Is there a Chicago-style burger the way there is Chicago pizza? Perhaps yes. Thanks to the enormous popularity of the Small Cheval burger, this is the city where chefs have rethought the joys and beauty of a fast-food style stackburger with their signature takes. Read through this list — ranked by popularity on Caviar — and although you’ll see some old-school backyard burgers, thick and juicy, the primary style today is a double stack, done just so.
1. Small Cheval
Once upon a time, this Chicago classic was only available at Au Cheval, the always-jammed West Loop restaurant that created it. Now, thanks to the proliferation of Small Chevals throughout the city, everyone can enjoy this fantastic construction of the beefiest griddled patties and tangy bread-and-butter pickles stacked in a slurry of melty cheese and house Dijonnaise. Yes, you can get a single patty, but why?
2. The Moonlighter
Borrowing a trick from a certain West Coast burger chain, the cooks here griddle the patties with mustard. These smashburgers are big and messy, with all the expected garnishes crammed into the bun in a glorious heap. Beyond Burgers and crispy chicken sandwiches get the same treatment.
3. DMK Burger Bar
Though no longer involved with the restaurant, famous Chicago chef Michael Kornick developed the menu here after traveling coast to coast to learn what makes a burger great. Since 2009, DMK has been preparing consistently delicious burgers made with grass-fed beef (or bison), soft potato buns, and a huge variety of terrific toppings, including your choice of eight different cheeses.
Simple pub grub gets a gourmet makeover at this Lakeview fave. The house blend of brisket, sirloin, and short ribs makes these patties extra juicy, and the toppings are unique. Housemade bacon-date jam, blue cheese crumbles, and caramelized onions give a sweet-funky bite to the bacon jam burger, while the candied bacon and bBrie burger has a layer of gooey white American cheese separating the patties.
5. R.J. Grunts
On this burger an empire was built. Rich Melman opened this casual spot across from the Lincoln Park Zoo in 1971, and since then his Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises has given Chicago more than 50 restaurants up and down the spectrum from fast casual to fine dining. The burgers here remain the thick, juicy classics of yore. Get the bacon cheddarburger, the patty melt, or the Gruntburger topped with blue cheese and a cumulus of fried onions.
6. Kuma’s Corner
Claiming it serves the “finest burgers available on this planet or any other,” Kuma’s has, for nearly 20 years, served one-of-a-kind creations named for heavy metal bands. Everyone loves the barbecue-sauced Mastodon, but you may find the Iron Maiden — with avocado, cherry peppers, and pepperjack cheese — more your jam.
7. Reve Burger
Reve got its name not because it means “dream” in French, but because it is “ever” spelled backwards. This carryout- and delivery-only spot is indeed the little sister of Ever, the Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant from chef Curtis Duffy and Michael Musar. Nothing fancy here, and the burgers are indeed a dream of simple, fast-food goodness with heaps of well-seasoned fries served on the side. Trust us: You’ll want to throw a few chicken fingers into your order as well.
8. The Bad Apple
This Lincoln Square tavern serves some seriously over-the-top creations that make you want to go for it. Just Beyond the Thunderdome comes with braised short ribs and beer-battered onion rings, while Elvis’ Last Supper arrives piled high with peanut butter, bacon, and sweet plantains. Even the fries are all kinds of crazy, with seven choices of seasonings (curry, Old Bay) and two styles of poutine toppings.
This longtime fave serves Korean food alongside burgers and fries, and when the two overlap, things get interesting. The kimchi burger with togarashi mayo, crisp bacon, American cheese, and a sunnyside-up egg is truly the best of both worlds.
10. The Stop Along
This combo pizza/burger restaurant adjacent to the 606 may send out mixed signals, but that doesn’t stop Bucktown residents from declaring its hamburger the neighborhood’s best. Basically, what we have here is the platonic ideal of a fast-food stackburger with a few caramelized onions snuck into the careful construction of lettuce, tomato, cheese, pickles, and Thousand Island dressing.
How hungry are you? If the answer is “very,” then look no further. The 1/2-pound Meathead from this popular local chain combines three fresh Angus beef patties with all the toppings, from basic to premium, that you could ever hope to unhinge your jaw for. Thick shakes and fries that can be cheesed up complete the repast.
12. Houndstooth Saloon
Winner of the Roscoe Village Burger Fest, the signature smashburger here comes with a creamy “Black Betty'' sauce made with black garlic and white American cheese. If American cheese doesn’t thrill you, you can sub in Merkt’s Cheddar.
13. Epic Burger
This Chicagoland chain serves big, bigger, and biggest burgers made from 100% natural, halal-certified beef. Veggie burgers, Beyond Burgers and crispy chicken patties all get the same choices of toppings (avocado, bacon, fried egg, pepper jack or aged cheddar), and can be stacked to triple height. Serious milkshakes, too.
14. Burger Bar Chicago
This South Loop haunt has so many different burger patty varieties (bison, veggie, shrimp) and so many different toppings that it would take a computer algorithm to figure out all the possible combinations. Or you could just get the creation called THE Bacon Cheeseburger and enjoy the tang of three-year aged white cheddar and the novelty of a bacon brioche bun.
15. Edzo’s Burger Shop
Although the Evanston location has temporarily closed, the UrbanSpace Food Hall branch remains open. West Coasters will enjoy discovering the house special Double Double Animal Style with special Edzo’s sauce is a good approximation of one they may recognize from a popular chain. All of Chicago’s favorite tube steaks are on the menu, too.
16. ROCKS Bar Group
This Lakeview watering hole sells some serious burgers, all of which are constructed from two 4-ounce patties cooked medium. The ROCKS Burger with bacon, pepper jack cheese, onion strings, and giardiniera on a pretzel bun is the big boy, with over 145,000 sold.
17. Candlelite Chicago
Though known for more than 70 years for its thin-crust, tavern-style pizzas, this Rogers Park institution makes one heckuva burger. The Pub burger comes outfitted to your liking: from blue to well-done; with any of their nine cheeses; with or without a slew of toppings, including mushrooms and carmelized onions. Add a mini wedge salad for a fine meal.
18. The Hat Chicago
The Hat is one of those classic Chicago street food joints that does it all where classic Chicago foods are concerned — hot dogs, Polish, Italian beef, gyros. The food tastes good at dinner time and positively brilliant after midnight, particularly the char burgers. Nothing fancy, just ⅓ -pound chargrilled patties with all the goodness you want to pile on top.
This rock ’n’ roll-themed spot serves burgers piled so high that the toothpick through the center is absolutely required. Try the Old Time Religion Burger with roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, arugula, and truffled aïoli, an umami bomb that delivers a mouthful of flavors.
20. Davanti Enoteca
Yes, this Western Springs trattoria specializes in rustic Italian cooking, but smart locals have discovered it makes one of the best gourmet burgers in the western suburbs. Bacon jam, roasted tomatoes, and roasted garlic aïoli are a few of the garnishes that make it such a standout.
21. The Claim Company
The original location opened in downtown Chicago in the 1970s, and while that flagship is defunct, two suburban locations keep patrons happy with its signature burger: the Motherlode. It’s a build-your-own sitch: The beef patties weigh in at 8 ounces, the choices of cheese and toppings are extravagant, and the sauces range from teriyaki to herb garlic.
22. Radio Room
This laid-back joint from the DineAmic Restaurant Group has a trim, accessible, spot-on pub menu. The double smashburger features onion jam, house pickles, and Dijonnaise for a flavor that’s both grown-up and down-and-dirty. The Phat Stack sliders with brie cheese, crispy shallots, and oxtail marmalade are fun.
23. Fat Shack
Midnight munchies? We hear you, and so does Fat Shack, which is here to satisfy all cravings with Philly cheesesteaks, deep-fried desserts, and Fat Sandwiches (in 6 or 9 inches) — monstrosities stuffed with such gut busters as mac ’n’ cheese and mozzarella sticks. The signature Angus burgers stack up to three patties and come with all the expected garnishes, with the option of adding a layer of mac ’n’ cheese and/or onion rings. Because they do nothing halfway.
24. Mikkey’s Retro Grill
Hey Mikkey, you’re so fine. And your Hey Mikkey burger is, too. This Stony Island spot serves some of the best carryout on the Southside. If you’re hankering for island vibes on a cold Chicago night, try the Rico’s Jerk Burger; the patty is covered in jerk seasoning before it’s grilled, then layered with cilantro and Rico’s mild sauce in addition to the standard toppings.
25. Top Notch Beef Burgers
This Southside classic has been serving burgers and fries cooked in beef tallow since 1942. The patty melts hit the spot, and the burgers come with fries, onion rings, or (the throwback of throwbacks) mashed potatoes.
26. Twisted Burger Round Lake
Fun vibes all around. The signature creations at this burger and milkshake spot are anything but ordinary. Case in point: the Mac Attack burger, absolutely draped in homemade mac ’n’ cheese. Though, the Black Widow with grilled pineapple, cream cheese, bacon, and jalapeño is another contender for the most out-there burger on the menu.
27. Baba’s Famous Philly Steak & Lemonade
Seventeen flavors of homemade, technicolor lemonade (coconut, green apple) and melty fried crispy sandwiches may be the highlights of the menu, but the burgers, which use halal meat, hold their own. Nothing unexpected here, just your classic American condiments, pickles, lettuce, and tomatoes on a squishy bun. It just tastes extra good with blue raspberry lemonade.
28. The Mean Wiener
This Highwood restaurant satisfies the widest variety of cravings, whether that’s nachos or buffalo wings or gyros or the namesake charbroiled wieners (in Chicago and Detroit Coney styles). We’re pretty bullish on the 1/4-pound burgers that aren’t fancy, just good.
29. Clowns Pancake House
This northwest Chicago staple has a full breakfast and lunch diner menu, but also a serious collection of 100% beef burgers. The 1/2-pound bacon double cheeseburger is a classic done right, as is the patty melt. Add peppers for extra bite, and a side of hash browns — because it’s a diner and you can.