Smashburger, popular Denver burger chain, set to open in Chicago

By Kevin Pang; The Chicago Tribune

Smashburger, the Denver-based burger chain that dubs itself “Every City’s Favorite Burger Place,” announced Wednesday that it was entering the Chicago market.

The chain awarded an 11-unit franchise to a Chicago catering group, Food for Thought Enterprises, and its first store is scheduled to open in Chicago next spring, Smashburger president Scott Crane told The Stew.

What makes this place different? The third-pound and half-pound burger, as its name suggests, is smashed flat on a grill top, reminiscent of a Steak ‘N Shake or a Schoop’s Hamburgeres (the heavily food-styled image above doesn’t represent the crispy edges properly, I’m told). 

The chain has 23 locations in five states, with each region serving a state-specific burger: in Oklahoma, the “OK Smashburger” has fried pickles, pepper jack cheese, haystack onions and ranch dressing on an egg bun; in Minneapolis, the “Twin Cities Smashburgers” is a somewhat-inaccurate take on the native “Juicy Lucy,” with Swiss and melted bar cheddar slathered onto the beef (a real Juicy Lucy has cheese inside the patty).  

If there’s a comparable business model, I’d say it’s like Johnny Rockets, minus the ’50s diner theme. Alcohol is served here, along with hot dogs, salads and Haagen Dazs milkshakes. Burgers are served open face and cost about $7 for its most elaborate rendition. 

I’ve never tried this place out, but apparently it’s a hit ever since it launched two years ago. I called up two of my food writing colleagues in Denver for more info. 

“It’s wildly popular here,” said Tucker Shaw, restaurant critic at the Denver Post. “There’s a state fair quality to the burger. It does have that crispy edge, plus they butter and griddle the bun, which is huge.” 

Jason Sheehan, restaurant critic at Westword (Denver’s alt-weekly), was even more laudatory: “It happens to be a cheeseburger joint I really dig. You should be excited.” Sheehan told me Angus beef is formed into a ball, which is then smashed onto the griddle, “instantly caramelizing the patty and forming a halo of meat candy.” Meat candy! Sheehan continued: “It’s a solid burger, really well put together. It’s not my favorite in the state, but it’s in my top five.” 

Finally, I asked both critics to rate on a scale of one to 10, how excited I should be about Smashburger coming to Chicago (10 being In-N-Out). Shaw said 6.5. Sheehan said 7.5. A seven average ain’t so bad.