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The Bad Apple

4300 N. Lincoln | 773-360-8406

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, BURGERS | LUNCH: SATURDAY-SUNDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT TILL 2 | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

Craig Fass and Mandy Franklin (Menagerie, Cooper's) opened their beer and burger bar the Bad Apple a scant half block south of the venerable Jury's, and while that institution attracts a decidedly different crowd, its burger is formidable and has been justly recognized as such for years. Now, with the Bad Apple shipping in a custom-ground beef mix from New York wholesale butcher Pat La Frieda, it's difficult not to imagine a gauntlet has been thrown down between the generations gathering on each side of Lincoln Avenue. In various instances Cass and Franklin see fit to bedeck their pedigreed beef with lily-gilding school-of-Kuma's-type arrangements, offering options like pulled pork and onion rings, ham and eggs, ham and pineapple, etc. But I'd say Jury's has little to worry about in the burger department. Accessorizing all of these sandwiches are golden brown hand-cut fries available in seven different flavors (truffle, curry, Old Bay, etc). Where the Bad Apple clearly has the upper hand over Jury's—and most likely every other place in the neighborhood—is in its extensive and diverse beer selection. Beginning on May 20, lunch will be available from Thursday through Sunday. —Mike Sula

Billy Goat Tavern

430 N. Michigan | 312-222-1525

$

BAR/LOUNGE, burgers | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

More than 25 years after the heyday of the SNL skit, the Billy Goat is still trading on John Belushi's famous tagline, "Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger. No Pepsi, Coke. No fries, cheeps." Tourists continue to find their way into the subterranean dive under Michigan Avenue, and journalists remain among the regulars, drinking and risking heartburn against a backdrop of yellowing Royko columns and Billy Goat curse memorabilia. The cheeseburgers, flat and greasy, are probably best ordered in the form of a double, but they're helped along by raw onion and an unlimited supply of dill pickle slices. —Kate Schmidt

Boston Blackie's

164 E. Grand | 312-938-8700

$

BURGERS, BAR/LOUNGE | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: MONDAY-SATURDAY TILL 11 | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

Users like the low prices and the big burgers, which come in everything from plain to the namesake Boston Blackie Burger, with bacon and caramelized onions. "It is undeniably delicious and filling," says one, "and you can walk out for under $8 a person." Another likes the deco-inspired room, saying it's "kind of like a place where old-time Chicago gangsters would have met up." And in fact, the owner and his son have been charged with bank fraud in a multimillion-dollar check-kiting scheme. —Holly Greenhagen

The Counter

670 W. Diversey | 773-935-1995

$

BURGERS, ICE CREAM | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

There must be some latent anti-west coast bias in me that initially led me to smirk at the idea of a bunless "burger bowl," what the folks behind exploding Santa Monica burger chain the Counter call what is essentially a burger salad. But the two I sampled were really tasty. And that's the thing—if the natural beef patties here are all as consistently seasoned and cooked to order as the ones I've tried, then a bad burger can really only be blamed on the decisions of the customer. But building a burger from a clipboard list of options—with more than 312,120 possible combinations—is a daunting proposition, and the potential for crimes against nature is enormous. It's possible, for instance, to order a one-pound veggie burger with Danish blue cheese, hard-boiled eggs, grilled pineapple, corn-and-black-bean salsa, carrot strings, honey-cured bacon, and peanut sauce on an English muffin. However, if you feel incapable of wielding that power responsibly, the house Counter burger—with provolone, lettuce, tomato, fried onions, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette—is an excessive and reliably good default. —Mike Sula

DMK Burger Bar

2954 N. Sheffield | 773-360-8686

$

BURGers, BAR/LOUNGE | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: every night TILL 11 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

I'm more than little sad that David Morton and Michael Kornick's most enjoyable contribution to the burger boom is nothing beefier than a nicely sagey turkey patty with smoked Swiss, arugula, and Dijonaise. DMK wants to be the burger place for everyone, offering a house-molded veggie option, two turkeys, a lamb, a portobello mushroom, and now a salmon burger in addition to six grass-finished beef varieties. But Kornick and Morton (son of Morton's founder Arnie) have clearly taken a cue from the architecturally topped burgers pioneered by Kuma's Corner. While it makes good business sense, the patties favored at DMK can't stand up to heavy strata of toppings. These are skinny burgers: five ounces, cooked medium. And any flavor or subtlety to the beef is submerged under the equivalent of a Reuben or an order of huevos rancheros or layers of bacon, cheddar, and BBQ sauce. Even DMK's pleasantly gamy grass-fed lamb patty disappears between salty layers of feta, black olive tapenade, and tzatziki. Fries, offered in an almost equally varied selection of flavors and sauces, are more appealing—well browned and crisp. Deep-fried pickles and okra, onion strings, and two choices of grilled cheese join house-made soda, ice cream sandwiches, and lumpy milk shakes to complete a set of referents to burger drive-ins past. But they haunt a slick, dark bar with an extensive beer list, two custom wines, and "classic" cocktails such as negronis and sazeracs denatured with rocks and blasphemously sugared around the rims. —Mike Sula

Edzo's Burger Shop

1571 Sherman, Evanston | 847-864-3396

$

BURGERS | lunch: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED MONDAY | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

My first thought was: Edzo's Burger Shop is to burgers as Hot Doug's is to encased meat. And in fact Eddie Lakin purposely patterned his Evanston burger hut after Doug Sohn's renowned hot dog stand in certain respects—his cruelly limited hours, for example. But where Sohn is an innovator, Lakin's genius is in going back to the basics. His hamburger, ground daily and unmistakably fresh, is available in two forms: a thin griddled patty or a nice, fat charburger. The former's best in the form of a double; the latter's irresistible cooked medium rare. Lakin, a chef who's worked at the likes of Tru and Nacional 27, did go hog wild with his hand-cut fries, which are available in six flavors, from truffle to garlic-parsley to "angry," topped with jalapeños, sriracha, giardiniera, and buffalo sauce. But best of all might be the "old fries," crispy brown remnants perfect as a complement to Lakin's soft, decadent cheese fries (made with Merkts sharp cheddar spread). And don't skimp when it comes to the "$5 shake"—just $4—try the chocolate-banana number or a Nutella malt, topped with whipped cream and a cherry. —Kate Schmidt

Epic Burger

517 S. State | 312-913-1373

$

BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

This South Loop quick-service joint promises all-natural burgers and sandwiches, fresh-cut fries fried in oil free of trans fats and seasoned with sea salt, plus extras like cage-free organic eggs, nitrate-free bacon, and Wisconsin cheeses. No doubt because of all the hype on the menu, which is printed with "Epic Rules" like "The bun is the beginning and the end," I was initially a little disappointed with my cheeseburger: the puffy bun overwhelmed the thinnish meat patty. I couldn't much discern the vaunted "Epic sauce" (its ingredients, the counter guy told us, cannot be disclosed), but once I'd applied some Grey Poupon and smooshed the thing down some I was pretty well satisfied—the pickles and grilled onions are a nice touch. My friend felt the same about his turkey burger with horseradish Havarti, though here again the horseradish wasn't readily detectable. Tasty fries are worlds better than at other fast-food joints and come in a good-size bag, plenty enough for two. A second location is slated to open in Lincoln Park in June. —Kate Schmidt

Five Guys Burgers & Fries

2140 N. Clybourn | 773-327-5953

$

BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

This is one of several local outposts of the Virginia-based burger chain, an absurdly popular concept defined by fresh-cut fries, free toppings, free peanuts while you wait, and fresh, hand-formed patties cooked well-done. It's that last little hedge against a potential Jack in the Box-type catastrophe that bugs me most about Five Guys—you'd think a company that boasts about using no fillers and no preservatives in its beef would want to show it off a little more. But these burgers are overcooked and underseasoned, undeserving of the rapturous accolades from across the country that cover the walls. The fries, though, thick, long, and crispy, are something special. —Mike Sula

Hackney's Printers' Row

733 S. Dearborn | 312-461-1116

$

BAR/LOUNGE, BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: ThurSDAY-SATURDAY TILL 11 | RESERVATIONS not accepted

The sole city location of the largely suburban family-owned chain has the feel of a neighborhood pub and is frequently packed with regulars. Hackney's, founded in 1939, is best known for retro-ish specialties, particularly the daunting french-fried onion loaf and the Hackneyburger, served on either a bun or dark rye. That's not to say that Hackney's is behind the times: there's a California burger stuffed with chorizo and queso fresco, a turkey burger stuffed with spinach and feta, and several vegetarian options, among them a black bean burger. —Kate Schmidt

Hamburger Mary's

5400 N. Clark | 773-784-6969

$

BURGERS, BAR/LOUNGE | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11:30 | RESERVATIONS for large groups only

The cartoony logo, the heavy-handed, slightly risque puns sprinkled throughout the laminated menu, the proud lavender facade—it's all part of this San Francisco-founded franchise's campy, gay-friendly shtick. Obviously, the specialty is burgers, specifically, half-pound 100 percent Angus patties in combos like Buffy the Hamburger Slayer, with garlic aioli, red wine sauce, and Swiss. I hunkered in for the Meaty Mushroom burger only to find it light on the mushrooms and a little dry. I could just manage about a quarter of it, but I polished off my veggie slaw, a welcome alternative to sides of fries or bacon potato salad. You can also sub veggie, turkey, chicken, or buffalo patties on any of the burgers. All this with a disco beat, karaoke in the upstairs lounge on Sundays and Wednesdays, and special menus for the kiddies. —Kathie Bergquist

Hop Haus

646 N. Franklin | 312-467-4287

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 5, WEDNESDAY-FRIDAY TILL 4, SUNDAY-TUESDAY TILL 11:30 | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

Brewpub meets sports bar in this concept restaurant from the owners of Leona's—and the sports bar wins. Televisions cling to every spot with a sight line in this cavernous River North space, and the walls are decorated with photos of mildly risque sports bloopers. The burger menu includes "global" takes on the basic steak burger and exotica like kangaroo and ostrich. The German burger was pretty good, topped with rich butterkase, sauerkraut, and robust brown mustard. But the wild boar was a disappointment, the meat tough, greasy, and well past medium rare. Both come on weirdly puffy egg buns that can't bear the weight of their contents and are accompanied by seasoned potato wedges. But the beer list is excellent, with close to 40 imports and craft brews bottled or on tap and suggested beer-and-burger pairings helpfully provided, though we went off menu with some refreshing Reissdorf Kolsch. With the kitchen open till an hour before closing I suppose you could do a lot worse for late-night sustenance—especially if you're looking to catch the SportsCenter recap. There's a second location at 7545 N. Clark (773-262-3783). —Martha Bayne

J. Wellington's

2045 W. North | 773-687-9142

$

BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 11 | BYO | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Named for J. Wellington Wimpy, the Popeye comic-strip character with an undersize bowler hat and a hamburger fixation, J. Wellington's offers upscale burgers and sandwiches in a casual but classy space. The menu is brief: three signature burgers; a few other sandwiches including meatloaf, tilapia, and a tofu burger; two pasta dishes, and chili, plus shakes and a root beer float. But there are still plenty of decisions to be made here. In addition to the standard burger toppings you can pick one each of five cheeses and sauces, and for a buck apiece add on bacon, a fried egg, giardiniera, sauteed mushrooms or onions, fried pickle chips, and coleslaw. As the menu says, "You figure it out?!?" We opted not to, going for a couple of the signature burgers instead. Both were done medium-well (we weren't asked how done we wanted them), but still good and juicy. The Wellington—topped with cheddar, bacon, fried onions, and the house's special sauce—was excellent, though the onions were a bit overpowering and I couldn't tell what the sauce was. But the One-Eyed Runt, with bacon, fried egg, blue cheese, and sriracha mayo, was the favorite by far, the unlikely-sounding blue cheese working perfectly with the other toppings. The fries were decent but unremarkable and went mostly uneaten, overshadowed by the much better burgers, shakes, and mac 'n' cheese, which despite its pale, bland appearance turned out to be creamy, cheesy, and comforting—though by that point in our meal, lying down for a long time without moving was sounding more comforting than anything else. —Julia Thiel

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