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The 5 Best Burgers

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The Au Cheval Burger

The Au Cheval Burger

The Au Cheval Burger

Jamie Anderluh

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1. Au Cheval

Waiting for Au Cheval is a triumph in itself. It was the undisputed king of all burgers in Chicago–and Illinois, for that matter–until last year, when claims from Bon Appetit placed neighboring restaurant The Loyalist in the lead. But have no fear! It failed to quiet crowds at Au Cheval, and adoration for the dimly-lit diner remains arguably supreme. Waits, too, remain hours long (but there’s so much food around that I had time for sushi while waiting for the main event).

The beauty of Au Cheval lies in its simplicity. It also lies in a genuine love for eggs, but that comes later.

Au Cheval doesn’t want to overwhelm; it just knows that something magical is happening off that tiny corner of Randolph street. The burgers are simple. No nonsense. Choose patties, bacon, and egg. It’s not wild or vibrant. It’s just good. It’s that secret, sorcerous sauce paired with sweet yet somehow savory pickles–and then everything else becomes a blur, with the interruption of just that patty, that perfect, exteriorally crispy internally juicy patty–and finally that buttery bountiful bun–and that is Au Cheval. The legacy continues. Who needs The Loyalist?
I’ll interrupt with a side note here: a list of superior burgers could be compiled overwhelmingly in Chicago alone, but that is not this list. This list requires extensive journeys, and Au Cheval is the only city destination. The rest are scattered in unexpected corners.

2. Paradise Pup

The River Road haven returns! Formerly famed for its fries, Paradise Pup maintains its glory with the beautiful Merkts Cheddar burger.

Pause to learn about the wonder of Merkts cheese. Born in the ’50s, this fantastical cheddar spread hails straight from Wisconsin. It’s made with all natural cheese–whatever that means–and it’s what makes the Paradise Pup burger paradise.

The Pup burger is messy and juicy and greasy and charred, squished contentedly within a challah bun. Some people like it on rye–but a review of that would enter patty melt territory.
Guy Fieri called this hefty creation the “mac daddy of all burgers”, and the rest was history. The flavors don’t need much explanation. They’re classic and objectively magnificent because Paradise Pup doesn’t mess with what works: it perfects cheddar, patty, and grilled onions and never looks back.

The Paradise Pub Burger

3. Bulldogs Grill

At first glance, Bulldogs Grill seems just as tiny and unassuming as Au Cheval. Then suddenly it‘s an explosion of color, walls plastered with collages of contestants in epic pain from the Asylum Wing Challenge or the 5 pound Bluto Burger Challenge, topped off with photos of hundreds of hot sauces and illustrations of expressive cheeseburgers.

On to the burgers: they are everything that Au Cheval isn’t. They’re crazy and enormous, though the patty size is manageable. They’re topped with fried bananas or grilled cheese sandwiches or corn dogs. Where Au Cheval is miraculous enough by the patty alone, Bulldogs begs for attention with what goes on the patty. It’s beyond the patty. It’s beyond imagination.

Buns are fresh and shiny; patties have that equilibrium greasy char, but the flavor isn’t overpowering. The flavor adventure lies in the harmony of extravagant ingredients. That’s the true glory of Bulldogs Grill: its daring flavors have no bounds.

Bulldogs sits quietly in the heart of downtown Wauconda. It’s a suburban hike, but worry not! All will be made clear when burger meets mouth.

The burger from Bulldog’s Grill

4. Kuma’s Corner

The Kuma burger experience is a lot like that of Bulldogs Grill, except it’s more heavy metal. The staff is equipped with piercings and hair dye, the bar counter hosts a musical mural, and the place is cool and dark. But then the atmosphere shifts: everyone’s bursting with friendly energy, perhaps united by the camaraderie of burgerhood.

Kuma’s Corner is proud of their quality. These burgers are made with intention–nothing’s frozen, buns are made fresh each day at a Skokie bakery, and there’s no microwave to be found.
The patties are generous. More than generous. In fact, everything about these burgers is generous–they’re staggering. Flavor combinations aren’t as out there as Bulldogs, but they’re getting close.

Kuma’s was made famous by their chicken and waffle burger. Need I say more?
On to the patty: it’s beefy. Less juicy than Paradise Pup but still a worthy contender, this sheer mound of beef can overpower its counterpart ingredients. It’s not too crisp, but just right. It’s a dream come true for those who indulge on the purest part of the burger: that glorious and powerful beef.

The burger from Kuma’s Corner

5. Edzo’s Burger Shop

The Edzo’s burger is simple. Small but not too small and satisfyingly squishy, it’s griddled to perfection.

Things get interesting when faced with the add-ons. That’s what makes the burgers here: choose from mushrooms or garlic butter or jalapenos or all of them and more.

In unison, these toppings make that simple glorious burger even more extraordinary; onions will ooze angelically on chin, and dreams will come true.

My only complaint is when one ingredient outcompetes the other. In this case, it was the mustard–but it could never eliminate the magic happening elsewhere.

• All photos taken by Jamie Anderluh

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The 5 Best Burgers