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[Photographs: Mike Gebert]

I came up with a whole set of rules for dining once, but the one that I plan to have engraved on my cenotaph is what was known at the old LTHForum as "Mike G's Rule": "If there's a reason to eat somewhere besides the food, the food's no good." This is as true of restaurants with spectacular lakefront views as it is of places where the waitresses dress in cheerleader outfits. Except when it isn't, like at The Choo-Choo in suburban DesPlaines.

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The Choo-Choo has a classic reason to eat somewhere besides the food: the food is delivered on HO train cars that run the circuit from the kitchen to the counter. You might expect, as a result, that the hamburgers would be, at best, edible. But surprisingly, it's one of the best examples of a smashed griddle burger on the Illinois side of the Indiana border, with crispy lacy edges and a fluffy-soft bun. Crinkle-cut fries are nothing to get that excited about, but the burger and its mode of delivery is all suburban parents have needed to make a kid-pleasing, adult-satisfying lunch for decades.

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That said, there is one warning that must be issued, and it's kept more than a few childless burger fans of my acquaintance away. When they're playing the oldies the atmosphere is tolerable, but if any kid is having a birthday, they will play a version of a birthday song (cleverly written to avoid infringing on the dubious copyright of Warner/Chappell music) which will stick itself in its head like a South American brain parasite. And by "if any kid is having a birthday," I mean "every ten minutes while you're there."

But really, I don't know where else to get a burger half as good for miles in any direction in the northwest burbs. Tragically, a few years ago we nearly lost The Choo-Choo, when the land was going to be taken for, bitter irony, a Cheeseburger in Paradise. (Talk about paving the real paradise.) Then The Choo-Choo's vintage burger would have been only a memory... along with a song whose half-life as an earworm appears to be about 68,000 years.

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