Not all steakhouses serve a great burger. In fact, some don't bother serving a burger at all (a mistake, methinks). I suppose a lot of steakhouse chefs would find it offensive to grind a hunk of prime sirloin just to make a burger. But a really fine burger doesn't just happen; a certain amount of thought has to go into the entire assembly—the bun, the condiments and the mineral goodness that the meat delivers. And don't get me started on its necessary partner: fries.
Wrap your hands around one of these lunch-only boffo steakhouse burgers, priced $10-$12, and you'll quickly forget the filet.
Munch over white tablecloths at Rosebud Steakhouse
White tablecloths and first-rate service up the experience of eating Rosebud's 12-ounce beauty, hand-formed using ground sirloin and cooked perfectly medium-rare. It's tucked into a hefty pretzel bun that holds its own against the burger, with a slab of beefsteak tomato and a cartwheel of red onion added. I recommend topping with American cheese. It stacks high, so open wide and say "Aah!" The real kicker is the terrific pommes frites. Unlike the other steakhouses listed, burgers are available under "Bar Food" on the dinner menu.
Bite a smaller burger at Erie Cafe
This distinguished atmosphere attracts a lot of regulars, and its easy-to-park arrangement makes it a lunchtime favorite. Big booths mix it up with big tables, but things smaller from there. Not that size matters, but at about eight ounces, Erie's burger has a bit less heft to it. Still, it's impossible to quibble about its flavor. The ground-sirloin burger came out as ordered, medium-rare, and the bun matched up nicely. The accompanying fries are reasonably good and the side dish of condiments (radishes, olives, pepperoncini) is a nice touch. Service is no-nonsense efficient.
Sup on sirloin at Chicago Chop House
This Victorian building is aging as nicely as the business types that hold fort here, but with burgers like these, it's worth a stop at any age. Take the less formal route at the high-top seating in the bar area—it works for me at lunch. The wonderfully beefy sirloin burger is listed at 10 ounces, but it seems like more than that when the sesame seed bun gets stacked with lettuce, tomato and onion. Joined by coleslaw and a pickle, the Chop House's fries are crispy outside, tender inside, skin-on Idahos that I kept eating to the end. Sure, the second-floor dining room is elegant, but the classiest touch of all is the ketchup served in a gravy boat.
Make it a quiet lunch at Shula's Steak House
With de rigueur tablecloths, this classy steakhouse is outfitted in a forest of wood and tables and booths spread out from around the bar. You can hear a pin drop in here at lunchtime, so if you want a quiet setting for the power lunch, Shula's is it (dinner is a different story). The Angus burger lives up to its name: Flavorful and meaty, it's pleasure in every bite, and the brioche bun does not falter under the pressure of a solid grip. A beefy slice of tomato and a slab of red onion are part of the plate decor, but I couldn't figure out the purpose of the few sticks of sweet potato fries mingling with the quite good fries.
Throw bacon into the mix at Capital Grille
The booths, some of them as big as a Mini Cooper, are just the ticket for wheeling and dealing in privacy at this clubby. Equally large, the burger is a feast. The ground sirloin (I make it to be around nine or 10 ounces) doles out just enough of the natural juices to lay some luxury on your taste buds, but it's the bacon tucked into the meat that really jacks up the flavor. The melt of mild Havarti cheese adds to the enjoyment without taking away from the meat's flavor, and the toasted onion roll is able to handle this hefty burger. The fries are acceptable (I set the bar pretty high); you can also choose slaw or chips.