Ah, Kuma’s, that bastion of burger greatness that Chicagoans flock to without a hint of worry for the long wait times, thundering music, and frightening décor. Many will name Kuma’s as the best place to get a burger in the city, so naturally it made the list on the Best Food meetup’s search for that very thing. Now, I’d been to Kuma’s once before and I have to admit, I was pretty underwhelmed. I had the Neurosis – a burger topped with caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and gruyere – and it was fine, but it was just that and nothing more. Burger preferences are so personal that I didn’t give my less-than-mind-blowing experience much thought – clearly Kuma’s was not to my taste and that was okay.
When you go to Kuma’s, you expect to wait. That’s just the way it is. Even though we were meeting at the newly opened second location, I insisted to Mindy that we show up way early to get our names on the list. We were there about 45 minutes before the agreed upon meeting time and lounged in the vestibule, both away from the cold outside and the deafening hard rock blasting inside. When our entire party showed up, we went back inside and were told it would only be another 20-25 minutes before our table was ready. We were psyched.
Cut to an hour and twenty minutes later and we were still packed into a corner by the bar, hoping desperately to hear our name called. Our backs hurt, one girl had to switch positions as she was being driven crazy by the door alarm each time someone walked in, and I had almost come to fisticuffs with a girl who slammed into me for no apparent reason. (Okay, I didn’t almost fight her, but I did give her a stern look because, really, what’s with all the pushing?) Yes, I know, it’s Kuma’s, and, like I said, I was prepared to wait, but don’t tell me that my table will be ready in twenty minutes if it won’t. How can you be that off?
We had come to Kuma’s not only to try their infamous burgers, but also to try their make-your-own macaroni and cheese. The list of potential ingredients is insane: roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, peas, mushrooms, chicken, and bacon, to name a few. We decided on two types of mac & cheese – one with bacon, of course, and Andouille sausage and the other with prosciutto and sweet corn. Mindy and I chose to split the monstrous namesake burger for our entrée – a 10-ounce patty with cheese, bacon, and a fried egg.
Kudos to the kitchen staff for speedy execution – that food came out way faster than I had anticipated. We started first with the mac & cheese which was, holy god, yes, the BEST mac & cheese I’d ever had. The cheese sauce was nicely stringy and creamy, not at all grainy or watered down like Wilde’s. The bacon, oh lord, the bacon! So salty, so smoky, so every little thing that I love about life itself. The Andouille was top notch, too, adding its own bit of smoky heat. Unfortunately our prosciutto and sweet corn mac & cheese had mistakenly subbed more Andouille for the prosciutto, but we ate it up even though the waitress offered to take it back.
The burgers came and we dug in. Mindy and I had ordered ours cooked medium, which was the closest compromise we could get to the way we actually like to eat our burgers. I could have gone for medium well and she really wanted medium rare. Surprisingly, when we cut into our burger, Mindy found that it wasn’t cooked enough while I, having already resigned myself to the fact that I would be consuming undercooked ground beef, didn’t have much of a problem with it. In fact, I really liked it. It was seasoned well and that wonderful bacon added just a bit more saltiness to it. I love a pretzel bun and it soaked up the juices from the meat and the egg nicely. Mindy’s opinion was the polar opposite. Not a fan of the pretzel bun and reeling from a particularly piquant onion, it didn’t even come close to making her list of good burgers in Chicago, let alone the best.
But, like I said, that’s the thing about burgers. Everyone has their own preferences and one person’s perfect burger is another person’s last pick. Me, I like a thin patty that I can actually get my mouth around and ten ounces is way too much for me to eat on my own. Even so, I was pretty happy with our choice and would absolutely eat it again, if I could split it with someone. Moreover, I have a suspicion that all the hype ruined any chance Mindy had of really enjoying the burger. Having already gone and been somewhat disappointed myself, I had nowhere to go but up.
So, best burger in Chicago? I’m not ready to give it that distinction, nor am I ready to put in another two hours of standing around any time soon, but I’d be happy to go back at an off hour to eat half of a juicy pink burger topped with bacon and egg…especially if that means I also get to have the most amazing mac & cheese I’ve ever put in my mouth. I salivate at the thought.