We’re not here to debate how delicious Au Cheval’s burger is. We know. But as good as it is (and again - it’s very good), sometimes you just don’t want to wait three hours to eat it. When that’s the case, here are some very good places you can check out instead.
We’re starting with the most obvious solution. Small Cheval, a counter-service spot owned by the Au Cheval team, is where to go when you really want an Au Cheval-style burger, but not quite enough to wait a while for it. Think of it as Au Cheval lite. The burger here doesn’t have the bacon and egg of the original, but it does have the same bun, patty, cheese, pickles, and dijonnaise. There are multiple Small Cheval locations around Chicago, so you can stop at one on your way home after leaving Au Cheval in tears.
Your cousin is in town for a work conference and wants to go to Au Cheval. You warned him about the long wait, but he insisted on at least trying. Surprise, surprise - he doesn’t want to stick it out. Go to Maillard Tavern in River West instead. You’ll have a number of different (all very good) burgers to choose from, from an old-school classic (with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, and pickles) to one with foie gras and truffle. The casual space is small, with wooden booths, tables, and a large bar. It’s a good spot to say “I told you so.”
People focus so much on the burger at Au Cheval that they sometimes forget the rest of the food there is also excellent. So when you and your date are faced with an intimidating wait at your first choice spot, walk over to Maude’s Liquor Bar. It’s a French bistro on the same street as Au Cheval that’s owned by the same people, and also serves the same style of food - including chicken liver mousse and (yes) a burger, in this case with gruyere cheese and caramelized onions. The upstairs even looks like Au Cheval. It’s basically Au Cheval in a French costume.
Your friends from New York have their hearts set on Au Cheval - but it’s Saturday night, and unless they plan on sleeping there, it’s not gonna happen. Take them to The Loyalist, which is a fantastic alternative. It’s a casual spot in the basement of Smyth (a fancy tasting menu restaurant), and just like Au Cheval, it’s dark and has big, comfy booths. It also has a great burger, with a patty made from a blend of chuck, short rib, and bacon. The quality of the other dishes on the menu (like the chicken wings and cavatelli) is also high enough that you should be thinking of this place as a destination in its own right - not just an Au Cheval back-up plan.
The food isn’t the only appealing thing about Au Cheval. The space is also key. Once you get a table, you can enjoy the comfy seats and great drinks - making it easy to hang for hours and force other people to wait just as long as you did. If you’re looking for a place with the same feel, head over to Owen & Engine in Logan Square. It’s a British-style gastropub that’s farther away than the other spots on this list, but a great place to settle in for the night. Plus, it has yet another one of our favorite burgers in the city. Are you settling? Sure. But that’s not always a bad thing.
You knew going in that there’d be a wait, and you fully intended on staying the course. But 45 minutes in, the burger smells are going to your head and those work emails you’re firing off from your phone are getting less and less professional. Head to Grange Hall, down the street. The inside is like a farmhouse (with long wooden tables and gingham decor), so it doesn’t have the same kind of trendy feel as some of the other spots nearby - but the grass-fed burgers definitely hold their own. There’s even a vegan patty (with spinach and chickpeas) that’s actually good. Best of all, by the time you’re done, that email you almost sent to Michael in accounting will be nothing but an unpleasant memory.
Cold Storage is a casual seafood spot attached to Swift & Sons, the steakhouse. The best thing you can do here is sit at the bar and eat oysters, but you should know that they serve a steakhouse-quality burger topped with lettuce, tomato, and Thousand Island dressing, too. You should also know that you can get an eight-scoop sundae made with housemade ice cream. Enjoy.
Your group decides to hit to The Allis to kill time while you wait for a table. Every time your stomach growls you pray it’s your phone vibrating with a text telling you a table is available. Desperate hunger is setting in. Before this becomes a hanger situation, consider eating at this trendy diner on Soho House’s second floor. It (unsurprisingly) focuses on chicken, but the Dirty Burger (a ’50s-diner-style one with mustard, mayo, lettuce, cheese, tomato, and pickle) is very good. It’s certainly better than letting hanger decide this is a good time to confront your friend about how much his girlfriend bugs you.
Lone Wolf has a symbiotic relationship with Au Cheval - like those birds that pick the meat out of a crocodile’s teeth. In other words, it pretty much lives off the people waiting for a table at Au Cheval. It’s right next door in the West Loop, and an easy choice when you’re told that Au Cheval will be texting you in about four hours. It’s certainly good for waiting, but you can also just stay there and eat. There are plenty of comfortable booths, and while there’s no burger on the menu, you will find a great Chicago hot dog and some very good fries. In fact, you can probably eat here and still have time to get hungry again before you get that text anyway.
There’s no burger at The Press Room, either. In fact, this isn’t a substitute for Au Cheval so much as a journey into a new, Au Cheval-less reality. You come to this West Loop wine bar when you have reached a place of acceptance: that table-is-ready text may never come. This place is in a secluded area of the neighborhood, and it’s rarely crowded. They have a great selection of wines, really good cocktails, and a short small plates menu (with things like chicken liver mousse) that complements both. It is 100% not Au Cheval, and you’ll be OK with that.