We still need our creature comforts, especially now. And neither wind, nor rain, nor COVID-19 pandemic could keep me from my appointed duty of producing a Best Burger list every other year (it takes me that long to recover from all the cholesterol). This year’s is filled with favorite burgers of years past, classics that have stood the test of time, and — most importantly — are still available for your delectation and delight, whether through pickup or delivery. Enjoy.
This Highland Park favorite is back in business, at least for curbside pickup and local delivery. If you’re craving that straight-up-classic burger flavor without all the animal protein, this plant-based Impossible Burger will not disappoint. Topped with cheddar, arugula, pickled onion, tomato, and a slather of horseradish aioli, it feels every bit as guilty a pleasure as a thick, juicy beef burger. Stay off the beaten track with Polenta Fries with mushrooms, parmesan and truffle oil. Open Tuesday – Thursday 5 – 7:30 pm; Friday & Saturday 5 – 8:30 pm; same-day orders taken starting at 3 pm each day. $13, 493 Roger Williams Avenue, Highland Park, 847-780-4862
Ryan McCaskey, Michelin-starred chef/owner of Acadia, has long had one of Chicago’s best burgers on his low-key bar menu, and now it’s available for takeout as well. He starts with a buttered brioche bun, spreads on a little Duke’s mayo (the best!), hefts on that proprietary-blend beefy masterpiece, and tops it with caramelized onions, house-made bread & butter pickles, and — of course — the meltiest American cheese. Perfection. Curbside pickup from 4:15 – 8 pm, Tuesdays – Saturdays. $14, 1639 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, 312-360-9500
Possibly the best Patty Melt in town, this one is made of grass-fed beef and sandwiched with smoked bacon, charred balsamic onions, smoked Gouda cheese and remoulade sauce between two slices of hearty griddled rye. Add the sweet-potato fries with lemon Tabasco aioli and that’s a serious party in your mouth. Worth noting: any of the house-made sodas or creamy shakes can be made boozy, and the Espresso Shake with Bourbon would be quite welcome on whatever day it is right now. Open daily for pickup or delivery. $11, 2954 N. Sheffield Ave., Chicago, 773-360-8686
They’ve gotten a lot of fawning press, and deservedly so — and they’ve won Better’s annual Best of burger award EVERY YEAR. Chef-Owner Eddie Lakin is so on top of his game that even his TURKEY Burger is crave-worthy, and that’s saying something. In other news, his Spicy Sconnie burger (four-ounce beef patty, spicy ketchup and mayo, spicy Merkt’s cheddar spread, charred jalapeños, and grilled onions) will knock your socks off. And who needs socks? Open for pickup or delivery Tuesday – Saturday, 11 am – 8 pm, Sundays 11:30 am – 4 pm. $8.25/$10, 1571 Sherman Ave., Evanston, 847-864-3396
This umami bomb of a burger ($12.95) is topped with cheddar cheese and wine-marinated, garlicky sautéed cremini mushrooms and served on a sturdy pretzel bun. Comes with choice of superb skinny hand-cut fries, house salad or soup. Who are you kidding? You know you want those fries. $12.95, 43 S. Prospect Ave, Park Ridge, 847-720-4484
Michelin bait chefs Karen and John Shields are back with their award-winning burger (and it comes with a bag of chips and a brown-butter chocolate chip cookie). A griddled blend of ground chuck, short rib, and bacon guarantees unctuousness, and paired with oozy American cheese, house-made bread and butter pickles, and onion-confit aioli on a squooshy, sesame seed-heavy, toasted bun, it becomes much more than the sum of its parts. Go ahead. Let the juice drip down your chin. Keep napkins handy. $18, 177 N. Ada St., Lower Level, Chicago, 773-913-3774
Here, you get an outstanding burger — and a science lesson! The “Maillard Reaction” is an actual scientific term describing the nonenzymatic reaction between sugars and proteins that happens during the browning process. Chef/owner Tony Priolo (Piccolo Sogno) says that’s why he opted for two griddled patties, to maximize the surface area for browning, creating those great caramelized edges. This double burger, eight ounces in all, is an 80/20 blend of beef (chuck, short rib, brisket) to fat. Add melted sharp Cheddar cheese, house-made bacon jam, and fried onion strings on a Turano potato bun, and it’s a beefy masterpiece. (Not feeling the beef? They also serve the plant-based Impossible Burger.) And those fries! Priolo is bringing in the Norwis potatoes from the Northwest, frying them in vegetable oil, then tossing them in melted duck fat. I’m not weeping. Are you weeping? Open for pickup and delivery every day from 4 – 8 pm. $14, 494 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 312-766-2727
Take two All-American griddled cheeseburgers then chef ‘em up Asian-style with pickled jalapeños, hoisin aioli, and miso butter, with all the crunch provided by sweet potato shoestrings and dill pickle slices. What you have is the best flavors of both cuisines … and a certified umami explosion. This is one any true burger aficionado will have on the top of their list. Pickup and delivery Thursday – Sunday, noon to 9 pm. $16, 1401 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, 773-687-9977
This riff on the Big Mac is a tune I’d happily play on repeat: two griddled beef patties topped with American cheese, 1000 Island dressing, caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato on a lovely, eggy brioche bun. Combine that with their current gift card promotion (you receive a $25 gift card with every $50 you spend) and it’s a real adult meal deal. Pickup and delivery daily from 3 – 8 pm. $15, 315 N. LaSalle St., Chicago, 312-822-0100
PQM’s epic burger battles have long been a weekly highlight at this West Loop sandwich/butcher shop, and thank goodness they are back. Two guests chef will bring their best burger and vie for bragging rights. Tuesdays (remember those?) are the big day. A recent matchup paired Jason Hammel (Lula Café) and his “Dig Me Out” (burger with green garlic/giardiniera mayo, 2-year Cheddar, grilled romaine, and pancetta-shallot crunchy stuff on a sesame bun) against celeb chef Ed Lee (Louisville, Washington DC) and his “Big Ed” (burger with American cheese, Lee’s own pickles, shallot brunoise, shredded lettuce and chimichurri sauce on a sesame seed bun). Get in on the fun. $17, 825 W. Fulton Market St., Chicago, 312-445-8977
This elusive burger — once on offer weekly at Green City Market, then as an annual special at Sunday Dinner Club — is making a comeback every Monday, and it’s a full meal deal, including a salad and dessert. Chefs Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp let the season’s freshest produce from Spence Farm dictate the garnish, but the spring version, with grilled, local beef patty, green garlic aioli, arugula, and a luscious cheddar spread, all on a buttery bun, is my absolute favorite. No-contact pickup only on Mondays from 4:30 – 6:30 pm; on sale starting the prior Wednesday at 10 am, and trust me, they sell out quickly! Start clicking now. Honey Butter Fried Chicken Patio, $25, 3361 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, 773-878-2717
How to help:
In addition to supporting these local restaurants, consider supporting one of these local nonprofits that urgently need support during the pandemic.
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Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night.