Now, one wouldn't think that with a name like Paradise Pup you'd be able to find one of the best burgers in the Chicagoland region. But I think you'd be pleasantly surprised, because this is truly the case.
Paradise Pup is a little hole in the wall roadside stand along River Road in Des Plaines, IL, not far from O'Hare International Airport (see map). Two brothers, George and Tony Manos, were backyard chefs who made some pretty good char-broiled burgers, hot dogs and sausages. Their friends encouraged them to open a restaurant featuring the food items they made for friends and family on the weekends.
They found the little roadside stand in 1984, fixed it up and opened soon thereafter. Soon, people began to flock to the little shack to have the Char-burgers and Char-dogs the Manos brothers served up six days a week - 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Last year, the Chicago Tribune held a contest to find the best burgers in Chicagoland. 34 judges ate burgers from over 100 burger joints over a five to six week period. Paradise Pup was rated the fifth best burger in Chicago. That's pretty impressive.
I went there on a Saturday recently and by the time I got there at 11:20 a.m., there was already a long line snaking out of the little building, with a healthy number of people already dining on food on the outdoor picnic tables. The parking lot directly behind Paradise Pup was full, as well. I was able to get the last parking spot and I got in line to order.
The inside of the place isn't all that big, but they do offer about 8 to 10 bar stool seats to sit on to eat at a ledge when the weather isn't nice to sit outside. A number of people were getting their orders to go. Given that it was packed outside and since it was a nice day, I decided to do the same.
Five guys were working in concert behind the counter. I could tell by the pictures in old newspaper articles on the wall the Manos Brothers were two of the five working. One of the brothers, Tony, I believe, took my order. I got a cheddar Char-burger, medium, with everything but mayonnaise. And for good measure, I got a Paradise Pup - not the Char-dog (a Chicago dog broiled on the grill), but a good ol' fashioned Chicago style dog. I had to see if their Chicago style dog measured up to the many I've had across the town over the years.
The bill came to around $7.25 for the burger and the hot dog. You pay when you order and Paradise Pup does not take credit cards.
As I was waiting, I was looking at a couple of the articles on the wall from over the years. It turns out they used to cook their food over mesquite, but don't do that any longer. And the cheddar cheese they use is Merkts - a crock-based cheddar cheese from Wisconsin. Remembering my experience with the cheddar cheese burgers from Kopp's in Milwaukee, I sort of wished I hadn't gotten cheese on the first burger I was going to try from Paradise Pup.
I also found out they're somewhat famous for their milkshakes. A number of people were getting shakes with their order. They had a cherry shake that seemed to be their signature milkshake.
Paradise Pup's food is made to order, so fully expect to wait a good 10 to 15 minutes, especially during peak hours, for your order. When I got my sack with my burger and hot dog, I thanked the Manos brother and he looked me in the eye and said, "Oh, no, man. Thank YOU!"
Now, I like that. Too many times I'll tell someone "Thanks" at a restaurant and they'll say, "Uh, huh", or "OK". You'd be surprised at how many people don't say, "Thank you" back after first thanking them. It's like they're not appreciative of the business.
I took off and drove down the road a bit, looking for a little park to pull over into and enjoy the food. I finally found a place about two miles away from Paradise Pup and I pulled under a shade tree and dug into the sack.
I tried the hot dog first. It wasn't all that big, so it was a good appetizer for the main burger course. And it was good. Just a typical steamed Chicago style hot dog with all the fixin's on top. Then I grabbed the burger, wrapped in foil.
I opened it up and the burger was just engulfed in cheddar cheese. I feared the taste of the cheese would significantly overpower the taste of the burger. However, I quickly found this would not be the case.
The bun was moist and tender, the char-broiled meat was very flavorful (maybe almost TOO much of a char-broiled taste to it), and the cheddar cheese didn't detract from the overall taste of the burger. In short, I was very impressed by it. I'm not overly partial to charcoal tasting burgers, but this one was done very well.
I can see why people will stand in line for upwards of 30 minutes just to order a burger from Paradise Pup. It's one of the better burgers I've ever had. And just not only in Chicago - but in my Midwest travels, as well. I will be back to Paradise Pup.