Des Plaines, IL: Burger Paradise Found at Paradise Pup
1724 S. River Road, Des Plaines IL 60018 (map); 847-699-8590
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: These prime examples of old school char burger are guaranteed to satisfy
Want Fries With That? Save the calories. The pre-frozen fries have no business being on the same menu as the great burgers and shakes
Price: Char cheeseburger, $4.59; double cheeseburger, $6.39
Notes: Cash only
At first glance, there is nothing particularly special about Paradise Pup. The tiny roadside restaurant in Des Plaines, just northeast of O'Hare Airport, looks like any number of similar joints. But a closer look will reveal the ever-present line snaking out the door, a good clue that something special awaits inside. And it's only after you go inside that you realize the overwhelming majority of people in line at what looks like a hot dog stand are actually ordering burgers. When you take a bite of the smoke-kissed treat, you'll understand why.
The patties weigh in at one-third of a pound apiece. They are pre-formed but are purportedly freshly ground and never frozen. Frankly, I don't care one way or the other when they're put together because between the solid shot of beefy flavor and the ample char from the grill, these are some really flavorful burgers. Basically, they're just about the best backyard cookout burgers you can find.
"Everything" at Paradise Pup means lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, ketchup and mayonnaise. I kept mine simple with just grilled onions, pickles, mustard, and the gloriously tangy sensation that is Merkts cheddar. The grilled onions are taken from a massive pile on the griddle that somehow seems to stay the same size no matter how many people get the sweet charred onions on their burgers.
When you place your order, nobody asks how well done you'd like your burger, though they will honor requests. I remained silent on the matter and got nice medium patties that had plenty of juice and a decent layer of char.
Doubles are a regular menu item so I felt obligated to try one even though two-thirds of a pound of meat is a bit much for my tastes. I went with virtually the same toppings on this one, though I opted for American cheese instead of Merkts.
Again, the grillmaster nailed the medium he was shooting for and delivered two patties that seemed to melt together with the help of the cheese. The bun, a challah roll that is refreshingly light on egg, had no problem holding up under the strain of two juicy patties. Bavarian rye is also available as a bread choice, but I think the fresh challah buns are too good to pass up. That said, I know there are some loyal fans of Paradise Pup who insist on the dark rye's superiority.
Paradise Pup's fries aren't good and are pointless to order. They've got the crisp exterior/soft interior thing going, but good texture is no substitute for the lack of potato flavor that comes from frozen spuds. The only good thing I can say about them is they were useful as vessels to deliver more Merkts to my belly.
The shakes, on the other hand, are positively stellar, truly among the best in Chicago. The ice cream base is a soft serve that is made specially for Paradise Pup. They're offered in thick and thin and as regular shakes and malts. The restaurant has already started making their fresh raspberry shake and I really can't recommend it enough. The slight tanginess in the soft serve base blends seamlessly with the sweet raspberries to make a seriously addictive shake.
When brothers George and Tony Manos opened Paradise Pup about 25 years ago, you can assume from the name that the expectation was for hot dogs to be the main draw. And there are some people who take advantage of the opportunity to get some charred Vienna Beef beauties or even explore the chicken sandwiches and Italian Beef that Paradise Pup offers. I'm sure the rest of the menu is delicious, but anyone who heads out to Des Plaines to check the place out would be well-served to follow the lead of the overwhelming majority of customers who walk into the place and order up a char burger.