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 20, 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 laidback 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. 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 an egg if you like to complicate things.
There are rules regarding the burger at Mott Street: You can only order it while eating at the bar, or on the weekend during brunch. And while we resent rules since we want what we want when we want it, we make an exception when it comes to this burger. Not only is the meat perfectly cooked, but the additions of a slightly-sweet hoisin mayo and sweet potato “frizzles” make it something worth leaving your house on a Sunday (or sitting alone at the bar while your friends eat outside) for.
The Bad Apple is a laidback 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 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. 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 different burger variations, 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, and it’s 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 burgers tasted like when our parents were kids.
We’ve found the rest of the menu at La Mejikana 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.
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 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 schnitzel and bucatini. Sit at the bar and dig in.
Details are what can separate a perfectly fine burger from a great one that earns a spot on this list. And it’s the details that make the burger at The Delta stand out - two expertly cooked patties, thin bacon that adds just enough flavor (but isn’t overwhelming), and an evenly toasted bun. A perfect amount of caramelized onions and D.A.F. sauce (a Thousand Island-type sauce) round everything out. This is a great burger to eat by yourself while contemplating the corners you’re currently cutting in your own life.
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.
When we were ten years old our ideal meal would look it does here: A big*ss burger with bacon, cheddar, and pickles. Then, 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.
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.