American Wildburger is modern square building, nestled among independent business storefronts on Oakton Street in Des Plaines.
A burger joint, for sure, it looks a bit like the old lunch counters with red vinyl swivel stools and gum snapping waitresses that once dotted downtowns across the country. American Wildburger has that same snappy vibe, but in a sleek brown, gray and chrome package.
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American Wildburger1550 E. Oakton, Des Plaines
(224) 938-9772, americanwildburger.com
Setting: Counter with limited seating
Cuisine: Burgers, burgers, burgers
Entrees: $5.25 to $8.50
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
A strictly counter operation, there are about six stools along the front windows. From there you can wait to pick up your to-go order or dine in and chat with the employees. Stand in line and check the menu board and watch for specials, too. Questions about the menu are as likely to be answered by regulars sitting on the stools as the worker taking your order. It's all friends together.
From the counter you can see and smell the whole operation ... hand-cut potatoes being put into the fryer, not to mention the tantalizing smells off the grill.
The menu is streamlined into Proteins, Buns, Cheeses, Toppings, Sides and Signature Burgers.
Pick from a hand-pressed,6-ounce patty of ground chicken, beef, turkey, grilled portobello mushroom or the house specialty, the Wildburger, an 8-ounce mashup of all three meats. Yes, beef, chicken and turkey, all mixed together in equal portions. What this delivers is the juiciest, most tender, most flavorful turkey burger I've ever tasted. It comes out looking like turkey. Really.
Meats come from 100 percent natural and humanely raised animals, so there are no antibiotics or hormones. The turkey is organic and the chicken Amish, both free-range. Cheeses are natural and free of artificial colorings or flavors.
Going meatless? Grilled portobello mushrooms play a role in two standing features: the Boston Lettuce Wraps and the Portland Portobello Burger. The Washington Burger sports blackened salmon.
Once you've picked your protein, build your own masterpiece by choosing from the fresh-daily bakery pretzel, egg, whole wheat or gluten-free buns.
Next up, cheese: Selections include American, cheddar, smoked Gouda and blue cheese. Toppings include your standard ketchup, mustard, mayo, tomato, onions, and lettuce. For a little extra coin you can get bacon, a fried egg, marinara, jalapeņos, sauteed mushrooms or sauteed peppers and top it off with chipotle mayo, salsa or two types of barbeque sauce.
My Wildburger on a pretzel bun with provolone, chipotle mayo, onion and tomato was out-of-this-world juicy and delicious.
Too many choices? Pick from a list of specialty burgers. My friend went with the Cali Classic, which comes with a chicken patty, jalapeņos, cheddar, lettuce, pico de gallo on an egg bun. He substituted beef for the chicken, and added avocado and sauteed mushrooms. The beef was grilled to a perfect medium (although medium-rare was requested) and was flavorful and moist. The spicy toppings and egg bun made it even more memorable .
Homemade coleslaw was fresh, tasty and not drowned in dressing. The french fries clearly stand out. Hand cut, they come out all dark brown with just a sprinkle of sea salt. The Cajun fries are subtle -- no fake neon orange powder here. Other sides include calamari seviche, cheese fries, fruit cup and Wildfries -- a double layer of cheese fries, meat of your choice, grilled with onions, peppers and jalapeņos.
Currently, they are running a Bison Burger special Fridays through Sundays.
Organic soda selections are more on the adult side; no alcohol, just not too sweet. There are more mainstream sodas, too, and organic black tea.
If the counter stools are filled, outdoor dining is available in a limited area, actually next door in front of a martial arts studio. The arrangement smacks of neighborly cooperation.
You won't be left out there on your own either. My friend and I sat outside one recent Sunday evening, and before long someone came out with our order, fetched extra napkins and came back later to talk food. People came and went in a steady stream. Kids munched on fries, dogs hoping some would drop to their level. Neighborhood folks walked in (Note: There's limited off-street parking.) to pickup orders, and I heard talk that a Chicago location is in the works.
This all added up to an unfussy, laid-back dining experience I'd call no-nonsense or neighborhood gourmet.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.