photo: courtesy of Bridget Cicenia
Let's get the obvious out of the way. Remove the question "how long is the wait?" from your vocabulary when speaking of Kuma's Corner. The answer is always going to be "a while." Go in with that knowledge in your brain and you'll be better off, because everyone, their mom, their neighbor down the street, their hairdresser and their dog has heard of Kuma's Corner. It's gonna take you a while to get to one of the very few seats, especially during a dinner rush, and that's compounded on weekends, but chances are you'll think the wait will be worth it.
Since opening in 2005 with a more diverse comfort-food-styled menu, Kuma's rocketed into the stratosphere when it shifted focus to a burger-centric menu famously named after metal bands. Who knew the world had a niche for hamburgers titled after Judas Priest, Mastadon, Motorhead and Pig Destroyer, topped with unintuitive ingredients like pastrami, tzatziki sauce or pineapple? Couple those burgers with an often-changing list of top-notch craft beers and a soundtrack from hell (if the music of bands like Dark Throne or Slayer is a deal breaker, you might want to consider the Burger King down the street), Kuma's Corner has stumbled into national prominence as one of the absolute burger destinations of the nation. In addition, while they're not often explored, the rest of the menu holds its own. The calamari and make-your-own mac n' cheese are fine alternatives to burger gluttony - or additions to it.
This is not to say that Kuma's is free from criticism. Unless you're willing to devote an entire afternoon or evening to snagging a seat (or if you're OK with elbowing for room at the bar) it can be tough to find the time to get a burger, and when the back patio is open, takeout is no longer an option. As they say themselves, the kitchen remains only 16x16, so patience is required. In addition, it's recommended to have a short list of beer preferences in mind, as Kuma's is often out of some of their more popular or hard-to-find options. However, Kuma's and its staff isn't afraid to give back - on the last Friday of the month, they donate all their tips to a local charity or cause, which in the past have included the Paul Green School of Music, the Chicago Abused Women Coalition and the United Coalition of Homeless Veterans.
Kuma's new website proudly proclaims itself creators of the "best burgers in Chicago," likely based on their experience in addition to the judgment of the metric boatloads of press that Kuma's has gotten in the past few years. It's not bragging if you can back it up - from the beer to the food to the completely unflappable and knowledgeable staff, Kuma's has got the goods. Just be patient.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Karl Klockars