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[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Hamburger Heaven Express

3001 South Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60608 (map); 773-801-0012
The Short Order: Solid neighborhood stand with good burgers.
Want Fries with That? You'll need to salt them, but absolutely.
Seats? Nope. Only a small counter inside.

Some day I'll probably get over it, but I am still astonished by the number of stands in Chicago serving hand-cut fries. It's one of the reasons why I love writing this column so much. Cutting potatoes is such a small step, but it makes a profound difference in the final product. I just wish the same were true about burgers. Okay, obviously not the hand-cut part, but for every glorious, golden-hued and crispy French fry shining as a beacon of good taste, there is a pale and frozen burger patty bringing things down. It's frustrating.

But a place named Hamburger Heaven Express has to do things differently, right? I mean, it couldn't consciously expect us to believe its divine claim if it served anything other than a freshly formed patty of ground beef?

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Thankfully, not only does this Bridgeport stand shun the frozen pucks, the patty comes out with a gorgeous blackened crust—clear evidence of a hot griddle. I almost cried with joy when I unwrapped the cheeseburger ($4.60). Look at it! I legitimately thought I had found paradise.

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Sadly, I was so smitten with its beauty and convinced of its greatness that I initially looked past the fact that the patty was slightly overcooked and almost completely lacking salt. Sure, there were some salt packets in the bag, but adding it afterwards is never the same. So, yeah... I feel a little weird about it. Certainly this is one of the best burgers I've come across from a stand, but those two faults hold it back from being a destination worthy meal.

But perhaps I am trying to make Hamburger Heaven Express something it has no interest in being. So what is it? In general, this is an above average stand serving solid interpretations of the Chicago classics, and doing so 24 hours a day.

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You better believe that the fries are hand-cut. Like the burger, they are lacking salt, but they are crispy and creamy, and adding salt afterwards works.

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The hot dog ($2.75, with fries) also shows the care this place puts into its food. Though the dog isn't as snappy or beefy as the best versions, it is a natural casing dog from Vienna Beef, so it's a great find.

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The ribeye sandwich ($5.95) was an audible. For some reason I rarely crave steak sandwiches, but when I do, the results are usually dry and nearly impossible to eat. Hamburger Heaven's ribeye has no such problems. Cooked to my requested medium-rare, the meat was extra tender and well seasoned. Just be sure to ask for some caramelized onions and steak sauce to go on top (you can pass on the lettuce).

As you can tell, I feel conflicted about Hamburger Heaven. It's doing so much right, I feel guilty saying anything bad. In fact, more stands should hope to be this consistent. But it is close to reaching the next level of stand purgatory—the level where one can justify traveling from far away. As it is, this is a solid neighborhood joint, and there's no shame in that.


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