What’s the best burger you’ve ever had? Did you eat it at some roadside joint you’ve never been able to find again? Or maybe you discovered it on some list of best burgers in America. It’s also possible that the best you’ve ever had was one you simply made yourself, late one night, fried up in a pan. There are a thousand variables as to what makes a great burger, and taste is, of course, totally subjective. You might think the bacon double cheese at any location of The Varsity in Atlanta beats out any $25 piece of beef from a cow that was fed grass, roamed free, and had lullabies sung to it every single night; every burger lover is different. And just like with politics, I try really hard not to engage in conversations about what makes a great piece of meat between a bun maybe with some cheese and other toppings slapped on better than the one other person loves. That usually gets ugly real fast.
There is good, there’s great, and then you have the cheeseburger at Au Cheval, which has reached mythical status at this point. Chicago restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff’s little corner eatery in the city’s Fulton Market district offers up some dishes that would please the most ravenous carnivore, like a pork porterhouse topped off with foie gras, roasted marrow bones with beef cheek marmalade on the side, and he knocks out some of the best plates of eggs in the city, too.
Yet it’s the burger that people from coast to coast rave about. It’s so good that hungry guests will stand and wait, braving the winds coming off the nearby Chicago River, and it has earned acclaim from food websites and fashion magazine alike. In a city known for hearty meat dishes, say the name of the restaurant, and people automatically think of the cheeseburger. It’s the kind of menu item people go out of their way to be critical of before trying it, but are then rendered into submission by the double patties (you get two when you order a single three with a double), cooked medium, with cheese melted so perfectly over the patties. Toss on some diced onions chopped so tiny they’re almost like flakes, a couple of pickles, homemade dijonnaise, and you have the Au Cheval burger. The construction doesn’t sound too foreign, yet every single component works together like the Voltron of burgers; everything comes together and kicks your ass in the best way possible. As somebody who takes his burgers very seriously, it is one of only times I will tell people to go out of their way to try; if you’re in Chicago and have a few hours to kill waiting, do it. It’s a perfectly balanced burger. I think the “best burger in America” is a pretty lofty and possibly impossible thing to attain, but for all intents and purposes, Au Cheval makes the closest thing you’ll find. Factor in quality of the products, how well everything sticks together (I hate a burger that falls apart under its own meat and juices; Au Cheval is graded the rare 10 by me in this category), and overall taste, yes, I’ll cop to Au Cheval making the best overall burger in America.
And now the best burger in America has made the move to New York City. Or, for now at least, it’s served at Sodikoff’s little hidden gem that’s a bear to get a reservation at, 4 Charles Prime Rib. The burger was even called the Au Cheval on the original menu, but is now simply goes by American Cheeseburger. In the future, New Yorkers will be able to get the real, actual Au Cheval cheeseburger when a new location opens up in the city sometime next year, but there’s no reason to wait. While some might tell you to go to 4 Charles Prime Rib for a taste of the cut of beef it’s named after (and I won’t argue with them), the burger is so similar to Sodikoff’s Chicago version that you could very well say they currently also serve the best burger in America. It’s just as great, and in the dimly-lit little restaurant (maybe a dozen tables in there at best) filled tastefully with old paintings, lots of leather seats, wood paneling on the walls and seating that goes into the wee-hours of the morning, it’s hard to beat the setting for a near-perfect burger. And unlike Au Cheval, which operates on a first-come, first-served basis, 4 Charles Prime Rib at least takes reservations. They also offer up a perfectly fried egg and bacon to put on your burger if you so desire. You could even remove the cheese, but even as a person who’s normally a fan of a burger sans cheese, I wouldn’t suggest it. The burger made by these two different restaurants with the same owner, both live up to the hype.