Since 1942, the Top Notch Beefburger Shop has been making great burgers for hundreds of thousands of hungry Chicago area people. The burgers have been praised in print and on film as being some of the best around. I had to find out for myself if what they said about Top Notch Beefburgers was true and when I was in Chicago recently, I made it a point to stop there.
Top Notch Beefburgers is located on W. 95th St. in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago. Beverly is a picturesque community within the city with tree-lined streets, stately homes and a Norman Rockwell feeling to the place. The hard-scrabble businesses up and down W. 95th hide the beauty of the surrounding neighborhood. Top Notch Beefburger Shop has had a presence along W. 95th for nearly 58 years.
Armenian immigrants John and Asanette Soulian first opened their Top Notch Beefburger Shop on 47th street in Chicago in 1942. Along with their boys, Diran and William, the Soulians sold their burgers for 20 cents during the height of World War II. The young Soulian boys did everything from clean floors and tables to working the grill flipping burgers. The burgers were ground fresh everyday using chuck beef, a practice that they changed after the war to the more flavorful round steak. Top Notch continues to de-bone and grind their own round steak daily (they have their own walk-in cooler with hanging beef) and only uses salt and pepper during the cooking process.
After the death of their parents, the Soulian brothers took over the burger joint now on W. 79th St. in 1954 and eventually moved to a location on West 95th street. It was there for 30 years before moving to a larger place at its present day W. 95th St. location just east of Western Ave. (see map)
William Soulian passed away in 1994, but Diran Soulian is still there every day, puttering around behind the counter and greeting the regulars when they come in. Now in his early 80's, he's stooped over a bit, but Diran Soulian still has a vivid personality.
Top Notch had a satellite location for about 20 years further down 95th Ave. to the west in suburban Oak Lawn. However, that location closed up about three years ago due to dwindling sales. They also tried to open a location in far south suburban Orland Park in the mid-90's, but they had problems with the landlord and couldn't get that accomplished. But in doing research for Top Notch Beefburgers, I see an address for them with an Orland Park location, but I have found nothing to suggest that there is such a place. So, to my somewhat limited knowledge, I believe the only place you can get a Top Notch Beefburger these days is at the main location on W. 95th.
Parking along the stretch of W. 95th in Beverly can be a little tough, especially in the middle of the day when the breakfast crowd dwindles down and the lunch crowd ratchets up. I found a parking spot a block down the street from Top Notch Beefburgers and went inside.
Although the decor suggests it's been in there longer than 1984, the inside of Top Notch Beefburgers is very inviting. It's well lit and roomy with a number of tables and booths throughout the dining room. I sat at the counter and grabbed a menu they had sitting in a holder.
The kitchen area is behind the counter and somewhat open. They use a cast iron flat griddle to cook their burgers and since it's over 25 years old (at least, unless they moved the flat griddle from the old address) it has to have some great cooked in seasoning on it. The best burgers are made with old time flat griddles, I think.
They have three different sizes of burgers at Top Notch - the Regular (1/4 lb.), the Super (1/2 lb.) and the Super King (3/4 lb.). When you order a Super King, you don't get three quarter pound burger patties, you get one 3/4 lb. burger patty. That has to be very large.
For the diet conscious, Top Notch Beefburger has turkey burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches. They also have a pretty extensive breakfast menu that features omelets, pancakes and French toast. I understand the breakfasts at Top Notch are a big draw through the week.
Along with the burgers, you get a portion of Top Notch Beefburgers hand cut French fries, cut and soaked in water for 24 hours before they're fried up. Soaking them in water takes the excess starches and sugars out of the potatoes and they end up cooking more even in the fryer.
Behind the counter was Diran Soulian talking and joking with some of the waitresses. A waitress - a new one at Top Notch Beefburgers (I knew that mainly from the conversations she was having with one of the other waitresses behind the counter) - came over to take my order. I decided to get a 1/2 lb. Super burger with American cheese. Lettuce, tomato and pickles were available upon request, as well as either raw or cooked onions. I went with raw onions.
About 10 to 15 minutes after I ordered, the waitress brought the burger and fries out to me. It was definitely big. It was served open faced with the veggies off to the side. The bun was lightly toasted and a side of mayo was on the plate, as well.
After dressing the burger, the first bite was, well, interesting. The combination of the seasoned grill and the ground round made the taste of a Top Notch burger different from many other burgers I'd had in the past. I can't say the taste was bad, but it was different, and in a good way. The patty was full and flavorful, but it didn't taste like anything I've ever had in a burger. I wasn't certain that I liked it right off the bat, but as I went on with the eating process, I found it to be a wonderful burger. One that was lean, yet still juicy. The toasted bun was also very good, helping to keep the veggies and condiments on the burger without falling apart.
The French fries were very good, as well. Cooked to a perfect golden color, they had a great potato flavor without the greasiness you can sometimes get in fries. Taking a cue from my Canadian and French colleagues, I dipped some of the fries into the mayo. But to my dismay, I found that it was really Miracle Whip and not real mayo. (Yes, I can taste the difference.)
Concentrating on finishing the burger, I returned to taking a few more bites of the Super burger. The more I ate, the more I liked. It's like a taste sensation you've never had before, and at first you're not sure you like it. But after I finished the burger and left a few fries on the plate, I knew what people in the Chicagoland area have been raving about for nearly 70 years - Top Notch Beefburgers are, indeed, top notch.
Top Notch is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday thru Saturday and closed on Sundays. Up until a couple three years ago, they never took credit cards - it was cash only. But they take credit cards today. The burger and fries were around 7.95 and the new waitress got a $1.50 tip from me. She did a good job for what could have been her first day on the job. So, yes, I have had a Top Notch Beefburger - finally - and I fully understand what all the hub-bub is about. Ground round steak burgers are very flavorful and set Top Notch Beefburgers apart from others trying to come up with a great burger.