Chicago’s Au Cheval serves a burger that many people consider to be one of the best in the United States—a cheeseburger so freaking hyped that it’s not uncommon to hear of a three-hour wait at this no-reservations upscale diner in the West Loop.
Three hours! As much as I love a good burger, there’s no way I’m waiting more than 30 minutes to eat one. No matter how many “best-of” lists it’s been on. But a recent weekend stint in Chicago made it possible to polish off that prized piece of meat (and cheese, and sauce, etc) within 30 minutes of arriving at Au Cheval. Here’s how:
- Take a Saturday morning flight that lands at Midway at 7:30 am Central time.
- Drop your bags at your hotel and take the El over to Randolph Street, stopping for an iced coffee at The Little Goat. Do not get the extra large chocolate chunk cookie, though you’ll be tempted.
- Arrive at Au Cheval at 9:45 am, planning to wait for 15 minutes until the restaurant opens.
- Lo! Be pleasantly surprised when a server opens the door at 9:50 am, cheerfully mentioning that “we’re going to get started a little early today!” Compliment him on his Porsche lapel pin.
- Be the first people seated because the woman in front of you was still waiting for her husband to park the car. (This is why you take the El.)
- Order the burgers with your drinks and have those towering stacks of patties placed in front of you tout suite.
It’s that easy!
Now. About that burger. Yes, my husband and I might have beat the system, however unintentionally—this really wasn’t why we took an insanely early flight to Chicago, I swear—but was the burger really worth taking such extraordinary measures in the first place?
The honest truth is that I would most definitely eat the Au Cheval burger again if the wait time fell within my 30-minute limit. Anything above that, and I’ll be getting a bite elsewhere in Chicago. There’s no shortage of really good burgers in this land, and while this is a really good burger, it has not changed my life in the way that, say, Lou Malnati’s pizza or Pearl Oyster Bar’s lobster roll has done.
What Au Cheval refers to as a “single” burger is actually a double, and the double is actually three patties, all layered between slices of molten American cheese. The burger fairly drools with mingled juices, cheese drippings, and homemade Dijonnaise, with all that umami richness and fat slightly tempered by pickle slices and minced onions. Add a thick-cut slice of bacon, as I did, or a fried egg, as I didn’t, and see if you can manage to house the whole thing.
For the record, I did clear my plate of the single cheeseburger with bacon, though Dan couldn’t get through his regular double because he had already gorged himself on The Little Goat’s chocolate chunk cookie. See, I told you—don’t be tempted by that before-burger snack!
For me, the bacon really made the burger without overwhelming the whole deal, so it gets a special shout-out here, and I’d most definitely order a side dish of bacon to see how it tastes unadorned by all that burgerness. I’d also recommend switching out the vodka in the house Bloody Mary with one of the beers on tap to make an amped-up michelada. The sport pepper garnish on the drink is pure Chicago perfection, I must say.
The next time we’re flying into Chicago at a crazy hour on a really cheap flight (thanks, Southwest!), I’d pull this stunt again to try Au Cheval’s almost-as-famous bologna sandwich. Stay tuned.
PS: if you’re not averse to knockoffs, you could also try one of the Small Cheval kiosks throughout Chicago, which serve a smaller, more basic version of the Au Cheval burger. Or you could wait until Au Cheval opens up their New York location at some unnamed date in the somewhat near future.
Au Cheval, 800 W Randolph St., Chicago IL 60607. Opens at 10:00 am M-Sat, and 9:00 am Sun, so good luck!