Chicago has a lot of burger places, and many of them are very, very good. So you could be forgiven for thinking our meat-loving city didn’t need another one. But as far as we at The Infatuation are concerned, the more quality burgers we can get our hands on, the better. Especially when said burgers include the ones at Maillard Tavern.
This place is located on a six-corner intersection in River West, and you’ll get the tavern impression as soon as you walk in - half the restaurant is the bar. There’s an extensive selection of beers and whiskeys (along with cocktails and spiked shakes), but as you may have guessed based on what we’ve said so far, you’re mainly here for the burgers.
All seven burgers on the menu (not including the meatless Impossible burger) have two patties and a potato bun, and every component of each one is well prepared, starting with the meat. The patties are seared on a griddle until they’re perfectly charred and caramelized. (According to their website, this is the “maillard reaction” that inspired the name. We called Bill Nye to fact-check, but he didn’t pick up.) The topping ingredients are all high-quality, too - not surprising when you take into account that Maillard shares a chef with Piccolo Sogno, the very good Italian restaurant across the street.
We like all the burgers here for different reasons. The Classic is very simple - with lettuce, tomato, onion, and American cheese - and it tastes like the platonic ideal of a ’50s roadside lunch. The namesake Maillard burger has crispy onion rings and a flavorful bacon and onion spread (which means you get some bacon in every bite, and don’t have to deal with unwieldy strips sliding out and dismantling the whole thing). Then there’s the City Slicker, with seared foie gras, Swiss cheese, a black truffle pesto, caramelized onions, foie gras mayo, and crispy prosciutto. It has a lot going on, but if you think of it as an entire plate of food you can hold in your hand, it makes sense. The non-burger items on the menu - two more sandwiches, some sides, and some desserts - also live up to the burgers’ high standard.
Logistically, there are a few things to keep in mind about eating here. For one thing, they don’t take reservations. It’s small, and there’s not much of a waiting area to hang out in when it’s crowded. The good news is that tables turn over quickly, perhaps because the wooden booths and chairs aren’t all that comfortable - so come here on a weeknight or during lunch, when it isn’t as busy, and you should be all right.
Chicago is definitely not suffering from a lack of fantastic burgers. We’re the city of Au Cheval, after all. Maillard Tavern is further proof that when it comes to bread, meat, and cheese, we know how to do it right.
If the 1950s had a taste, they would taste like this burger. Lettuce, tomato, and onion, along with American cheese and pickles. Poodle skirt and McCarthyism not included.
This burger has just enough going on to make it feel elevated. The crispy onion straws add a nice texture, and while putting bacon on a burger isn’t exactly revolutionary, the bacon jam does make a big impression here.
Plenty of luxury-ingredient burgers just end up tasting muddled. This burger (with foie gras, black truffle pesto, caramelized onion, foie gras mayo, and crispy prosciutto) seems on paper like it might fall into that trap. And while it is rich, it really works - the foie is perfectly cooked, and the other ingredients don’t get lost. Just don’t plan on running a marathon after eating this thing.
The plant-based patty of the Impossible Burger mimics the sear of real meat better than any vegetarian burger we’ve had. Maillard Tavern tops it with enough chipotle mayo and cheese to make us believe it’s almost the real thing.
This is a good alternative to the burgers - not that you need one. The chicken is juicy, the breading is well-seasoned, and the addition of honey is a nice touch with the pickles and mayo.
The duck fat fries that come with the burgers and sandwiches are fine, but not memorable. They do, however, make an excellent base for the chili cheese fries - topped with chili, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and scallions.
Three types of cookies (s’more, chocolate chip, and white chocolate with macadamia nut) baked together in a cast-iron skillet. The center is gooey and the outside is crispy. Get a side of ice cream and take the time to be glad you’re alive. A must-order.
The milkshakes here are good - they’re made with vanilla ice cream and a swirl of creme anglaise. Feel free to use them as a dip for your fries.