The 17 best burgers in Illinois
Proving that the rest of Illinois is good for more than just corn and moonshine, here are the 17 best burgers in THE ENTIRE STATE, from a cheeseburger topped with a fried egg, chipotle mayo, and beef brisket (?!) in Carbondale, to one out in Galena dubbed the "Shut the Front Door" (yep, it's got donut buns).
What you're getting: Wood-grilled Vie burger
Long before Perennial Virant launched him to Chicago stardom, Paul Virant had Vie, an award-winning farm-to-table restaurant tucked away in the Western suburbs. Once only available as an off-menu item, the $19 wood-grilled Vie burger is worth every penny, with Hicks Ranch pasture-raised ground beef served on a beer-battered, house-made bun with a side of butter pickle slices. Come for the burger, stay for the pickles (and another burger).
What you're getting: The Big Lebowski
They’ve got mac & cheese burgers. They’ve got burgers topped with Fritos. But for the ultimate in gluttony, they've got the Big Lebowski: a 9oz beef patty in an unholy alliance with Italian beef, bacon, and horseradish cheddar that you damn sure better abide.
What you're getting: Double bacon cheeseburger
The '70s-style burger joint from fine dining chef-turned-burger flipper Eddie Lakin offers up a top campus burger in Evanston. Get in on the flawlessly griddled patties (ground in-house daily) and feel free to spring for a Slagel Farms beef burger with some added bacon.
What you're getting: The Western
Top Notch is no misnomer, especially when you're talking about Beverly’s tastiest cheeseburger, ground daily in-house and griddled in its own juices. A classic neighborhood fixture dating back to 1954, Top Notch is also home to a specialty half-pound Western beefburger that comes with three slices of cheese, three strips of bacon, grilled green pepper, onion, and BBQ sauce. Get that, plus fries cooked in lard and thick chocolate malts, because, um, duh.
What you're getting: The Captain’s Burger
Overlooking the Illinois River, the Burger Barge will eat up hours of your time on any nice summer day, during which time you'll eat through the crazy selection of burgers (from ones served on Texas toast to others with two BLT sandwiches as buns). Keep it (relatively?) simple with The Captain’s Burger, a juicy cheeseburger smothered in pastrami and special dock sauce.
What you're getting: Moonburger
This place not only serves the best burgers in town -- it is the town. With one building (the store) and a population of two (the owners, who live above the store), Moonshine Store is regarded by some as the best burger in SEVERAL states, and regularly pays host to visiting burger geeks from around the world. The bathroom is an outhouse and payment is made on the honor system, but how are the burgers? Basic, no-frills, and good -- damn good. Just a massive hunk of beef dressed up with basic condiments any way you like it. Not showing off, ‘cause it doesn’t need to.
What you're getting: Char cheddar burger
This classic, cash-only, counter-service joint will make a burger impression to end all burger impressions with the char cheddar burger, served with Merkts cheddar cheese and awesome crinkle-cut fries (which cheeseheads can also add Merkts upon). The simple, delicious charred flavor pairs well with a chocolate malt, but plan on getting here early to escape lines that often wind around and around.
What you’re getting: Half-pound Ott burger
Sometimes it’s the simple things that give life pleasure. And it doesn’t get much simpler than this Rockwell-esque small town diner, which sports a family atmosphere and some of the freshest, juiciest burgers in the state. Pair the classic, expertly cooked-in-front-of-you half-pound Ott Burger with a hand-dipped chocolate milkshake or a slice of Boston crème pie. Or, um, both?
What you're getting: Charlie's Famous Horseshoes
Opening at 6am (7am on Sundays), this venerable Springfield diner is known for oversized pancakes and a local dish called Horseshoes that may be more popular than Abe Lincoln himself. This open-faced hamburger patty, topped with fries and a special cheese sauce, has even attracted the attention of Guy Fieri himself, which may or may not be a plus. Horseshoes also come in breakfast versions, so try ‘em all.
What you're getting: Slagel Farm beef burger
The English pub-inspired Owen & Engine turns out a top-tier burger with a flavor-rich patty made from a combo of brisket, short rib, and chuck sourced from a local farm (you can probably guess which one). The only standard accompaniments are some caramelized onions, a house-made potato bun, and the flawlessly crisped chips (aka fries, because, you know, the British thing).
What you're getting: The Big Poop
Once you notice advertisements offering "the best sh*t around" with prices "cheaper than sh*t", you'll start to understand the theme of this laid-back biker bar. You can get tattoos and watch live bands -- hell, you can even rent a cabin here. But all you really need to do is order The Big Poop, a massive, 1lb burger grilled to perfection and finished with your choice of toppings. Heads up: you’re gonna need both hands for this one.
What you’re getting: The Russell
Located down an alley next to a parking garage, this local Champaign favorite will make you work to find it. Your reward? The signature beefy creations, including the Russell burger: a tender Kobe beef patty topped with sautéed mushrooms, bacon, bleu cheese sauce, and pepper jack cheese. Ask for a side of the house fries with malt vinegar. Don't argue.
What you're getting: Single cheeseburger with an egg
In a city that enjoys heavy calories and arguing as much as Chicago does, it's nothing short of incredible that Au Cheval has steadily held the "best burger" consensus pretty much since opening in 2012. By now, most locals know the drill: a "single" is actually a double, meaning your two impossibly beefy griddled patties will be enveloped in a creamy combo of cheese and Dijonnaise with just a briny hint of thinly sliced pickles. And you're getting it with an egg, because you're not a communist.
What you're getting: Shut the Front Door
With oddball décor, including toilet bowls in place of waiting area seating, and boozy shakes packed with root beer schnapps, this Galena hometown favorite lets you know you’re in for something slightly different. Case in point: the Shut the Front Door, a massive half-pound burger topped with grilled bacon/melted cheddar and served between two glazed doughnuts and your choice of seasoned or sweet potato fries.
What you're getting: Neurosis
Nothing pairs with thumping metal music like an unrelentingly awesome slab of meat. The Neurosis -- named for the Oakland-born hardcore punk band -- comes loaded with sharp cheddar, Swiss, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and horseradish mayo, all on a sturdy, yet delicious, pretzel bun.
What you're getting: Blackdog Burger
Pretty much every burger at this local favorite comes with BBQ sauce on it, which is to be expected since it's an authentic BBQ joint. What is not to be expected is how good the Blackdog Burger (a juicy 1/3lb patty topped with pepper jack cheese, grilled onions, and homemade peach BBQ sauce) actually is. Grab yours with a side of sweet potato fries or twice-baked potato casserole.
What you're getting: The Bucky Dome
This local burger shack keeps it real with handmade 1/3lb ground Angus Chuck burgers, hand-pressed and served with a side of skinny fries. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, indulge in The Bucky Dome, a crazy-tasty hamburger topped with beef brisket, cheddar cheese, bacon, a fried egg, and chipotle mayo, all slapped on a ciabatta roll. Fat Patties also has beer, so you'd better get one of those, too.
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Jay Gentile is the publisher of Chicago INNERVIEW Magazine and a Thrillist contributor who might have a slight burger problem. Follow him on Twitter.
Sean Cooley is Thrillist's Chicago Editor and you can follow his pitiful Instagram at @SeanCoolish.