Smashburger

Smashburger's Baja burger (Courtesy of Smashburger / August 17, 2012)

Two burger chains are making the commute from the suburbs into Chicago city to beef up the city’s burger options.

Meatheads has eight locations in Illinois, including restaurants in Northbrook, Naperville and Schaumburg, and is working on opening a spot in Roscoe Village at 3322 N. Western Ave. in mid-September. Founder Tom Jednorowicz is a franchising pro, having worked as chief development officer of Potbelly in Chicago. He said he’s always intended to bring the concept to the city, but had a hard time finding a location with enough space and parking to make it convenient for the families and big groups Meatheads caters to.

Denver-based Smashburger operates 160 restaurants, including locations in Schaumburg, Wheaton and Arlington Heights. Founder Tom Ryan said his model across the country is to start in the suburbs and move downtown. Smashburger is expected to set up shop in Lincoln Park at 600 W. Diversey Parkway this winter.

Customers at both restaurants order at the counter, but the rest of the experience is full service, with employees delivering food and busing tables.

“Burgers and fries are what we serve but its not what we’re all about,” Jednorowicz said of Meatheads. “We really focus on the dining experience as much as we do the food.”

As the out-of-towner, Smashburger is looking to add local flavor to its restaurants with the help of Goose Island. The Lincoln Park menu will include pairing suggestions matching all of its burgers with beers from the Chicago brewery. Ryan said he hopes this will make the restaurant not just a way to grab a quick bite, but a place where you also can lounge with your friends while sharing a bucket of brews poured into frosted mugs.

“I wanted burgers to be back on peoples radar for a convenient weeknight dinner or date night or girls night our or boys night out or meeting people after work,” Ryan said.
As for the burgers themselves, both spots use never-frozen Angus beef as their base and offer an eclectic variety of toppings, such as pineapple and roasted red peppers at Meatheads or garlic mushrooms and fried pickles at Smashburger.

Jednorowicz already is looking to continue his expansion, hoping two to three more Chicago locations by next summer.

Samantha Nelson is a RedEye special contributor. redeye@tribune.com | @redeyeeats