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.
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.
Eclectic ingredients, including eel and mint leaf, fill more than 30 maki rolls and helped earn Wildfish a spot on Gayot's list of the 10 best Chicago sushi restaurants in 2012. One roll pairs spicy salmon, fried tuna, and pico de gallo, and another mixes spicy mayo and sweet soy sauce with Alaskan king crab and a splash of Bacardi 151. Filet mignon and lobster sizzle in the tropical-hued dining room with walls of red, green, and gold and bamboo that sways against the ceiling. Glasses of imported Japanese beer and sake clink together in high-backed booths that offer privacy during dates and meals out with a parrot that only knows how to say your medical records.
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.