Rudy's Bar and Grille
69 E. Madison Avenue, Chicago IL 60603 (map); 312-332-81111; rudysbarandgrillechicago.com
Cooking Method: Most are grilled, one is griddled
Short Order: Chicago pizza legend struggles to bring magic touch to burgers
Want Fries With That? Sure, but the chips are marginally better; neither is great
Price: 10-ounce burger start at $10; 5-ounce Wimpy Burger, $8
If there's one oversimplified conclusion I've reached in my time reviewing burgers and pizza on Serious Eats, it's that making the former is substantially easier. So when I heard that Rudy Malnati, the man behind Pizano's, one of the best pizzerias in town, was opening a burger spot, I was excited to experience something special.
Rudy's Bar & Grille (no relation to the New York institution with the same name) sits next door to the Madison Avenue Pizano's. While I suppose the proximity to the pizzeria makes management easier, those looking for a shared kitchen set-up like Hugo's and Gibson's are in for a disappointment. Pizano's pizza cannot be had at Rudy's Bar & Grille, but there are a variety of creatively-topped burgers to choose from. Unfortunately, they are not very good.
The primary burger choice at Rudy's features a 10-ounce grilled patty. There are seven pre-selected toppings combinations along with a build-your-own option. I decided to go with one the restaurant created and ordered the Mexican Burger, which consists of a patty topped with poblano strips, chorizo, pepperjack cheese, pico de gallo, serrano mayo, and avocado spread.
The apparently pre-formed patty was cooked close to perfectly with a warm red juicy interior and a nice crust on the outside. Unfortunately, looks were deceiving on this one as the beef itself was not particularly flavorful, a flaw exacerbated by the complete absence of salt in the meat. The toppings had very good flavor, but were not enough to overcome 10 ounces of mediocre beef. And that was made triply true by a dense pretzel bun that chewed like stale peanut butter candy at Halloween.
In addition to the 10-ounce behemoths that dominate the burger menu and destroy any hopes for a productive afternoon at work, there's the Wimpy Burger. That option stars a 6-ounce griddled patty and is essentially an effort at making a high end Big Mac. I liked this one better than the bigger burger, but it still suffered from some problems.
The toppings, which consist of Thousand Island dressing, chopped lettuce, and tomato are fine and do a decent job on the meat. But the real problem with the Wimpy Burger, which was juicier than it appears, is that the bun thoroughly dominates. The very same pretzel bun that overwhelmed the 10-ounce burger had no problem destroying a five-ounce patty.
The hand-cut fries were pretty good, but they were on the soggy side and undersalted. The chips, on the other hand, were quite well-seasoned and cooked to a nice blend of crispy and chewy with crispy definitely getting some extra attention. But the highlight of the meal had to be the strawberry shake. Homer's ice cream is not usually one I think about going out of my way to find, but every time I have the stuff, I'm forced to reconsider. The extra thick shake was simply outstanding in every way.
With a commitment to the craft and some significant changes, especially regarding the meat and bun suppliers, Rudy's could be at the top of its game. For now, however, that's just not the case.
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