A hearty burger is just the thing to warm up on a colder day in the Windy City. From the simple to the sensational, burgers in Chicago can be a purely gastronomical experience or a truly adventurous taste journey. The variety and ambition of the city's leading burger bars, though, mean that even during the height of summer you can easily enjoy a lighter, seasonal version of this all-American favorite. Of course, Chicago's is a famously multi-cultural foodie scene, so the all-American nature of the burger in this city is certainly disputable. If you're interested in experiencing the wide-ranging, international and even dramatic potential of the patty and bun, put these five best Chicago burger restaurants on your bucket list.
Kuma's isn't a likely candidate for the best burgers in Chicago; at first glance, unsuspecting passersby would see nothing more than a late night dive bar. But Chicagoans – and, since this place's publicity grew, most tourists too – know that the burgers at Kuma's are some of the very best in the city. Appropriately, each burger is named after a Metal band – and indeed, most of the servers here wouldn't look out of place at a Black Sabbath concert. The huge burgers are served on heavy pretzel rolls and some winning combinations include hot sauce and jalapeños ("Plague Bringer" – don't let the name put you off) or the Kuma classic of cheddar, bacon and egg.
A kooky bar on Michigan Avenue is the home of what are arguably Chicago's most famous and best loved burgers. While these are certainly some of the simpler offerings on the Chicago burger scene – paper-wrapped plain burgers, with "cheese" (no embellishment there) optional – the meat is fresh and tasty and the authentic Chicagoan atmosphere makes it a popular spot with the locals. Billy Goat, founded in the '30s, is where the "cheezborger" joke of SNL fame originated so the burgers here come with a little taste of history.
The atmosphere at DMK is more Party than Family, with a hipster vibe evident in the music, movies and even menu at this burger joint. But whether or not moody lighting and strident beats make up your dining ambience of choice, the fare on offer here makes the trip a must for burger lovers. As the menu proudly reminds us foodies, the beef here is grass-fed, the buns are fresh and the cheese is pretentious ("artisanal"). The beef is fantastically flavorful but the menu also offers shining examples of lamb, turkey, veggie and even bison burgers. Some stand-out specialties here include their chili-rubbed onion strings-on or off a burger – and their formidable fries with your choice of deliciously potent seasonings including Amish Blue cheese or truffle cream.
Sesame and poppy seed buns house hefty, juicy patties with inventive and gourmet fillings at Grange Hall burger bar. It's a cute, if slightly hipster, joint on Randolph Street that boasts organic, grass-fed beef – like any decent, self-respecting burger bar. The menu's wide range of carefully selected combos allows for some adventurous options including some epicurean cheeses and an original twist on some classic sauces. Thoughtfully, they also suggest the perfect beer for your burger so indecisive diners don't have much work to do here. There's a cozy outdoor seating area, too, which makes this a great option for a late dinner with friends.
It's all about mixing and matching at Burger Bar Chicago in Lincoln Park doesn't. Adventurous foodies can experiment with a comprehensive range of fillings on offer and an interesting selection of sauces. There aren't a huge variety of pre-made suggestions; in fact, the beer menu is quite a bit bulkier than the food menu but it's clear Burger Bar elects quality over quantity. You can have your generous half-pound burger in either Angus beef or the more expensive organic beef and the locally sourced meat comes served between chunky, soft buns. The fillings on offer range from the standard to the specialty; a huge variety of cheeses and spicy or sweet house specialty sauces are among them. If you want to get adventurous, you can substitute your beef patty for bison or elk meat.