Under the Bun

(page 4 of 5)

Small Bar cheeseburger
Small Bar cheeseburger

18 SMALL BAR CHEESEBURGER
SMALL BAR
“The seasoning blend started with salt and pepper and evolved to what it is now,” says Ty Fujimura, Small Bar’s co-owner. OK, so what is it now? “Secret ingredients,” Fujimura says. Terrific. I’m dying to know how to make this one at home, but all I know is that it’s certified Angus that’s been cooked perfectly medium rare and served with the usual fixings on a cornmeal-dusted kaiser. The rest must be some kind of magic, because how else do you explain a burger this good at a humble soccer-obsessed beer bar in Ukie Village? 2049 W. DIVISION ST.; 773-772-2727 $10

19 ROE BURGER
FLUB A DUB CHUB’S HOT DOG EMPORIUM
This family-owned subterranean hot dog joint tucked beneath a Lake View astrology shop may seem like an odd choice for this list, but the Roe Burger has eclipsed any of the place’s dogs in popularity. Deservedly so. It’s half a pound of fresh charcoal-grilled beef on a pretzel roll with crisp bacon strips burrowed into melted Cheddar, plus a layer of creamy avocado—and it’s a standout. You’ll feel good about putting money in the pockets of the Giarratano family, who love their patrons so much they give them the remote control for the 40-inch flat screen in the corner. 3021 N. BROADWAY; 773-857-6500 $7.50

Related:

Burgers Made Me Dumb »
Jeff Ruby on the downside to being a food writer

On French Fries »
Our favorites to accompany our burgers

Beefless Burgers »
If you want to avoid the bum steer, look for nonstandard ingredients

Vote! »
Disagree with our list? Make yourself heard

20 CLASSIC CHEESEBURGER
ERWIN
An offbeat flavor perks up Erwin’s unique cheeseburger, and when I ask my server about it, she says that it must be the tonkatsu sauce that the chef, Erwin Drechsler, gets from Joong Boo Market. “Think steak sauce, but with a natural fruit and vegetable extract,” says Drechsler, who also seasons his Black Angus beef with fresh garlic before finishing it on an oak-wood-burning grill. One grievance keeps this burger from the upper-upper echelon: While undeniably tasty, mine was bloodier than a Tarantino flick. 2925 N. HALSTED ST.; 773-528-7200 $13

21 CHARBURGER ON PITA
CROSS-RHODES
The serious burgerati out there will probably ream me for this, but to get the full effect of Cross-Rhodes’s beloved charburger, you really need a knife and fork. That way you can get a bite that contains every mouthwatering element: fresh flame-broiled beef, a thick flour pita, a big block of tangy feta, iceberg lettuce, and an ample Greek fry underneath that’s been basted in white wine and lemon-herb dressing. Pita? White wine? Utensils? Is this really a burger? You’re damn right it is. It’s also the best in Evanston. 913 CHICAGO AVE., EVANSTON; 847-475-4475 $6.75

22 HAMBURGER
NIGHTWOOD
Every three weeks, half a cow arrives at Nightwood from Slagel Family Farms in Fairbury, Illinois. Pretty much every cow part goes to good use. The shoulder, for example, gets ground up, formed into patties, seasoned with Worcestershire, wood grilled, and topped with spicy homemade mustard and a “loose fondue” of beer-infused white Cheddar. At that point it reaches its final resting place: inside a chewy ciabatta roll on your plate. Sounds like a lousy way to spend one’s afterlife, even by bovine standards. But sit at the open-kitchen bar and watch Nightwood make your burger— lean and pleasantly charred—and you’ll agree the cow gave its life for a noble cause. 2119 S. HALSTED ST.; 312-526-3385 $13

23 GRILLED CHEESEBURGER
JOE’S SEAFOOD, PRIME STEAK & STONE CRAB
Gary Baca, Joe’s chef/partner, has such confidence in the buttery flavor of his “double-thick” cheeseburger that his kitchen doesn’t bother putting anything on it other than a perfect drape of melted Cheddar. That’s it. No lettuce, no tomato, no nothing. If you’re stubborn, you can add bacon or sautéed onions at no charge, but don’t bother, because anything else will only screw up this specimen’s delicate balance of beef to bun. From a menu packed with extravagances, Baca loves to recommend his cheeseburger. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before they add “Burgers” to the restaurant’s pathologically inclusive name. 60 E. GRAND AVE.; 312-379-5637 $10.50

24 DOUBLE CHEDDAR CHAR BURGER
PARADISE PUP
Once upon a time, little roadside hot dog stands—usually sporting a red awning and some kind of cute canine mascot—littered the Chicago area. Within such earnest establishments, the most pressing question on earth was: Burger or dog? At Paradise Pup, where lines still stretch into the parking lot even in the dead of winter, the answer is: Are you crazy? Beneath a mountainous sesame-seed challah bun, the char burger’s intense charred exterior harbors tender beef that tastes almost buttery, with its slather of Merkt’s Cheddar and a gentle quilt of grilled onions. This is what Chicago used to taste like. 1724 S. RIVER RD., DES PLAINES; 847-699-8590 $5.79

25 WAGYU BEEF BURGER
YOSHI’S CAFÉ
Yoshi Katsumura began playing around with heavily marbled wagyu beef seven years ago, which means he has spent an awful lot of time perfecting this beauty. A loose, hulking ten-ounce patty on a golden dome of a brioche, it has to be Chicago’s thickest burger, but it’s also got a melt-in-your-mouth texture and flavor deeper than an E. E. Cummings sonnet. A slab of Brie provides an understated textural contrast, and peppery mizuna leaves stand in for bland romaine. That was pretty good, but Katsumura is now considering topping it all with a creamy knob of foie gras: an unnecessary but fun experiment in decadence. 3257 N. HALSTED ST.; 773-248-6160 $18

26 WOOD-GRILLED BURGER
BIN 36
“It’s an old-school burger with good quality ingredients,” says John Caputo, the architect of Bin 36’s eight-ounce sirloin number. Gotta love chefs these days. Apparently, “old-school” means cooked on an open wood-burning grill, topped with blue cheese, served on a brioche—and an $11 price tag. This one is worth every dime, because the patty—from the Ruprecht Company, a Meatpacking District legend—gets the respect it deserves. Bin 36 adds a little salt and pepper, and that’s it. Order yours medium rare and taste just how good beef can be when it’s not overmanipulated. 339 N. DEARBORN ST.; 312-755-9463 $11

Photography: Anna Knott
Food Stylist: Lisa Kuehl; Food Stylist: Lisa Kuehl  Hair and Makeup: Eileen Mc Nulty  Models: Planet Earth Agency