Chicago likes to be healthy, but deep down, nobody here cares about kale salads. Get out of here, salads. What we really want is meat, and lots of it. So it follows that there’s an almost overwhelming number of excellent burgers to choose from.
That’s where we come in. We’ve eaten a lot of burgers in Chicago, and all of that experience has come down to this: our top 16, ranked according to extensive scientific analysis (a.k.a., what our taste buds think of them). This is the Burger Power Rankings.
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 New England Patriots territory. But the burger here is still the best in the city. 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. Frankly, this is the best burger we’ve ever eaten.
The burger at the Loyalist isn’t quite as good as Au Cheval’s, but it’s still 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).
The brisket, short rib, and chuck patty at Owen & Engine in Logan Square makes this the best burger you might be missing out on. It’s thick, and the caramelized onion-to-meat ratio is as good as it gets. (Translation: there are a ton of caramelized onions on this thing, and we love it.) Plus, the laid-back gastropub environment will make you want to stay and hang out for a while.
This isn’t a beauty contest, it’s a burger power rankings list. Good thing, because the burgers at The Region are ugly. This is due to their 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.
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 and egg if you like to complicate things.
The Bad Apple is a laid-back place with creative burgers that actually taste good (rather than just impressing you with their weirdness). You’ll find things that sound strange but really work - like 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. It might burn your face off, but it’s worth it.
You don’t have to like heavy metal to like Kuma’s Corner, but it definitely helps when Slayer is blasting in your ears the entire time. You know what’s better than Slayer’s greatest hits, though? The Slayer burger, which comes over a bed of fries (instead of a bun) with chili, peppers, onion, andouille sausage, and cheese. That’s the kind of aggression we want in life. Because Kuma’s has so many variations that are very specific, we won’t say there’s one style in particular you need to get as much as we’ll say that this place is a burger paradise as a whole.
Acadia is an upscale South Loop restaurant with a seven-course tasting menu in the dining room. So what the hell are we talking about it here for? Because they serve an excellent burger at the bar only (where you don’t even need a reservation). This burger has gruyere, bacon onion jam, and a truffle mornay. This is our favorite fancy burger in Chicago.
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 is the kind of casual, affordable, and 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, wait for it, 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 be smart enough to get into Northwestern or settled down enough to have a 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 our dad thinks burgers tasted like when he was a kid.
Forbidden Root has our favorite burger that we didn’t see coming. This West Town spot is a brewery first and foremost, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the food here was an afterthought. Nope. The food here is exactly what you want to eat alongside some excellent homemade beer. That’s especially true of the burger, which comes with giardiniera mayo, aged cheddar, and bread and butter pickles on a brioche bun.
Want to know our ideal meal out? First, you give us a big*ss burger with bacon, cheddar, and pickles. Then, you give us some homemade hot chocolate and marshmallows, along with a cookie plate and a brownie. And the only place we know of where you can get all this is Mindy’s Hot Chocolate.
Bernie’s tends to elicit those “they have a good burger?” moments. At least, that’s what we said to ourselves the first time we tried Bernie’s burger, instead of something else from their Mediterranean-influenced menu. And there it was: delicious, and hiding in the midst of the lamb hashwi and falafel. Sit at the bar and dig in.
When we eat the Royale with cheese at Pub Royale, it makes us feel like we should be wearing crowns and those purple king/queen capes. That’s probably why the chairs here are purple, too. This burger has a thick patty, topped with spicy pickles and aioli on a fluffy sesame bun. Consider yourself ruler of the Royale burger here and get a Pimm’s cup cocktail to go with it.