People always ask me what my favorite food and restaurant are. These are my actual least favorite questions. They are SO HARD. Medschool has nothing on these two questions. The answer really is that I like good food. But I can’t say that…it makes me sound like a jerk. This restaurant has become my answer though. I feel like if I am willing to wait the usual 1-3 hours about once a month (don’t judge me), this probably is it. My favorite.
The Place: Au Cheval; 800 W Randolph Chicago, IL
Nestled on a corner of West Randolph among greats like Little Goat, this unassuming restaurant sounds like it is going to be really fancy, but serves up bags of Fritos. The inside is kind of intimate -mostly because it is a dimly lit small space. You can get pretty intimate with the kitchen though since the flat top is behind the bar.
Anyway, the food is what makes this place the Chicago staple it has become. It is the BEST burger. I know, that’s a BIG statement. But it’s true. 2 patties, cheese and the bacon and egg are musts. Just do it. This is not the place to count calories. You lost when you walked in the door…But really you win, because the bacon is some of the best and is what makes the burger! Other highlights from the menu are the bone marrow and the chicken wings.
As for drinks, the Flapper is my go-to. They also have the hoppiest IPA you will ever try. It’s awesome with the burger. If you are into that kind of thing.
How do you know when you can drop the ‘aspiring’ from your foodie title? Success is all relative blah blah and I guess we are always aspiring…unless you are complacent. And, since I gave myself the title of Aspiring Chicago Foodie, I can really drop the aspiring part whenever I want. But, my trip to this amazingly gluttonous Chicago hole-in-the-wall made my self-proclaimed Chicago Foodie title official. After this place, there is nothing aspiring about it.
The place: BadHappy Poutine Shop; 939 N Orleans Chicago, IL
BadHappy is a literal hole-in-the-wall. You basically sit in the kitchen; you are THAT close to the action. There are 4 tables and the kitchen opening doubles as (BYOB) bar seating. There is absolutely nothing glamorous about it, but this is the perfect place to take someone who likes to eat.
Their specialty is poutine -the Canadian staple of frites, cheese curds and gravy that is gaining some steam here in ‘Merica. Something I learned while there: Cheese curds don’t have to be fried! Who knew? No one in the Midwest! Don’t let it throw you off if this is your first culinary trip north of the border. The chefs at BadHappy use the traditional poutine as a base to pile on the good stuff! We got The Good, The Bad and The Happy Poutine: Pork Belly, Truffle Mayo, Foie Gras Mousse & Gravy, Frites, Curd and a Sunny Egg. This is what they are talking about with those Seven Deadly Sins. But who can be all good all the time? Sometimes being a little bad can make you a lot happy!
If you come here, you can’t just stop at the poutine. You have to try a burger. They are just as creatively indulgent as the poutine. The PB & Jerk – Jerk Style Peanut Butter, Happy Sauce, apricot jam, sharp cheddar cheese and pickles was unbelievable. The thick, sticky peanut butter-y consistency was all there. It was all the comfort foods of life in one place. The Chick-fil-E – Chicken Fried Chicken, Gorgonzola, Chili Pepper-Maple Glaze, Sunny egg, Creole Mayo, House Pickles, HappySauce, Frosted Flakes-is a fork and knife kind of burger. It’s huge! It is a work of delicious genius. I can’t think of any other way to describe it.
Alcohol is BYOB and the regulars take full advantage. I don’t know that I would pass up on the birthday cake shake (we are talking actual cake blended into the shake) for alcohol, but I do wish we had brought the chefs a beer or two, at least to say thank you! It’s that kind of place. Everyone was talking to everyone, possibly fueled by their handles, cases and six-packs, but still.
Some things to consider: It can get hot in there and you will leave smelling like (delicious) greasy food. An outdoor stroll might be in order after your meal to “walk it off” a little and air yourself out. Maybe don’t go on a first date right after where you will be in really close proximity. Or do. Who knows what people are into these days! No judgement. There is Pizza Hut perfume. Keep your group between 2-4 people if you all want to sit together. But they were so chill, they would probably let a larger group stand around a table too.
You know those times where you are just really craving a good burger? Like when you are trying to refuel your ChIrish self in order to continue your St. Patrick’s Day fun? This place proves that you don’t always have to go downtown for a great burger.
The Place: The Bad Apple; 4300 N. Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL
This Irving Park/Lincoln Square joint is definitely a neighborhood place. So, I am going to start finding reasons to be in the neighborhood. It has a casual but cool bar feel and an accommodating staff. The drink menu is bigger than the food menu and the bar staff is amazingly helpful. They have an impressive amount of beers on draft and some creative martinis. Pickle juice martini anyone? Don’t knock it till you try it! You could definitely come here and just get a drink or two, but I think the food is just too good to pass up.
The food will stick your ribs and make it okay for you to get that second drink. I highly recommend the cheese curds. (No they are not just for Packers fans.) They are like cheese-stick-bites and so good! Next time I will be trying the poutine -fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. I am all about combining things I like -like fries and cheese. Speaking of fries, you can get your fries many different ways including chipotle, truffle, garlic and ranch. The chipotle fries were especially great!
Onto the star of the show: burgers! I wish I could have tried every single one. They all sounded so creative and delicious. The Just A Funghi (Get it? Say it out loud.) was really good with mushrooms, chive cheddar, mixed greens and tarragon aioli. It was like a little salad on top of my burger which made me feel pretty healthy. The Italian Stallion topped with house made Italian sausage, peppers and onions sounds amazing. Next time I am going to try El Chupacabra topped with goat chili, garlic puree, goat cheese and avocado. It sounds like something off of Little Goat‘s menu.
Some things to consider: If you don’t live in the area you can take a cab and it is pretty easy to get a cab around there. You can also get there using the Brown Line. Or, if you are doing more eating than drinking, there is street parking. It is totally worth it to start your night here and you can also stay and hang out since they are open late. On Fridays and Saturdays the kitchen doesn’t close until 1AM. It might not be the best place for a very large group because it is on the smaller side. They probably cannot accommodate a group larger than 8 people.
I recently googled the most expensive burgers in America. For upwards of $700 you can get a burger with caviar, lobster, truffle oil and cheese melted in champaign steam. BUT you would have to fly to New York or Las Vegas. Surprisingly, Chicago is not home to a gazillion-dollar burger. That’s okay though, I won’t be eating any of those until I make my doctor fortune in primary care…oh wait… Anyway, there are plenty of classy and creative burger joints in Chicago -minus the champaign steam and three figure price tag. This place is bordello meets burgers.
The Place: 25 Degrees; 736 N Clark St. Chicago, IL
Its first location was in Hollywood and the franchisers have brought that Hollywood sex appeal to Chicago in this burger bar. Your childhood Friday night at Johnnie Rockets gets an adult makeover with red booths and dim lighting. Open until 2 AM for food and drinks, this is a great place for a later dinner to start off your night or refuel your evening with a late night snack.
A sexy venue can make you feel cool while you eat your burger, but it does not make up for a good burger. Good thing 25 Degrees has amazing burgers and cool toppings! They only have 3 predesigned burgers, but it is easy to build your perfect burger. Toppings include a variety of cheeses including local varieties like benedictine from Wisconsin, sauces like chipotle and garlic aioli and toppings from fried eggs to arugula. No lobster or caviar, but your burger will be just as fancy and satisfying. But for those who are overwhelmed by the long lists of toppings, the number three with mezzo secco jack, green chili, chipotle and avocado is a great option. The best part is that sides come separately and you aren’t stuck with fries you don’t want! Get the sweet potato fries or the onion rings for the table!
No burger joint is complete without milkshakes and the ones at 25 Degrees are spiked! The salted caramel was on the strong side, but the dark chocolate one was perfect. These are definitely made to share and they will split them for you, just ask! Going with the upscale burger joint they have a huge wine list. Kudos to you if you can pass up a milkshake.
Some things to consider: Call ahead, because they host a lot of events -probably because they make it so easy to have them there and it is a great venue. They don’t require a deposit for smaller events and will work with you for drink packages. Not every event takes up the whole restaurant, so sometimes they close off the front section which is more of a bar area. This is a great place, but go with a smaller group so you fit in a booth. Bring your friends and they will think you find the coolest places! It is close to Hubbard street if that is your weekend scene and a great place to begin the night.
Happy bordello and burgers! (Champaign steamed cheese not required!)
Every culture has its version of bread wrapped meat: tacos, sandwiches, kebobs, deep dish pizza. My personal favorite is the burger. Thank you Germany? The best part about burgers is their customizability. Every burger is a blank slate waiting for delicious creativity. This place uses Chicago neighborhoods to inspire the burgers.
The Place: Blue Frog’s Local 22, 22 East Hubbard Street, Chicago, IL (multiple locations)
Blue Frog’s Local 22 is more of a large bar with awesome burgers than a restaurant. They serve local food and beer, so the best that the Midwest has to offer is on your plate and in your glass. Not to mention they work with hormone-free, organic, self-sustained farms satisfying any inner (or outer) yuppie-hippie in you. Local 22 is a casual place where you can enjoy a Green Line in the open air window and unwind after work.
They have burgers for everyone including your vegetarian friends (Lincoln Park Veggie) and turkey-burger-eating, low-sodium dieters (The Mag Mile Turkey). The best part is that each burger has a Chicago personality including Pilson Pride topped with sofrito, pepper jack cheese and jalepeno aioli, Greektown -a lamb burger topped with feta, pomodoro sauce and cucumber tzatziki- and Uptown with crimini mushrooms, red onion, gruyere and dijonase. There are a lot more so check out the menu! Another twist is that all burgers come with pasta salad not fries. You can always ask for fries(or sweet potato fries, or tater tots), but I wouldn’t recommend it. The pasta salad is actually really really good and goes surprisingly well with the burgers.
Besides the Chicago burgers and local brews on tap, Local 22 is a fun time. They have karaoke Tuesday-Saturday after 10pm (after 9 on Fridays). Grab friends after work for a burger and stay for some karaoke. Or switch up your Friday work happy hour and try this place.
Some things to consider: There are no rules about who can karaoke. It is for anyone brave enough (or inebriated enough) to try. So let go and belt one out to the bar! This also means if you go during karaoke you might be listening to someone who only sounds like Mariah in her dreams.
Happy singing with a mouth full of Chicago style burgers!