comment

Between the Bun

The Counter

670 W. Diversey | 773-935-1995

$

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

Latent anti-west coast bias 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, belonging to a pair of carb-conscious but pleasure-loving eaters, 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

Diner Grill

1635 W. Irving Park | 773-248-2030

$

AMERICAN, BURGERS | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: 24 HOURS EVERY DAY | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Open round the clock and offering counter service only, the Diner Grill has the grizzled, noirish look of a 70s art film, but the food is great, especially the burgers. Like my buddy John says, it's the decades' worth of grease built up on the grill that provides the flavor. For the true Diner Grill experience, get the Slinger: hash browns topped with two hamburger patties covered with cheese and two fried eggs, then inundated with a couple of scoops of chili and served with slices of white bread on the side. It's impressive and, best of all, tasty (though I did throw a little A.1. in there just to jazz things up). If you finish the whole thing, the cook will give you a little certificate testifying to your prowess. —Chip Dudley

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-made 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 completely 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. The place is well suited to its Columbia College environs, an industrial space with high ceilings hung with designy white lamps of various sizes and shapes, walls painted with bold abstract graphics, bright orange plastic seating made from recycled materials, and, on our visit, two flat-screen TVs showing a Japanese art film with the sound turned down—don't ask me. —Kate Schmidt

Hackney's Printer's Row

733 S. Dearborn | 312-461-1116

$

bar/lounge, burgers, american | Lunch, Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | open late: Tuesday-Thursday, saturday till 11; friday till 11:30

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. Other old-school offerings include a strawberry and spinach salad, chicken Waldorf salad, and tuna salad in tomato. 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 black bean and veggie burgers and a hummus wrap with apples and carrots. Desserts here attract cult followings, with some favoring the red velvet cake, others the Snickers ice cream pie or chocolate chip sundae (allow ten minutes for baking). There's a decent selection of beers on tap. —Kate Schmidt

Jury's

4337 N. Lincoln | 773-935-2255

$$

AMERICAN, BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11

Every hot and happening restaurant row should have one old-school place still chugging along, resistant to all trends, and that's the function Jury's serves on this stretch of Lincoln Avenue just south of Montrose. With its white-tablecloth interior and supper club menu, the place clearly aims for more sophistication than the other taverns along this strip, though its main claim to fame is still its hamburger, which won a best-burger-in-da-city contest some years back. For once one of those things got it right: this is a terrific example of the classic bar burger, a half-pound slab of quality beef seared to a steaklike char and accompanied by nothing more exotic than Grey Poupon and a manly mound of steak fries. Not surprisingly, the same char crust turns up on the steaks themselves, which rank among the city's best in their midrange price class. Otherwise the menu is the usual middle-American fare: baby back ribs, pasta, and fish dishes, all calibrated to the tastes of a mostly older audience—a Caesar salad had the absolute minimum hint of garlic and anchovy required to legally qualify as one, and fried calamari, while perfect in texture, was oddly flavorless. Stick with the red meat and Jury's acquits itself well, especially on Monday nights, when appetizers and desserts are half off. There's a patio in back, and a small sidewalk cafe where canine companions are welcome. —Michael Gebert

Kuma's Corner

2900 W. Belmont | 773-604-8769

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, MONDAY-FRIDAY TILL 2, SUNDAY TILL MIDNIGHT | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

The menu at this gussied-up corner tap is focused squarely on bar food—but finger-lickin' bar food it is. Kuma's serves whopping hunks of juicy, lightly seasoned meat on delicious, chewy pretzel rolls in more than 20 metal-themed iterations (the Motorhead, the Mastodon, etc), each also available as a chicken sandwich or garden burger. My Iron Maiden burger, topped with a sinus-clearing load of cherry peppers, chipotle mayo, and pepper jack, was filling yet oddly clean-tasting—refreshing, even, for meat. There's also a make-your-own mac 'n' cheese option, appetizers like the mussels cooked in Allagash white ale with garlic and chiles, and an excellent beer list. Next time I'm trying the Slayer: a pile of fries topped with a half-pound burger plus chili, cherry peppers, andouille sausage, onions, jack cheese, "and anger." —Martha Bayne

Patty's Diner

3358 Main, Skokie | 847-675-4274

$

BREAKFAST, AMERICAN | BREAKFAST, LUNCH: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED MONDAY | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Patty's Diner is the type of place everyone wishes was in his neighborhood. Locals fuel up on bountiful breakfasts of picture-perfect eggs, heaps of home fries, plump sausages, crisp bacon, fluffy pancakes, and, best of all, griddled salty-sweet ham cut directly from the bone. Biscuits and gravy with potatoes is popular, as is the tasty corned beef hash, but if you ask me, ham hash paired with two eggs over easy is the brass ring. The off-menu "old potatoes" are home fries given a second seasoning and deep-fried crisp—swoon. At lunch nicely charred coarse-ground hand-formed burgers come on a bakery bun, and there's a chicken salad sandwich made with chunks of roasted chicken. Daily specials come with bread and house-made soup; I love the soul-satisfying beef barley. Meat loaf and beef stew also satisfy, but don't miss the Wednesday turkey special: roasted turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, veg, and gravy—old-school comfort food done right. —Gary Wiviott

Ramova Grill

3510 S. Halsted | 773-847-9058

$

AMERICAN, BREAKFAST, BURGERS | BREAKFAST: SEVEN DAYS; LUNCH: MONDAY-SATURDAY; DINNER: MONDAY-FRIDAY

Fresh-squeezed orange juice, house-made chili, sesame-seed-bun-topped burgers, perfect over-easy eggs complementing greaseless hash browns nestling a trio of link sausage. No, it's not some trendy new Bucktown breakfast place, but a south-side institution around since 1929, where the newest innovation is using colored chalk on the original menu boards. Tony Dinos, who bought the diner from his uncle in 1964, mans the grill with the skill and grace only years with spatula in hand can bring, while the friendly waitress efficiently "hons" her customers: "Little warm-up on that coffee, hon?" Ramova may look like just one of countless south-side diners straight out of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, but its god-is-in-the-details mentality elevates its simple diner food to art. —Gary Wiviott

Skylark

2149 S. Halsted | 312-948-5275

$

BAR/LOUNGE, BURGERS | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT TILL 2

My gawd, behold the Skylark Burger: big and juicy, topped with a dollop of tangy slaw, cheddar cheese, and beer-battered onion rings, and accompanied by an ample portion of supercrispy seasoned tater tots. These people know how to accessorize some grilled meat. The big bowl of mac 'n' cheese is worthy too. Rotating specials include a panko-crusted chicken breast with portobello mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, and a side salad and Friday's regular fish-and-chips. This is better than bar food—it's great food that happens to be served in a bar. Order a manhattan up; the barkeeps are pros. —Susannah J. Felts

That's-A-Burger

2134 E. 71st | 773-493-2080

$

burgers | Lunch, Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday

Idiosyncratic owner, out-of-the-way location, 20-minute wait for burgers, no seating, orders placed through bulletproof glass, impatient staff, no picture taking, and did I mention idiosyncratic owner? But all is forgiven after one big juicy chin-dripping, eye-rolling chomp into one of the better burgers in Chicago—maybe even the best if one factors in value. My burger of choice here is a half-pound of coarse ground beef with a sumolike ratio of fat to lean, topped with fried egg, tomato, onion, and sport peppers. It's a purist's pick in the face of the Whammy Burger, which is served dripping with cheese and crowned with a split Polish sausage, or the T.A.B. Special, which throws chili, cheese, bacon, and egg into the mix. Scented with sage and surprisingly moist, turkey burgers are also a draw, and turkey chili is tasty as a stand-alone or on burgers. Terrific fresh-cut fries are nestled in with the sandwiches. That's-A-Burger is takeout only; dining options are car, benches at the Metra stop across the street, or the scenic South Shore Cultural Center, just a few blocks to the east. —Gary Wiviott

Top Notch Beefburger

2116 W. 95th | 773-445-7218

$

BURGERS | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY

After finishing the first hamburger I sighed, gave the plate to the waitress, then ordered another. She didn't look surprised. There's institutional memory to spare at this classic burger joint. Around in a couple different incarnations since 1942, it makes a trip to Beverly de rigueur. Fries are hand cut, the beef is ground on-site—all that's needed for the complete experience is a rich, thick shake. —Elizabeth M. Tamny

Add a comment