You’ll have never have a problem finding a quintessential cheeseburger in Chicago—and you can take it to the extreme with one of the new whoppers in the city. But, as with every other cuisine, there are a few places in the city that are changing up the formula.
We’ve found a handful of brazen burger shacks that toss out the bread bun in favor of something completely different: doughnuts, grilled cheese sandwiches, and more, all in the name of creating the burger of the future. The mad science sandwiches are both delicious and a little dangerous, at least where your cholesterol is concerned—so if you want to live to see tomorrow, maybe sub the fries for a salad.
1 The March Madness burger at Jake Melnick’s
This nine-ounce burger is topped with a fried egg, bacon, a salad’s worth of vegetables, and encased by two separate grilled cheese sandwiches in place of buns. At the first bite you will be comfortable, by the last bite you might be comatose. Unless Jake Melnick’s has plans for a nap room, after you eat this burger you will wake up hours later at your desk in a pool of your own grease, hoping no one noticed, knowing that they did.
The March Madness burger, as its name implies, ran only through the month of March at Jake Melnick’s; however, Melnick’s executive chef Ryan Kikkert will gladly accommodate any patrons who want to try the burger through April and beyond.
Jake Melnick's Corner Tap, 41 E Superior St. (312) 266-0400.
2 The Ramen Kobe burger at BUZZ
The twist behind this burger is hard to envision until you realize that the ramen is indeed deep-fried, and not served as a mass of wet noodles that one would struggle to keep around a meat patty.
The ramen burger trend, which hit Brooklyn last summer, has set up an outpost in Chicago at Uptown’s BUZZ Burger Bar. The burger you’ll find there is a satisfying blend of high and low: the “bun” is crafted from the same Top Ramen you can buy for a nickel at the local Jewel, deep-fried to order, while the burger patty is finely ground and certified Kobe beef, and topped with egg, Sriracha, and more. The ramen is mild and makes itself known more through texture and crunch than flavor, but unlike a lot of the burgers on this list, the ramen burger leaves you with minimal food-guilt.
BUZZ, 1935 W. Irving Park Rd. (773) 880-9810.
3 The Mac & Cheese Attack at Rockit Burger Bar
By all standards of decency, this creation—deep-fried macaroni and cheese in place of bread—really should not exist. But here’s the thing: it’s damn delicious.
The patty is on the thin side but the macaroni and cheese buns are giant, crispy on the outside while still cheesy in the middle. The “buns” have a tendency to crumble quickly, so a knife and fork might come into play here. Also, the burger comes with a side of salad, because it’s important to eat healthy.
Rockit Burger Bar, 3700 N Clark St. (773) 645-4400.
4 The Crognet Burger at Devil Dawgs
Both Rockit Burger and BUZZ offer serviceable glazed donut burgers, but the ultimate pastry-and-patty in Chicago comes from Devil Dawgs, which boasts a burger made with a crognet, a.k.a. cronut, the darling Frankenpastry that combines the delicacy of the croissant with the decadence of the donut.
The Lincoln Park spot starts with a bacon and maple glaze crognet—pronounced like beignet, not krog-net. It's cut in half to fit a steak burger, and topped with a mysterious, Cajun-inspired Devil Sauce, and an egg too, because, why not.
The burgers run a little on the small side, so you might want to order two or three. Or seven. But you'll have to be patient, because the crognet burger won't be back on the fryers until mid-May. One other note: Devil Dawgs recently opened a new location at 767 S. State, but the crognet burger will only be available at their Lincoln Park location.
Devil Dawgs, 2147 N Sheffield Ave. (773) 281-4300.
Bonus Burger: Gordita Sliders at Mercadito Counter
If, for some reason, you’ve run through the gamut of burgers on this list and want to try one more nontraditionally-bunned meat patty, the Mercadito Counter, opening soon, might have your fix.
This spring, the Near North Side Mexican deli is introducing the Gordita Sliders, featuring "house-ground patties of chuck, bacon, and short rib topped with crème fraîche mayo and a mixture of black beans and ketchup." And fret not, there’s no boring bread to be found here. The buns on the Gordita Sliders are made from corn masa, the same stuff commonly found in tamales, pupusas, and a host of other Latin American dishes. In case you need further convincing, the masa buns on the Gordita Sliders will be a half-inch thick—and fried.
Mercadito Counter, 738 N. Clark St.