Smashburgers are having a moment in Chicago. We know this because we’ve come across about 67,000 of them in our restaurant research in the past six months. And that’s just fine by us, because when the patty is put on a griddle and smashed down, it creates extra caramelization, which (according to anyone with taste buds) is delicious. Here are the best ones we’ve tried - from newcomers to old favorites that were getting smashed before getting smashed was a thing.
Smashburgers are popular in northwest Indiana, a.k.a. The Region, which is how this counter-service spot in Roscoe Village got its name. And we’re leading with The Region because the smashburger here is our platonic ideal. This thing is smashed so thin that the flattened patties extend far past the edges of the bun, and to be honest, it’s a little...unsightly. But it’s those lacey edges that make the burgers here so special. Because they’re pressed so thin the meat has maximum possible caramelization, but also somehow stays juicy. Get the Diggity Do, with two 7oz patties and two slices of cheese.
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.
After closing during the pandemic, Ludlow, one of our favorite bars and patios in Logan Square, pivoted to pizza for carryout. But now that Chicago is back open, their menu has changed and now features (this won’t be a surprise since they’re on this guide) a fantastic smashburger. The patties are reminiscent of what you’ll find at The Region: super flattened with lacy, caramelized edges. The burger is dressed simply - just horseradish sauce, pickles, and American cheese - and served on a sweet, squishy-but-dense-enough bun. Another nice thing about this burger is that it (plus fries) is $8, and exactly what we want to be eating when we’re hanging out on their backyard patio.
The smash burger at En Passant in Logan Square is the best new burger we’ve tried this year, smashed or otherwise. This incredible burger only has three components: beef, marie rose sauce, and balsamic onion jam. 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 with vintage chandeliers and candles that make us feel like we’re on a date with our burger. Which we just might be.
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.
Gretel calls its burger a “griddle burger,” but we’ve sat at the chef’s counter watching them smoosh the patties on a flat top. So, we’re going to go ahead and call this a smashburger, even if the edges aren’t the crispiest of the bunch. 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.
The burger at Leavitt is delicious - the crispy patties are juicy, come with a healthy amount of tangy sauce and onions, and are served on a seared sesame bun that has an abundant amount of seeds. But part of our love of this smashburger is because it kind of feels like a secret. No, not because you need to DM someone to get a special code, or go on a geocaching scavenger hunt to find it. This quiet Bucktown bar and inn (they have three rooms) is on a side street with no foot or street traffic, and they just started serving food this year.
We’re not going to recommend a fancy $24 steakhouse burger lightly. That f*cker needs to be really, really good. And the new 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.
J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop
The burgers at this sandwich shop aren’t super smooshed, but they are pressed down hard enough to get a nice sear on the patty that we really enjoy. There are two options: the Darn Good Burger which comes with LTO, pickles, American cheese, and dijonaise and tastes like the definition of a classic cheeseburger. But our personal favorite is JT’s special, which has two patties, caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, and pickled apple. It’s smoky and sweet, and the soft bun holds it together perfectly.