Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
Fox's Restaurant & Pub first propped open its doors in 1964, welcoming diners with an extensive menu that eventually grew to encompass comfort foods from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to familiar Irish staples—including corned-beef sandwiches and shepherd's pie—the cooks sear 10-ounce hamburger patties and slather baby-back ribs in a rich barbecue sauce. For a distinctly Mediterranean touch, they also hand-form meatballs into perfect dodecahedrons and whisk together their own marinara sauces in-house. The pizza chefs can layer oven-crisped pies with more than 10 available toppings, such as giardiniera, sausage, and chopped garlic.
Select locations help to keep spirits high by hosting live music and restaurant-wide games of musical chairs throughout the week. Bands can get diners' toes tapping and heads bobbing by playing a combination of lively Irish classics and popular favorites.
The aesthetically inclined chefs at Swordfish special order fish from overseas, then compose the fresh fillets into a variety of grilled entrees, sashimi, and artfully presented sushi. Colorful sauces and garnishes accent the gentle pastels of seafood dishes, and crunchy golden sprinkles attract desperate leprechauns from the tops of rolls such as the calamari tempura.
Swordfish's bartenders pour out warm sake or line stemware with one of the house's wines or signature martinis, encouraging the swelling sounds of conversation during evening dinners or weekday happy hours. The sounds of mingling patrons bounce off of the dining room's crimson walls, adorned with contemporary murals and artwork, as the crackling fireplace emits tendrils of heat.
With its Vienna Beef hotdogs, polish and italian sausages, and housemade italian beef, Bulldog's Red Hots satisfies cravings for classic Chicago-style food. Surrounded by neon yellow walls, employees bedecked in eye-grabbing red shirts stack grilled onions onto bourbon-chicken sandwiches, pile freshly cut fries into baskets, and slather cucumber sauce over gyros. They also grill 10 types of Angus beef burgers that couple half-pound patties with melted feta cheese, jalapeños, or barbecue sauce.
Four Beans Coffeehouse's baristas sate the ping of caffeine cravings with a bevy of flavorful fresh-brewed coffees, fine teas, and baked goods. Cool overheated summer stomachs with an iced caramel macchiato ($3.90 medium; $4.30 large), or stoke the fires of creative frenzy with a hot mocha ($3.50 small; $4 medium; $4.50 large). Quick eats, such as the croissant sandwich ($2.99) with egg salad, tuna salad, or chicken salad, banish midday munchies. A cup of French press tea ($3.95) comes in over 80 varieties, served in a porcelain cup and saucer that take turns politely engaging customers in philosophical debates. For take-home orders, bean buffs can purchase blends from all corners of the actually round world, including the Ethiopian Harrar, a complex medium roast with hints of blueberry and cinnamon flavor, or the Tanzanian Peaberry, a mellow companion.
The chefs at Tribella Bar and Grill proudly split their allegiance to American and Italian specialties. They sear filet mignon and Fox Valley top sirloin, customizing these prime steaks with bleu cheese, garlic-and-herb breadcrumbs, or Béarnaise sauce and crabmeat. On the Italian side of the menu, patrons find entrees such as veal marsala, fresh beef carpaccio, and penne arabiatta with aged parmesan. Amid the elegant dining room's marbled amber walls, cozy leather booths, and vintage art nouveau posters, guests belly up to white-clothed tables where they sip at global wines and devour tempting desserts such as house-made tiramisu, carrot cake, and turtle cheesecake.