Battle of the burgers

    Beef, bison and more – downtown Chicago has a lot to offer in burger form. We all know that the hours at Edzo's suck, even though the menu items are the closet things to culinary ascension. Burger King is a solid choice for drunchies, but isn't quite the same when you're looking for a nice lunch. Check out these burger joints that have nothing on Norris' new pretzel buns.

    Grange Hall
    844 W. Randolf Street
    Grange Hall Burger Bar stands out from its neighbors on Randolph in West Loop because it’s a white barn in a sea of red brick. The “burger bar” part of the name is almost a misnomer. The “Make your own farmers burger” section offers a boring, if tried and true, variety of crazy, fresh and local ingredients to choose from. But the rest of the menu pops with creativity. Options like the Bourbon Caramel Malt spiked milkshake illuminate the drinks menu. Plus, their house burgers all take fresh looks on classics, like the Pickles and Onions Burger, with sweet lettuce, sour onions and a Dijon aioli.

    Grange’s grass-fed patties are just what you would expect when biting into a thick, medium cooked hunk of ground beef: juicy and delicious. But unfortunately, they’re nothing spectacular – you can find patties like these at most artisan burger joints. This is the biggest detriment to their “best burger” title. Fortunately, the rest of the meal makes up for it.

    If there is a god of frying food, then Grange Hall is blessed. Their beer batter is perfect. With a solid outer crunch and a fluffy inside, flavorful enough to have a distinct taste while still letting the subject shine through, anything fried (appetizer or side) at Grange is delightful. Angelic even, for every bite of onion ring or fried squash will leave you in a state of divine ecstasy.

    While the fresh fruit pies and ice cream are tempting, try the Pumpkin Oreo Milkshake if you have the chance. Instead of tasting like pumpkin Oreos, the experience is exactly like eating a pumpkin pie with ice cream while simultaneously devouring milk and Oreos. Crazy good.

    Grange may serve only pretty good burgers and it’s pretty expensive, but look on the bright side: the sides, drinks and desserts are magnificent, the service is unexpectedly fast and friendly and, let’s face it, you need a good excuse to leave the library anyway.

    Butcher and the Burger
    1021 W. Armitage Ave.
    Butcher and the Burger on West Armitage was the first burger joint I ever visited in Chicago and it’s still one of my favorites. Of all the places I visited, it best pulls off the "burger bar" title. The menu at Butcher and the Burger is your nemesis. Your only option is to create your own burger, which is pleasantly more challenging here than other burger joints. Challenging because choosing from eight different base meats (from local grass fed beef to bison to salmon), nine different spices, five different buns and 23 different toppings is tough and scary. Pleasant because the freedom you wield in creating your meal gives you a rush of power and always leads to something you like.

    After you defeat the gauntlet that is designing your burger, things get easy. Unless you want a salad too, they only offer a whole dill pickle and fries as sides. It’s BYOB, so you should have already dealt with drink selections. And if you visit during the summer summer, sit outside in the sun while waiting for your feast to arrive.

    While finishing your burger isn’t that tough, it's heartbreaking to realize that you can't imediately create another epic burger. At least, for me it was. My advice to get around this: bring friends, try different combinations and share!

    2580 N. Lincoln Ave.
    When walking around Lincoln Park looking for Etno Village Grill, keep an eye out for a life-sized cow standing proudly atop an unassuming wooden hut on Sheffield and Wrightwood. About halfway between Butcher and the Burger and DMK Burger Bar, Etno doesn’t pretend to be a pure burger joint. The restaurant focuses on sandwiches from Eastern European, but it's a pleasant surprise.

    The highlight of the menu is the Etno Burger, featuring house made pancetta and the must-try Etno spread, a combination of sour cream, feta cheese and chili peppers. If you’re in the mood for something tasty with a cheesy name, there’s the Vampire Hunter that has just enough garlic to give it a bite, but doesn’t make your breath stink for hours. You can get both for $10, or upgrade to a large for one dollar more.

    Their fries are just fries and the space is a little cramped, but it’s BYOB (no corkage and a liquor store across the street), the staff is friendly and the meat is delicious. Etno is a fun experience, and definitely worth trying.

    2954 N. Sheffield Ave.
    Nestled off of Sheffield and Wellington, DMK Burger Bar looks like any other restaurant you might see in Lakeview or Lincoln Park. Then you notice the sheer number of people flowing into and out of the door, and you realize this place is different.

    When you finally get a table, you’re going to want to order the fried okra and pickles and the Wisconsin cheddar and scallion fries. What’s that? You don’t like cheese fries? Neither did I until I had them at DMK (you can also just get fries with sea salt and pepper).

    Finished with the fries? Try the #3, which is one of the best pastrami sandwiches I’ve ever had, plus a burger patty. They make a mean bacon and barbeque (#2), and the odd-duck #6 with chorizo, guacamole, cilantro and chipotle aioli is very enticing, but the #3 is one of the greatest experiences my mouth has ever had. But they’re all impressive, mostly because the burgers themselves are thin-patty, yet cooked medium rare, letting the toppings shine through while being founded on a solid meaty base.

    Of course, you could just go to DMK to drink beer. Their bottle list is long, rotating and begging for exploration. Or you could drink several of their peanut butter milkshakes, whether you can't drink or you just really like peanut butter – whatever floats your boat. It would be ludicrous to say that I wish Edzo’s could be more like DMK because the two are so different in nature. But they’re both thin patty, so I have every right to wish that Edzo’s was anywhere near as good as DMK.


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