Chicago Burger Week: The Chicago Burger Through The Years

Chicago hot dogs, you know (just don't say ketchup). Chicago pizza? Legendary. By comparison, Chicago's hamburger history may not be as illustrious, but it should be, as it's fostered more classics than most folks realize. Behold: some of the greatest moments in the Windy City's burger history.


White Castle opens shop in Chicago. With the goal of changing the public perception of the beef industry after Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906), everything about White Castle was, well, white — notably its small, white buildings with white porcelain enamel. One of the first, built in Minnesota in 1926, was made to resemble the Chicago Water Tower, buttresses and all.


A tavern opens on Chicago's Near West Side, and is eventually immortalized by a 1978 Saturday Night Live sketch starring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Loraine Newman. Dubbed "Olympia Café," the sketch was meant to parody Greek diners, but Belushi and Murray knew of the tavern from their days at comedy powerhouse Second City, and the rest is "Cheezborger" history.


Top Notch Beefburgers opens in Beverly on the city's South Side, and grinds all of its meat in-house — which it continues to do to this day. It's been owned by the same family, with Diran Soulian at its helm, since 1954.


The first franchised Midwestern McDonald's opens in Des Plaines, a northwest suburb of Chicago not far from founder and milkshake-machine maestro Ray Kroc's home. The date was April 15, 1955, the same day Kroc incorporates his new company, McDonald's Systems Inc., based on the McDonald's brothers' successful southwest restaurant chain.


On the city's southwest side in Gage Park, a diner called Nicky's Drive-In begins serving a double-decker hamburger called the Big Baby: two beef patties dressed with ketchup, mustard, pickles and grilled onions, topped with American cheese and served on a sesame seed bun. Like many burgers of that era, the Big Baby, now widely regarded in Chicago, was likely introduced in reaction to McDonald's Big Mac of 1968.


Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, whose flagship R.J. Grunts opened in 1971 and introduced the concept of the salad bar, opens take-away joint M Burger from a corner of fine-dining restaurant Tru. The focus is inexpensive burgers, fries and shakes — nothing else. Three more M Burgers open over the course of the next few years.


DMK Burger Bar, the popular Lake View joint founded by Michael Kornick and David Morton, open an outlet in Soldier Field in time for the Chicago Bears' home opener. On the opening menu: the #27 Hall of Fame burger (pulled-pork, cole slaw, American cheese, barbecue sauce), named for the 27 Bears inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

More Chicago Burger Week from Amstel Light and Food Republic:

  • A Butcher's Take On The Burger Scene
  • Artists, designers, musicians on Chicago's best burgers
  • Deep Dish Pizza Burger Recipe
  • This post is brought to you by our friends at Amstel Light