your Father's Root Beer. Good? You bet! So good I ordered up another burger for dessert - the Wardon Lockdown - which was stuffed with cheddar, bacon and garlic then sprinkled with truffle oil! Truly decadent! The tab was $60 including tax and tip, but keep in mind I was super greedy! Knock off twenty bucks if you're normal.


Lockdown's Cruelty to Animals with prosciutto, braised pork, bacon and white cheddar


(3) ROCKIT BURGER BAR 3700 N Clark - Billy Dec has been a mover and shaker since he first started college. His Rockit Ranch Productions operates several restaurants and clubs around Chicago including Sunda, Underground and Bottlefork. But we head north to Wrigleyville to visit his very crowded burger bar during a non-game day. They have a massive selection of creative specialty burgers - 18 in all - but I went for the Johnny Apple Burger with bacon, apple, brie and a pecan aioli. I lieu of the sweet potato fries I opted for the yummy truffle tater tots. To wash it down, in keeping with the apple theme I had a Stella Artois Cidre (hard cider) and for dessert a really good caramel/banana shake. Now that's what I'm talking about! The damage was $40 and worth every dime! On game days, avoid this place like the plague unless you like crowds.


(4) KUMA'S CORNER 2900 West Belmont - This place has been on just about every top ten list since it opened. With a selection of 16 specialty burgers - all with a hard rock theme - there is plenty from which to chose. The magic begins with a juicy burger with creatively combined toppings. The Iron Maiden combines spicy and cool with pepperjack cheese and avocado. I had the Led Zeppelin with barbecue pork, three thick slices of bacon and a very good sharp cheddar. If you want interesting textures and flavors, try the Goatsnake with corn relish and fired onions or the High on Fire with grilled pineapple and chili sauce. I've had several of their burgers over time, but for this review I'll stick with the Zeppelin. With it, instead of the regular fries, I went with the oh-so-good barbecue pork fries. They have an outstanding selection of local craft beer on tap which is cool. But after that...just pop. My bill was $30 and I always sit in the quaint courtyard as the inside seating is very loud with more Metallica than I care to hear. So, I only go during the summer.


(5) GRANGE HALL 844 W Randolph - One could call this place an homage to Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. He's the Chicago architect who coined the phrase "Less is more." The decor is country kitchen wholesome with a sort of Cracker Barrel feel. Not including the three vegetarian slated burger choices, Grange offers only five specialty beef burgers. But they are all out of the ordinary, well imagined burgers. That includes the one I ordered, the French slanted Berries & Brie Big John which is a 9-ounce burger atop a bed of arugula and covered in Dijon aioli, brie and topped with a fresh strawberry/blueberry/blackberry compote that rocked! This combined sweet and savory and burger. I got the sweet and tasty baked beans and the recommended Colette's Farmhouse Ale. To keep the buzz going I added the very tasty Bourbon spiked caramel malted milkshake. My tab was $43 with tax and tip. Grange Hall ranks above joints with a bigger selection because of quality, creativity and the fact they offered more than just one vegetarian version - one featured a rice patty, the other a chickpea foundation - as well as a turkey burger. The beef burgers were original with the Beetroot and BBQ burgers both catching my eye as well. But I knew I was getting that shake, so...


Grange Hall's Berry & Brie burger rocks the sweet and savory palate.


(6) RUDY'S 68 East Madison - The best located burger joint on the list is this boisterous eatery on Madison between Michigan and Wabash. Yes, you probably have walked by it a million times and never thought to go in! Inside is as straightforward as it gets, nothing really super slick but very clubby. The burger menu looks intimidating but there are really only 10 specialty beef burgers and two skillets - the 5-pound challenger and the mini challenger. I went with the pulled pork burger with the relatively hefty burger topped with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, onion strings and cole slaw. On the side was the appetizer size of chili/nacho cheese fries all washed down with a locally brewed Berghoff root beer. I finished it with a healthy portioned chocolate sundae teeming with whipped cream and nuts! Booyah! With tax and tip I left thoroughly sated for $38. What put them over the top was the sundae and the rich root beer.


(7) DMK BURGER BAR 2954 N Sheffield - Avoid traffic and take the Brown Line CTA train to Wellington. It is less than a half block to this Lakeview standard that is the brain child of chef Michael Kornick (of MK) and the late great restaurateur Arnie Morton's kid Dave Morton. Surprisingly, their burgers average $9.50 with the option of doubling he meat for $3 more. Once again, imagination is the key element here. With a thorough selection of nine beef burgers I went for the double stack of number two which included spicy onion strings and bleu cheese. I got the large size fries with bleu cheese and bacon and washed it down with the housemade apple-pomegranate soda. There was still some room left in the tank so I cleansed my palate with a refreshing mint shake that brought the tab to $34 with tax and tip. The upside is everything was perfect; the downside was the wait time although I could have grabbed a seat at the bar...I chose to wait for a table.


(8) BURGER BAR CHICAGO 1578 North Clybourn - Another bare bones decor like Spritz but with a few television monitors for a sports theme. What they do have is a good line-up of specialty beef-burgers (eleven not including the elk and lamb burgers) and considerable imagination. They grabbed my attention immediately with their cider glazed bacon lollipops which is basically bacon wrapped in bacon. The poutine with pulled pork caught my eye as well, but I needed to leave room for the burger. Although the Higher Hog (bbq pork burger, smoked ham, thick bacon, white cheddar, braised pork belly, apple slaw) was really tempting, I went with the French Dip which had the perfectly cooked burger topped with thin slices of prime rib, provolone and onions, then doused in a fine au jus sauce and dollop of spicy cream. It came with the much appreciated truffle fries and I added an extra side of long fried pickles because it seemed like the right accent; it was. I washed everything down with the Crispin hard cider before wrapping up the meal with a refreshing malted milk ball milkshake that tasted very much like a Whopper. This is right in the Clybourn corridor near the Steppenwolf and Royal George Theaters - right at the CTA Red Line station. My only beef was with the very uncomfortable seats. Yes easy to clean for the staff, but older folk may be annoyed with the butt sliding. Maybe it was just me, nevertheless...


(9) BURGER POINT 1900 S State - Don't think that the all the good burger joints are north of the river. This is in that rapidly expanding near south area between downtown and McCormick Place. In fact, for conventioneers - think about coming here before you lay out $8 for one of those plastic burgers at McCormick Place. I went with the Jersey Shore which had a nifty Italian flair with pepperoni and Mozzarella cheese and covered in a decent marinara plopped on a sturdy brioche roll. I got a side of large chili/cheese fries and a Cherry Coke all for $20. In terms of value and variety they kill! However, service is inexplicably slow and there is limited seating. If there is a line - and there will be a line - you will be looking at 30-minutes from the time you enter the joint to the time you actually get your meal.


(10) BLUE FROG'S LOCAL 22 22 East Hubbard - Located next to the stairs up to upper Wabash Avenue, this blue collar joint eased into the top ten by default. With it's down to earth blue collar atmosphere and easy going courteous staff you’ll be immediately impressed by their eight specialty burgers named after Chicago neighborhoods and events. I went with the Maxwell Street which was a burger stuffed with a polish sausage and topped with onions and peppers. On the side with the tater tots and chili (which I poured over the tots) and washed it down with a locally brewed Revolution Brewing Little Crazy pale ale from their extensive beer list.


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