Murway at Best Intentions
Murway at Best Intentions
The Great Chicago Burger Quest

Photographer Nick Murway is on a mission to document every burger he eats in town. Here, he offers his top 10.

April 30, 2024, 6:00 am

If you follow Nick Murway on Instagram (@nickmurway), you probably find yourself craving burgers on the regular. That’s because Murway, in addition to shooting for commercial and editorial clients, keeps a photographic log of all the burgers he eats. “I have an obsession with documentation,” he confesses.

The effort shifted into high gear at the beginning of 2020, when he embarked on a yearlong project to photograph one cheeseburger a week. “I have a tiny point-and-shoot camera. I turn the flash on and just snap the photo. I’m not trying to make it pretty. It’s a document: I’m sitting at the bar and here’s what’s in front of me. It’s mostly the differences I see — the size, the way some are super smashed. Some are on interesting plates, and some are in wax paper.”

Even after the year was up, Murway kept logging images. He’s eaten so many burgers in the Chicago area now — 108 and counting — that he has become one of the city’s foremost experts. Along the way, he has also developed some strong preferences: “I like the meat to be super smashed and nicely seared. A lack of salt will totally break a burger for me. And I like a squishy bun. The meat-to-bun ratio needs to be dialed in.” The setting, though, can trump all. “If I walk into a cool dive and locals are there and I can sit and order a burger at the bar, the experience rules.”

His goal, he says, was never to find the best burger. That said, he’s ranked his favorites for us. “Each has its own little story.” — Amy Cavanaugh


L. St. Smashat the Leavitt Street Inn & Tavern

One-third-pound ground Angus chuck with American cheese, house sauce, housemade pickles, and caramelized onions on a sesame seed bun, $14

“The meat is seared, with crispy edges, and seasoned right up to that edge of too much. Paired with a cold pint of Old Style on a slow, sunny Sunday with baseball on the TV behind the bar, it’s perfect.” 2345 N. Leavitt St., Bucktown


Cheeseburgerat Best Intentions

Single mustard-and-onion-griddled patty with Land O’Lakes white American cheese, crunchy dill pickles, and housemade joppiesaus (Dutch curry mayonnaise) on a Martin’s potato roll, $6

“I could eat these little burgies pretty much anytime. I just love when smaller burgers like this are wrapped in foil packs and served in a brown paper bag. I first had this one a few hours before the 2020 Super Bowl. It was 50 degrees out in February, so we went for a walk and had one of those quintessential Chicago neighborhood moments, where the sun was shining, the energy was high, and a bunch of friends happened to be at the same place, so shots and beers flowed. At that moment, this burger was just right.” 3281 W. Armitage Ave., Logan Square


RHR Double Cheeseburgerat Redhot Ranch

Two patties, melty cheese, special sauce, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a burger bun, with fries, $6.10

“A great sear on the beef, and tasty sauce. I opt for no lettuce or tomato, but that’s just me. For the past handful of years, my birthday ritual has been picking up a double cheeseburger at Redhot Ranch and a light, funky, juicy bottle of red from Red & White Wines. It’s a perfect pairing to me. A tip: Keep a $10 bill in your glove box just in case you’re driving by and need a snack.” 3057 N. Ashland Ave., Lake View; 2449 W. Armitage Ave., Logan Square; 500 W. 35th St., Bridgeport


Mott Burgerat Mott St.

Half-pound burger with two chuck patties, sweet potato shoestrings, hoisin aïoli, pickled jalapeño, dill pickles, miso butter onions, and American cheese on a brioche bun, $21

“This is one of those burgers where you feel like everything is well thought out. It’s so creative and visually stunning. I could actually say that about everything at Mott St.” 1401 N. Ashland Ave., Wicker Park


NADC Burgerat the Drop In

One-third-pound Iron Table Wagyu beef patty, American cheese, secret sauce, onions, tamed jalapeños, and pickles on a potato roll, $16

“An Austin, Texas, transplant burger. It’s a collaboration between professional skateboarder Neen Williams and Michelin-starred chef Phillip Frankland Lee. That Texas beef, the little touch of heat from the jalapeños, all on a potato roll? What’s not to like?” 415 N. Milwaukee Ave., West Town


Pop’s Double Smashburgerat Bitter Pops

Two smash patties, Courage Lager caramelized onions, American cheese, Honeycup Dijonnaise, on a potato bun, with housemade pickles on the side, $11.99

“This burger wowed me, and it won’t leave you hungry. The melty cheese is just right, as are the onions and the Dijonnaise. This is a great place to post up and have a couple of beers and then put in a burger order when you’re ready.” 3357 N. Lincoln Ave., Lake View


Double Dan Burgerat Ragadan

Two patties with shoor pickles, chopped onion, ketchup, mustard, and za’atar mayo on a toasted bun, $12

“A balanced burg with the ratios dialed in. I love the blend of ketchup, mustard, and the za’atar mayo. The falafel here is also some of the best I’ve had, and the Patty Melt x Ka’ak was out-of-control good. What a gem of a fast-casual spot.” 4409 N. Broadway, Uptown


FR Burgerat Forbidden Root

Double smash burger, giardiniera mayo, white American cheese, onions, and bread-and-butter pickles on a buttered bun, with fries, $18

“Quality — that’s what I think about when I think about this burger. It’s just really, really well done. The giardiniera mayo is the star. Oh, and those fries! Incredible fries.” 1746 W. Chicago Ave., East Ukrainian Village; 4710 N. Ravenswood Ave., Ravenswood


Double Cheeseburgerat Odge’s

Slagel Family Farm beef patties, mustard, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and grilled onions on a gourmet bun, with fries, $9.50

“This is such a Chicago spot. There’s a cool contrast here, where it feels like your typical Chicago hot dog stand but the Slagel Family Farm beef is dry-aged for 25 days. And for $9.50 with fries, it’s pretty darn hard to beat. I sometimes work out of a studio a few blocks down, so I must’ve passed this place dozens of times. I always loved the exterior painting and finally decided to pop in on a whim. I wasn’t even there for the burger but ordered one anyway — and dang, it was an instant favorite.” 730 N. Damen Ave., West Town


CBG Burgerat Crushed by Giants

Double smash blend of beef and ground bacon, American cheese, white cheddar cheese, Dijonnaise, pickled red onion, and caramelized onions on a sesame seed bun, $15

“The blend of beef and bacon is perfectly balanced, the two cheeses are a lovely touch, and I love a nice sesame seed bun. They offer a classic burger too, which is also wonderful. A really cool spot tucked away downtown.” 600 N. Michigan Ave., Magnificent Mile