A's List: 15 Great Reasons Why Chicago’s Randolph Restaurant Row Should Be Renamed Gourmet Burger Row
By Audarshia Townsend
It all started several years ago when Bon Appetit anointed Au Cheval with “America’s Best Burger” bragging rights. Since then, every burger king and queen in the country has tried to dethrone it.
It’s a simple burger offered at this West Loop Chicago hot spot, but that’s enough to draw hours-long waits and even celebrity attention. The burger consists of two—or three—perfectly griddled patties smothered in classic American cheese and drenched in a creamy Dijion-and-mayo sauce. Diners may add a little pizzazz with the addition of a fried egg or thick pork belly slices.
Au Cheval’s cheeseburger has made such an impact that damn near every restaurant on Randolph Street now offers its own gourmet versions. They are delicious. They are juicy. Most use all local ingredients, and more important, we tracked them all down to make your job easier.
Why We Love It. Since day one, chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates—once reserved for Moroccan royalty and their guests—have been a staple on avec’s menu. That’s why it was a brilliant move for Chef Perry Hendrix to reinvent the signature appetizer into a Mediterranean-inspired burger. The patty consists of half chorizo and half beef, and the Medjool dates are cooked down into a mostarda, or a sweet-and-spicy condiment originating from Northern Italy. It’s topped with house-cured bacon and piquillo pepper aioli to balance out the flavors under a crispy brioche bun.
When You Can Get It: It’s available during Sunday brunch and weekday lunch.
Where to Get It: 615 W. Randolph St., 312-377-2002
Why We Love It. There are so many hits on Bad Hunter’s vegetable-focused menu that one might think a veggie burger wasn’t necessary. They’ve got the infamous butter dumplings stuffed with seasonal vegetables. And also the charred beet French dip. The veggie burger comes with two char-grilled black bean patties topped with melted Cheddar, tomato jam and mustard aioli. Diners may order it with a slice of bacon, but that pretty much defeats the purpose, right?
When You Can Get It: It’s available during brunch, lunch and midday.
Where to Get It: 802 W. Randolph St., 312-265-1745
Why We Love It. The sequel to the massively successful Siena Tavern opened in the West Loop in 2015. Bar Siena, a two-story, 8,000-square-foot casual Italian eatery, rotates its menu more frequently than its predecessor, but the BomboBurger is always available. The Italian-American masterpiece is a broiled patty made of a special blend of prime chuck and brisket, then dressed up with sharp American cheese, shaved red onions, garlic butter pickles, Dijonnaise and house giardiniera. It’s all pulled together between a house-made bomboloni bun—an Italian hole-less doughnut bun.
When You Can Get It. It may be ordered during brunch and lunch as well as at the adjacent BomboBar window.
Where to Get It: 832 W. Randolph St., 312-492-7775
Why We Love It. BIN 36 continues its fantastic mission of educating the public on the wonders of wine in its second home in the West Loop. The user-friendly program is based on a foundation of 50 wines available by the taste, glass, flight or bottle. The food ranges from smaller to larger plates and it all matches up well with the wine. The BIN burger consists of a double patty between toasted brioche and topped with sharp cheddar, BBQ aioli, caramelized onions and house pickles. It comes with a heaping of house fries.
When You Can Get It. BIN 36 offers the burger during lunch and dinner.
Where to Get It: 161 N. Jefferson St., 312-995-6560
Why We Love It. One of the pioneers of Randolph Restaurant Row, Blackbird has been whipping up a gourmet burger ever since it started serving lunch. The Michelin-starred eatery’s offering starts with a half-pound patty made of 100 percent short rib (That’s extra fat for the win!). To seal in its juiciness, the patty is cooked sous-vide and then griddled for texture. It’s topped with Mimolette cheese, aioli and fried onions and served under a toasted sesame seed bun.
When You Can Get It. Blackbird’s burger is only available during lunch.
Where to Get It: 619 W. Randolph St., 312-715-0708
Why We Love It. Many great musical acts have come through City Winery—from Prince to Living Colour—which makes it a triple threat. It’s a great venue to see emerging and star performers. All the wine is produced in-house or at one of City Winery’s facilities. And the menu has been created to match the award-winning wine program. One of its signature bites is the CW burger, made from 100 percent, all-natural beef and topped with two-year aged English cheddar. It comes with a choice of three sides, including curry-dusted sweet potato fries.
When You Can Get It. It’s available all day.
Where to Get It: 1200 W. Randolph St., 312-733-9463
Why We Love It. Grange Hall’s business is all about the burger, and they were doing it long before Au Cheval entered the scene. All the beef is grassfed, and the signature offering is topped with Muenster, Applewood bacon, arugula, caramelized onions and horseradish aioli. Grange Hall’s inventive open-faced breakfast burger is another hit on Randolph Street. It’s composed of the grassfed beef patty, Applewood bacon, maple syrup, cheddar and a sunny side-up egg between cinnamon-raisin French toast.
When You Can Get It. They’re available all day.
Where to Get It: 844 W. Randolph St., 312-491-0844
Why We Love It. The original Avondale location is a gritty burger bar specializing in heavy metal-themed dishes. Most fans were doubtful they’d successfully expand the concept to other neighborhoods, but so far so good. At the West Loop outpost, located right off restaurant row, the menu is the same, but the crowd is a lot more fashionable. They’re coming for the Famous Kuma (Applewood smoked bacon, cheddar, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, red onion), Led Zeppelin (Applewood smoked bacon, BBQ pulled pork, cheddar, pickles) and Pantera (cheddar, monterey jack, Applewood smoked bacon, roasted poblano pepper, tortilla strips, house-made ranchero sauce).
When You Can Get It: It is available all day.
Where to Get It: 852 W. Fulton Market, 312-666-9090
Why We Love It. Le Bouchon’s sleek West Loop sister restaurant is just as popular and very French focused, but you’ll also find a smattering of American dishes on the menu. Le Cheeseburger is a house-blend patty that’s amped up with raclette cheese, guaniale and aioli. You’ll pay $18 for this gourmet grub, but here’s a pro tip: Arrive during happy hour (5-7pm Monday through Thursday) for a $9 mini-version that’s topped with foie gras torchon.
When You Can Get It. Burgers are available during lunch and happy hour.
Where to Get It: 111 N. Carpenter St., 312-421-2800
Why We Love It. As with all her concepts with Boka Restaurant Group, award-winning culinary star Stephanie Izard is over the top at Little Goat Diner. The Burger Shoppe within the restaurant allows guests to choose from three patties (all-natural beef, goat, veggie) and then have it styled as a classic burger, patty melt or banh mi. The ultimate choice is Goat Almighty, an extreme, immense concoction of goat patty, braised beef, BBQ pork, pickled jalapenos, piri piri, onion rings and cheddar. Bring a friend if you plan on finishing this towering temptation.
When You Can Get It. They’re available all day, every day.
Where to Get It: 820 W. Randolph St., 312-888-3455
Why We Love It. Husband-wife duo John Shields and Karen Urie Shields have captured the local foodie world's attention with their dual concept. Housed in a bi-level building right off Randolph, the first floor is the more casual of the two (The Loyalist), while the second floor skews higher end with only tasting menus (Smyth). The informal atmosphere of The Loyalist is where diners may gleefully chow down on the featured cheeseburger. The patty’s made from bacon, bone marrow, ground chuck and short rib, then seared with onions. It’s topped with house-made American cheese, pickled cucumbers and onion-infused mayonnaise.
When You Can Get It. It’s available during dinner.
Where to Get It: 177 N. Ada St., 773-913-3774
Why We Love It. The same folks behind Au Cheval decided to feature a gourmet burger less than one block away. At the mysteriously sexy, French-inspired Maude’s, they’ve added a French-style burger to a menu dominated by foie gras paté, seafood towers and steak frites. The burger is elegantly simple between a brioche bun and topped with Wisconsin gruyere.
When You Can Get It. It’s available during dinner, when the restaurant is open.
Where to Get It: 840 W. Randolph St., 312-243-9712
Why We Love It. The cheery corner destination showcases a rock ‘n’ roll setting that’s ideal for larger groups. The menu consists of mostly pizzas and pastas and re-imagined classic Italian cocktails, but there’s also a gourmet burger available. Nellcote uses some of the best quality beef around—U.S.D.A. prime—for this juicy, char-grilled burger that is spiced up with roasted tomato aioli, goat cheddar, house-made bacon, jalapenos and a sunny-side up egg.
When You Can Get It. It’s on offer during brunch.
Where to Get It: 833 W. Randolph St., 312-432-0500
Why We Love It. Located next door to Nellcote, sister restaurant/cocktail lounge RM Champagne Salon features one of the city’s best patios to sip champagne and creative tipples. It’s a little bit rustic, yet it’s highly chic and feels like you’ve hit up some cool Parisian hang. The menu’s mostly French as well (think raw oysters, coq au vin, steak frites) with a simply delicious burger available for your eating pleasure. The wood-grilled patty is topped with bacon-jam, Louis dressing and American cheese. It’s accompanied by pomme frites and spicy mayo.
When You Can Get It. It’s on the dinner menu.
Where to Get It: 116 N. Green St., 312-243-1199
Why We Love It. A highly underrated destination for a romantic lunch date, Sepia gets major props for its vintage setting that feels like a bygone era. It’s another Michelin-starred sensation where you can pull up to the bar and order a burger. The beef patties originate from Slagel Farm and consist of short rib, sirloin and skirt steak that’s ground and formed into patties in-house. It’s served between lightly toasted buttery brioche and topped with camembert, onion jam and peppercorn aioli.
When You Can Get It. The Sepia burger is available during lunchtime.
Where to Get It: 123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920