Serious Eats: Chicago
Standing Room Only: That's-A-Burger
One of the best burgers in Chicago, easily.
2134 E. 71st Street, Chicago IL 60649 (map); 773-878-9898
The Short Order: Perfectly proportioned burgers griddled to order.
Want Fries with That? These delicious, highly seasoned fries come with every order.
Want Ketchup? Not needed.
My wife and I drove past this location twice before we finally spotted the tiny neon sign in the window. There is no large indication declaring you've made it, or even a host to greet you at the door.
That's-A-Burger is definitely not a sit-down restaurant—It'd need some actual seats for that—but it's not exactly fast-food either. Orders can take up to 30 minutes since everything is made to order. It's this special attention to ingredients that also makes this easily one of the best burgers in the city.
That's-A-Burger's burger starts with a large, hand-formed patty of fresh beef that's been griddled until expertly seared on the outside. It's then stuffed into a squishy white bun that's also wrapped up with some fries. This is the burger place I've been dreaming about since moving to Chicago.
Inside, the place is small and as advertised, there are absolutely no seats. All the employees are behind glass and you receive your food through a rotating glass pedestal. The room has no decoration, just a large menu plastered on the bright yellow wall.
You can get your burger topped with any number of ingredients including eggs, bacon, griddled onions, and chili. Get it all together and you have a T.A.B. Special. Or you can opt for the Whammy Burger, which strips everything back to a burger, cheese, and an entire Polish sausage. Though intriguing, both burgers seemed more like a dare than an actual meal. So I ordered the cheeseburger with lettuce, pickles, and grilled onions. My wife settled on the turkey burger.
Now, I know the turkey burger sounds like a disaster. I was 100% against it before arriving. The only turkey burger I'll eat without fear is probably the one Kenji created. But I'll be damned if every single person in line while we were there didn't order a turkey burger. It's actually the top thing on their menu (even above the regular burger).
When you order you're given a ticket and an expected wait time. Since there's not much to look at inside, most people leave and come back or call their orders in, arriving precisely at the pick-up time. Since we were told it would be less than ten minutes, we stuck around. The whole order is packed up in a large brown bag and spun around in a pedestal to you.
Like Chicago's best hot dog stands, the fries come wrapped up with the burger, creating a package of greasy carnage. Eat it quickly or the whole mess may steam itself into oblivion. These fries, like a few other hallowed spots, are amazing.
Why does Chicago have so many places with great fries? That should be our cultural export to the rest of the nation. These are expertly seasoned, just a tad short of crisp, and easy to stuff in your face.
The burger is kind of stunningly good. Not nearly as greasy and overwhelming as it easily could be, instead it's perfectly proportioned. The great combo of the sweet griddled onions and freshly crisp vegetables helps. The patty could use a touch more salt, but that's nitpicking.
The turkey burger isn't as good—there just isn't enough fat to compete with the flavor of the cheeseburger. But it's still the best turkey burger I've ever ordered at a restaurant, easily. It's properly seasoned and still really juicy. My wife loved it, and I can see why so many others order it too.
That's-A-Burger may not be the most convenient place to eat on the South Side, but it surely has one of the best burgers in town.