Chicago tries to put a front on about wanting to be healthy, but deep down nobody here cares about kale salads. Get out of here salads. What we really want is meat, and a lot of it, whether that’s steak, hot dogs, Italian beefs, or burgers. And Chicago knows its way around a few good burgers. From crazy creations with caramelized kimchi to more classic meat sandwiches, you just have to know where to look to find the best ones.
That’s where we come in. We’ve eaten a lot of burgers in our Chicago lives, and all that experience has come down to this: our guide of the top 22 of them, ranked according to extensive scientific analysis (aka, what our taste buds think of them). This is the Burger Power Rankings.
The people who talk sh*t about Au Cheval are the same people that like to say LeBron isn’t the best player in the NBA. They start problems like a bunch of Skip Baylesses. So ignore those people 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. This is the best burger we’ve ever eaten.
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. But you know what’s better than Slayer’s greatest hits? The Slayer burger at Kuma’s that comes over a bed of fries with chili, peppers, onion 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 the place is a burger paradise as a whole.
The brisket, short rib, and chuck patty at Owen & Engine is the best burger you might be missing out on. Gastro pubs are usually stupid, but Owen & Engine is one of the few gastro pubs that’s actually good. The burger is large, and the caramelized onion to meat ratio is as good as it gets. Translation: there are a sh*t ton of caramelized onions on this thing, and we love it.
The Bad Apple is a laid-back place with creative burgers and a great beer list. How creative? Well how about The Grizzly Adams, topped with braised short rib, stone ground mustard, onion jalapeño & white cheddar sauce, and caramelized onion. It’ll put some hair on your chest - that goes for you too, ladies.
The Loyalist is the newest member of this group, but we’re already confident about putting it in the upper echelon of Chicago burgers. The restaurant itself is also ready to throw down, because within five minutes of walking in the door they told us their burger is better than Au Cheval’s. We’re not ready to kick the king off its throne, but The Loyalist is working with a damn good version of their own.
You may be thinking how could we possibly put a chain restaurant like Shake Shack on a burgers power ranking list. But if you’re thinking that, you’re wrong, because this was a very easy decision. We’ll be the first to admit there was some skepticism when Shack Shake first opened in Chicago, but that seems like a lifetime ago. Shake Shack has perfected the art of a small griddled burger, and our increased addiction to them is a problem.
Acadia is a fancy South Loop restaurant with the options of a five or ten 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 can avoid the tasting menu entirely and pop into without a reservation. It’s a great way to get the fancy experience in a more fun way without having to pay a ton. And we endorse this move 100%.
BopNgrill is the kind of casual, cheap, and delicious place that will make you so happy you’ll want to dance. Will you look stupid? Yup. Should you do it? Absolutely, because who cares what other people think. The duxelle burger with truffle mushroom mix is the flashy move, but it’s not the correct one. Instead, direct your attention at either the kimchi burger loaded with a ton of caramelized kimchi, or the bNg with fried egg, jalapeño, cheese, and bacon. Not only is it delicious, but it’s fast and costs less than $10. Go ahead, dance.
Cow leg meat burgers. Yes, you heard that correctly. Top-Notch serves cow leg meat burgers. But they’re the best (only?) cow leg meat burgers we know of, and they’re actually damn good. Rather than debate whether Top-Notch is worth the trip, you should be debating whether to get the 1/4, 1/2, or 3/4 lb option (we suggest 1/4, and get two if you’re hungry). Marty McFly ain’t got nothin’ on the blast from the past that is Top-Notch, which has been doing it no frills since 1942.
Anything filled with cheese is delicious. Stuffed pizza crust? Grilled Cheese? Our mouth after we spray a bunch of Easy Cheese in it? All tasty. So of course if you stick some cheese in the middle of a burger patty it’s going to be great. That’s why you need the Juicy Lucy at Dusek’s - a beef burger stuffed with cheese on the inside and topped with red onion bacon marmalade, tomato, and butter lettuce on a challah bun.
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. Stack a couple smaller 4oz grilled patties or get the larger 8oz char version for a delicious situation either way.
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 (if your local diner was the coolest ever). The excellence of the bun, meat, cheese, pickles, and dijonnaise still shine, which makes it one of the best in town. It’s best for a quick meal where you can order at the counter, eat, and get on with your day.
Red Hot Ranch not only has a great burger, but it gets bonus points for being one you can eat sh*tfaced at 4am. And you can’t put a price on a drunken happiness, especially when it’s cheap, greasy, late-night happiness.
Forbidden Root is our favorite burger that we didn’t see coming. The local West Town brewery is all about brewing their own local beer, so we figured the food would be a bit of 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 giardinera 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 ass 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 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 a crown and one of the purple king/queen capes. And that’s probably why the chairs here are purple too. Consider yourself ruler of the Royale burger here and get a Pimm’s cup cocktail to go with it.
DMK was one of the early casual spots to open that only served different variations of burgers, and we thank them for that. There are a lot of great options on the menu, but The Big DMK is the way to go. It has three slices of bun, two patties, and special sauce - AKA their version of a Big Mac. It’s a great burger, and has 10,000% less sodium than McD’s.
Bernie’s tends to elicit those “oh snap, they have a good burger?” moments. That’s what we said to ourselves the first time we tried Bernie’s burger instead of their otherwise Mediterranean-influenced menu. And there it was, delicious, and hiding in the midst of the lamb hashwi and falafel. Sit at the bar, drink something dark, and dig in.
Johnny’s Grill was an old-school diner, but it’s now under some new-school management. The facade is the same, but the menu is not. And the newer version of Johnny’s has a bigger, better, tastier, more delicious-er burger. This thing has so much sharp cheddar cheese draped on it that it looks like a cheese sauce.
The best option for when you’re not trying to find the best burger ever. Let us explain. Au Cheval is delicious, but it’s a clusterf*ck. Acadia is excellent too, but it’s also a whole fancy to-do. So when you want a burger, a solid beer on tap, and an easy environment where you can always grab a seat, 25 Degrees is the spot. The fact you can create your own makes it power-ranking worthy, because we feel powerful creating our own tasty masterpiece.
Burger Bar is like a choose your own adventure in burgers. Not only do they have a wide range of options from their “stackers” section (which are pre-determined creations), but you also have the ability to create your own with options like banana peppers and goat cheese.
If we handed you a Billy Goat burger on the side of the road, it would be good, although, maybe not power rankings worthy. But Billy Goat Tavern as a whole is worthy of inclusion in the power rankings. It’s one of the most iconic spots in the city, made famous by journalists and comedians, most notably as the subject of a classic Saturday Night Live skit. Take in the whole Lower Wacker experience, which means a double (or triple) burger paired with a Billy Goat light or dark beer. Never get a single. Cheezborger. Cheezborger. Cheezborger. No Pepsi. Coke.