This wasn’t an easy list to make. There were nights we woke up screaming, having dreamed of burgers chasing us along cliffsides, asking why they hadn’t made the cut. Whole days were spent in conference rooms with no food or water and no one going in or out until we came to a consensus. And while some of that might be an exaggeration, you should know that we have eaten a lot of burgers. And we are, in fact, burger experts. So here it is: our list of the 22 best burgers in Chicago. Trust us when we say that you’ll want to know what every single one of these tastes like.
This is a spot in Logan Square from the team behind Little Bad Wolf in Andersonville. The LBW burger is on this guide, and it turns out the burger here might be even better, mainly because it comes on a squishy everything bun. And that bun is a perfect delivery system for the two juicy patties, slices of white and yellow American cheese, bacon, garlic aioli, and pickles.
This isn’t a beauty contest, it’s a best burger guide. Good thing, because the burgers at The Region are kind of ugly. This is due to their rather unsightly flattened patties that extend past the edges of the bun. But it’s those edges that make the burgers here so special. They’re pressed really thin on a flat top grill (this style of burger is popular in northwest Indiana, a.k.a. The Region), so the meat has maximum possible caramelization, but also somehow stays juicy. Get the Diggity Do, with two 7oz patties and two slices of cheese. Consider taking this thing home and eating it in the dark.
This burger is a wonderful, sloppy addition to Chicago’s meat and cheese scene. The “Shiddy Burger” (we’re ignoring the ironic name and suggest you do the same) from Big Kids in Logan Square is a smashburger that’s similar to the ones at The Region - meaning the griddled patties have lacy caramelized edges, and are smooshed on a flat top within an inch of their life. And despite that extreme smooshing, the meat still maintains plenty of juiciness. The burger is topped with a generous amount of shiddy sauce, shredded lettuce, diced pickles, cheese, and comes on a sweet bun that stays intact despite all the sauce. And it’s the satisfying crunch of those crispy edges combined with the creaminess of the sauce that makes us plan our week around whenever this thing is available. Right now you can get the burger from noon-8pm on Mondays, and from 8pm-12am on Fridays and Saturdays.
Hiding among the dumplings, scallion pancakes, and dan dan noodles at Community Tavern in Portage Park is an incredible burger. And while it doesn’t sound complicated - just two patties, American cheese, caramelized onions, and a spicy sauce - we promise it’s a must-order. What makes the burger at this upscale bar so special (besides the delicious seared meat) is that it’s a marvel of careful engineering. From the top down it goes: bun, sauce, pickles, cheese, patty, cheese, patty, onion, sauce, bun. And apparently, that’s the binary code you use to manifest a perfectly constructed burger.
There are two wagyu smashburgers on this list, and the first one we’re going to talk about is the delightful flavor bomb at Yoshi’s Cafe in Lakeview. It has two smash patties, a pile of caramelized onions, garlic pickles, your choice of American or wasabi blue cheese, two big fat panko-fried onion rings, and spicy mayo on the side. We’ve had this burger with both cheeses, and our recommendation is to go with the wasabi blue - the wagyu can hold its own against the assertive funk of the blue cheese, and all the toppings enhance the juicy meat.
In a world filled with wagyu burgers, nothing is quite as satisfying as a straightforward burger you can eat with one hand that costs $5 and comes with fries. That’s what you’ll find at Red Hot Ranch, which has locations in Lakeview, Bucktown, and on 35th street. This cash-only spot has a short menu of mostly burgers, and what you want to get is the Red Hot Double. It’s two patties, pickles, LTO, and American cheese on a squishy bun that practically melts in your mouth. And those salty fries will beg you to order a vanilla shake to dip them in, and you should listen.
En Passant in Logan Square manages to make an incredible burger using only three components: beef, rose marie sauce, and balsamic onions. The patties are juicy, the sauce and onions create a perfect combination of tangy and sweet, and the brioche bun holds up to everything without disintegrating. Plus, we really like En Passant’s small and dimly lit space and vintage chandeliers and candles that make us feel like we’re on a date with our burger. Which is fine by us.
When something is as popular as Au Cheval, it’s asking to be taken down a few notches. After all, people love an underdog, and Au Cheval certainly isn’t - at this point, it’s in Tom Brady territory. Ignore the contrarians (and the wait) and recognize greatness when it’s staring you in the face. Or, in this case, when it’s two patties with cheese, pickles, and dijonnaise between a buttery bun begging to enter your face.
The burger at The Loyalist in the West Loop is almost as beloved as Au Cheval’s - and for good reason: It’s outstanding. The patty is made from a mixture of chuck, short rib, and bacon, giving it a light, smoky flavor and incredible richness. The cheese is gooey and the caramelized onions are plentiful. In other words, this is a good f*cking burger (and you won’t need to wait two hours to eat it).
There are two burgers on the menu at Little Bad Wolf (not including their sliders), and both are excellent. But while one is a three-patty affair with onion straws, bacon, and egg (the Wolf Burger), the best one here is the more manageable Bad Burger. It’s straightforward, with two patties, American cheese, pickles, and mayonnaise. This allows the perfectly cooked and well-seasoned meat - a.k.a. the best part of the burgers here - to shine through. You can always add bacon and an egg if you like to complicate things.
The smashburger at Three House, an all-day restaurant in West Town, is exactly the kind of burger we want when we’re hungover. Two juicy patties are topped with the perfect amount of shredded cheddar, caramelized onions, and garlic aioli on a fluffy sesame bun. It’s rich and delicious without being overwhelming. So on second thought, it’s just the kind of burger we want to eat - period.
Bernie’s in River North tends to elicit those “they have a good burger?” moments. At least, that’s what we said to ourselves the first time we tried the Bernie’s burger instead of something else from their wide-ranging menu. And there it was: delicious, and hiding in the midst of the rabbit gnocchi and brick chicken. It has a wonderfully thick patty that we’ve come to really appreciate now that smashburgers are ubiquitous. It’s a blend of pork belly and short rib, and the meat is highlighted by a thick blanket of cheese, pickles, and garlic aioli.
There used to be some restrictions regarding the burger at Mott Street: You could only order it while eating at the bar, or on the weekend during brunch. But now you can get it whenever you want. Well, sort off - the cut-off to order is 7pm. Still, we’re eternally grateful for that fact. Not only is the meat perfectly cooked, but the additions of a slightly sweet hoisin mayo and sweet potato “frizzles” make it something worth scheduling your life around.
We’re not going to recommend a fancy $24 steakhouse burger lightly. That f*cker needs to be really, really good. And the wagyu smashburger from RPM Steak is. It’s also only available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays - so don’t get it confused with the dry-aged burger that’s on the regular menu. This is the one you want. It comes with a toasted bun, two patties that have a great sear, and an incredible yuzu aioli that has just enough acid to cut through the rich meat. We suggest walking in after work and eating at the bar.
The Bad Apple
The Bad Apple is a laidback place with creative burgers that actually taste good (rather than just trying to impress you with their weirdness). You’ll find things that might sound a little forced but really work - like the “Elvis’ Last Supper” (with housemade peanut butter and bacon). But our top choice here is the Slow Burn, topped with spicy chilis, sauteed onions, bacon, and white cheddar cheese.
Maillard Tavern’s focus is on burgers (they have seven on the menu, not including the meat-free Impossible burger). But our favorite is the namesake Maillard burger: two 4oz patties on a toasted potato bun, with crispy onions, bacon and onion jam, cheddar, pickles, and a dijon mayo. The standout here is the bacon jam - instead of being really sweet, it reminds us of a ham relish, and it’s delicious without overwhelming the rest of the burger. Plus, any burger within five minutes of Au Cheval is worth knowing about.
BopNgrill has two locations (Lincoln Park and Rogers Park) and it’s the kind of casual, delicious place that you need to have in your burger rotation. And while the duxelle burger with truffle mushroom mix is the flashy move, it’s not the best one. Instead, direct your attention toward either the kimchi burger (loaded with a ton of caramelized kimchi), or the bNg, with fried egg, jalapeño, cheese, and bacon. Be warned, these burgers are sloppy - so plan on getting a lot of napkins involved.
Small Cheval is not Au Cheval, but it’s not trying to be. While the mothership burger is straight-up decadence with its bacon and fried egg, the Small Cheval burger is more like the local diner burger. The bun, meat, cheese, pickles, and dijonnaise still shine, helping it hold its own as one of the best burgers in town. It’s best for a quick meal when you want to order at the counter, eat, and get on with your day.
You don’t have to go to Northwestern or have family on the North Shore for an excuse to go to Evanston. The excuse is burgers - the delicious ones at Edzo’s, specifically. Stack a couple smaller 4oz grilled patties, or get the larger 8oz char version for a delicious situation either way. It’s what we imagine burgers tasted like when our parents were kids.
We’ve found the rest of the menu at La Mejikana in Pilsen to be hit-or-miss, but the burger alone is reason enough to come here. The beef patty is perfectly cooked, and topped with guacamole, an egg, grilled onions, chihuahua cheese, chipotle mayo, and a crispy chorizo patty that we’d choose over bacon any day.
Much like how Margie’s Candies holds a perennial place on our Ice Cream guide, Top Notch Beef Burgers is primarily here for nostalgia. This diner has been in Beverly since 1942, and any burger joint that remembers Kominsky Park and has outlasted both Daley administrations deserves our respect and admiration. The burgers aren’t particularly life-changing, but they are tasty, and there’s scientific evidence that eating a burger and fries with a shake that comes in one of those giant metal mixing cups can automatically increase serotonin levels by 56%. Our go-to order is the basic beef burger, which comes with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, pickles, and either grilled or raw onions.