Is it worth the wait?
That’s what you want to know, isn’t it? At this point you’re probably aware that the Au Cheval burger is good - the 673 people standing expectantly outside the restaurant right now can’t be completely wrong. The question is just how good one burger can possibly be, and whether you should spend three hours in a line that has stretched outside and around the corner since 2012.
After all, we don’t have to wait for stuff as much as we did when this place first opened. Amazon can deliver a package within two hours. An app can make sure your latte is already made when you walk into Starbucks. Netflix releases entire seasons all at once to save us from the national nightmare of looking forward to next week’s episode. But while Au Cheval is one place you’ll still be caught waiting no matter when you show up, the excellent food is, and always has been, worth it.
Now, let’s address the burger. It’s what made Au Cheval famous, and it’s the first thing Hot Take Harry can’t wait to tell you is overrated. Trust us, it’s not. It’s consistently excellent, made with juicy griddled patties, dijonnaise, a perfectly squishy bun, thick-cut bacon, and a sunny-side-up egg. There is an impossible amount of hype surrounding it, but that’s not the burger’s fault. It’s not like Au Cheval has aggressively marketed their star dish by selling burger T-shirts or opening Au Cheval: The Ride at Navy Pier. So ignore the contrarians - it’s the best burger in Chicago, and you should try it at some point in your life.
As noteworthy as the burger is, there are other things on the menu that make this place great overall. We’re fans of the crispy potato hash topped with duck heart gravy and an egg - it’s rich, delicious, and one of the few breakfasty dishes that helps qualify this place as a “diner.” The chilaquiles have thick housemade chips that stay crispy under all the toppings, and are good enough to eat plain. We’d spread the bone marrow and beef cheek marmalade on our morning toast every day if it didn’t mean finding a cardiologist who accepted our insurance.
Not everything on this menu is as worthy of your time, though. For example, the fried bologna sandwich is boring compared to everything else: it’s just a salty pile of meat, cheese, and mayo. And we’re pretty sure the salads are only on the menu as a formality - they’re fine, but uninteresting. (Also, shame on you if you come here and center your experience around a salad.)
We’re not saying Au Cheval belongs on your regular restaurant rotation. It’s just too big of a pain in the ass for that. On the weekends you can expect to wait at least four hours for a table, and the dark, crowded space is a claustrophobic sh*tshow often made worse by all the tourists milling around in the vestibule because they don’t know where else to go. But if you’ve never been here before, or you have an out-of-town visitor, or you’ve got a burger bucket list, then you need to know if this place is going to be worth the anticipation. To answer your question:
Yes, it is.
There are a few ways to order the burger here, and it can be a bit confusing. A “single” has two thin griddled patties, and the “double” has three. Go with the single. You can also add bacon (highly encouraged) or an egg (optional based on your love of eggs). Other than that it’s a perfect balance of American cheese, dijonnaise, and pickles on a tasty bun.
Almost everything at Au Cheval is aggressively rich, and we mean that in the best way possible. This dish is no exception, and the combination of crispy hash browns, gravy, and the egg that ties it all together is one of our favorite things to order.
These sweet and spicy fried chicken wings with ginger and sesame don’t really seem to flow with anything else on the menu. We don’t care. They’re great and we’re really glad they exist. You should order them.
For the first few years Au Cheval was open, the delicious chilaquiles were only available during weekend brunch and after midnight. We’re happy that’s changed. Now you can eat the crispy chips topped with eggs, pickled onions, sour cream, queso fresco, jalapenos, salsa verde, guacamole, and cilantro any damn time you want.
This is a nice, light option. Just kidding. It’s relentlessly rich. The soft scrambled eggs are buttery and creamy, the foie is nicely seared, and the toast is the ideal vehicle for getting this into your mouth.
If there’s one thing here that is overrated, it’s the fried bologna sandwich. It’s too salty, and at a restaurant where almost everything is pretty salty, that makes this a true sodium bomb. Plus, it’s obnoxiously hard to eat - the bologna is piled extremely high and the cheese and mayo make an already slippery sandwich even more precarious. You can do better than this.
If you’ve eaten at Gilt Bar or Bavette’s (both owned by this same team) then you know that these people know how to roast bone marrow. It’s always perfectly rendered, and the accompanying sweet and tangy marmalade cuts through all the richness.
Again, Au Cheval knows how to cook large pieces of meat, so - no surprise - the pork porterhouse with roasted apples is an excellent plate of food. But Chicago has a lot of places where you can get a big piece of meat, and we suggest saving room for other stuff here.