Since moving to its larger location and getting a second outpost in Elmhurst, my love for Back Alley Burger grows. Sure, purists could call its toppings-loaded namesakes overwrought. Fair enough: most all of the options are over the top. Still, even plain Janes can be sated since the all-natural, grass-fed Wisconsin-bred beef patties can be custom-built or left simply unadorned.
But I like toppings, and lots of 'em. I'm also a sucker for heat. And while I'll admit to having some trepidation, I opted for a newbie, "The Most Insane-est Hottest Burger Ever-est" ($9.99). Let's just say it lives up to its name, what with its generous slathering of habanero jam, Thai chili cream cheese, and Trinidad Scorpion sauce, along with fried jalapeño coins, Ghost Pepper flakes, and red onion on a cayenne-showered Kaiser roll. Thanks to the jam and cream cheese components, it's just a tad sweet. As for the burn, well, it's there, and it only intensifies. You might want to go halfsies on this baby, offsetting with something else.
Even if spicy isn't your thing, winners abound. I can attest to the Coke n' Fries burger ($6.99), topped with Coca-Cola sauce, classic condiments and spuds; the Meister burger ($8.99), finished with Merkts, salami, kraut mustard and onion on a pretzel roll; and the taco-spiced Mexicali ($9.99), topped with nacho cheese, pico de gallo, chili, and lettuce on a cayenne Kaiser ($8.99).
The salads even sound fantastic (though I have yet to give them a try). My money's on the pollo fresco salad swathed in cilantro-lime vinaigrette ($7.25).
Another thing I love about this place is the sides. A standout is the sturdy chili cheese onion rings ($3), their generous garnish standing up to the batter admirably until meal's end.
Then there's the mac and cheese bites ($3.99), seriously addictive, admittedly, yet appealingly, greasy triangles with a beer batter-like casing that crackles with crunch.
More disappointing was the nicely flavored but over-dressed slaw ($2). A lighter hand and this would have been a cooling counterpart to help tame my burger's aforementioned flames.
You'll find sweet treats as well. Be prepared because they're tempting in their own right: slices of homemade pie ($3.50), plate-sized chocolate chip cookies ($1), and hand-spun milkshakes in flavors from Nutella to banana pudding ($3.75 to $4).
Back Alley Burger
About the author: Jennifer Olvera is a veteran food and travel writer and author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago." Follow her on Twitter @olverajennifer.