While fun in concept, build-your-own burger places like Meatheads or Five Guys have always left me feeling a little let down. Either the toppings are good but the meat hovers around McDonald’s quality, or the toppings are pretty basic. Lincoln Park’s Butcher & the Burger is easily the best of these fast, counter service burger places, and rivals some of the best burger joints in the city like Kuma’s Corner and Au Cheval, thanks to their big selection and fresh, local ingredients.
The Butcher & the Burger is located just about a block from the Armitage Brown line stop at 1021 W. Armitage. It’s a small, counter service restaurant taking influence from both your neighborhood diner and a butcher shop. Seating is fairly limited inside and there is a patio on the side. I went for lunch on a Friday and traffic was steady, but it wasn’t too hard to get a seat.
Packed inside Butcher & the Burger is a lot of character and a lot of history. Next to butcher shop antiques like scales and hooks and fun features like a chalkboard menu, there are older details you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on. For instance, the shelving uses hundred year old wood while brackets come out of an old Pennsylvania prison. The hinges on one cabinet were actually old coke bottle openers. Butcher & the Burger seamlessly blends new and old to create their own distinct look.
The Butcher & the Burger is quite a bit more expensive than a trip to McDonalds, but what you’re getting here is fresh, high-quality local ingredients and you can taste the difference. The beef they use is generally delivered daily and never frozen, bison arrives weekly from central Illinois, and the pickles are prepared in house. Everything from selecting the meat to adding spices is done with a level of skill and care that you’re not going to find at just any burger shack.
They also do offer some breakfast sandwiches, Cafe du Monde coffee, and beignets each morning. That definitely makes for an excellent alternative to the Starbucks down the street.
Choosing (And Eating) Your Burger
Butcher & the Burger truly let you construct every aspect of your burger. If you do get too intimidated on your first visit, there are some chef creations to choose from.
Meat: Besides the traditional beef blend, you can choose from a big variety– including: grass-fed beef, bison, a vegan option, and even salmon and shrimp burgers. To get the introductory experience, I went with the regular beef blend, which was tender, juicy, full of flavor, and was one of the freshest tasting burgers I’ve ever had.
Spices: Sure, your burger is always going to be seasoned, but I’ve never seen a place that gives you this much variety, from an onion soup spice to a fiery hot ghost pepper blend. I like just a little heat so I went with Cajun.
Bun: A split top butter egg is your standard choice and again there are a few options like a croissant or a healthy lettuce wrap. As a pretzel bun devotee, there was little time wasted in making a choice.
Toppings: The burger comes with the basics like lettuce, tomato, pickles, but there are tons of toppings to choose from. I threw on some pepper jack cheese to compliment the Cajun spices, some avocado slices, and a duck egg. While no stranger to adding an egg on top of a burger, the duck egg was quite a bit larger than a chicken egg with a much richer, satisfying taste.
Drinks, Fries, and Dessert
Butcher and the Burger is BYOB friendly and also offer a selection of milkshakes and bottled sodas to go along with your burger. While you can get Mexican Coke (much preferred to the corn syrup American version), they offer a selection of local sodas from Filbert’s (I’d recommend the Draft Root Beer).
Before my burger arrived, I sampled their house made pickles. Generally pickles are not my thing, but I actually enjoyed these quite a bit. It was really crisp and not limp and soggy like a lot of pickles. This pickle tasted like it grew this way on the vine and was picked that morning. Some crunchy deli-style potato chips were a nice counterpoint to the pickles, but when I’m eating a burger, nothing beats a side of fries. Their fries are on the bigger side and not very greasy, offering a salty and bold potato flavor.
For dessert, I grabbed a soft chocolate chip cookie (my favorite), but they also make their own frozen custard.
With such an incredible food and burger scene in Chicago, it’s easy to get a jaded appetite. However, when I bit into the burger at Butcher & the Burger, I was instantly in love with the restaurant. The tender, juicy patties are easily among the best in the city, and the plentiful topping choices give you plenty of reasons to go back. If you’re a burger fan, you have no excuse not to try Butcher & the Burger.
Butcher & the Burger
1021 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60614