I'd first heard of Kuma's back when Chicago Magazine covered them, and soon after that Guy Fieri was there on DDD. Since then I've read countless reviews, and universally one thing is said which is that Kuma's is the best burger in Chicago. Now as I said, I'd already been there before with Josh a few months back, so I'll try to compare and contrast the two experiences throughout this post. The first time I went was for dinner on a Saturday night in the middle of winter, and this most recent time was for lunch on a Tuesday. You'd be amazed at what a difference that makes.
Kuma's is tiny. There's a bar and maybe 10 tables bringing the entire building capacity to 42. Trust me, from the second this place opens till the last plate is cleaned, they're significantly over this limit. Now if the packed house wasn't enough for you, it's also a heavy metal bar. All of the food is named after some heavy metal group, the waitresses are all tatted out from head to toe, the walls are decorated in a somewhat disturbing fashion, and the blasting music never stops. You might think with the raving reviews that yuppies would be fighting for tables (thus "harshing the vibe"), but the faithful clientele are still a majority. The first time I went was at night when things were a little louder and rowdier than during the lunch trip the second time around.
Pretty Much the Whole Restaurant
The overall popularity has made the lines pretty long. If you're coming with a few people at any regular eating time, you should expect to wait at least an hour if not two. Josh and I waited for 45 minutes, but that was more a matter of luck than anything else. This past time we waited about 20 minutes, which is about as short a wait as you'll ever get, and if we'd come a little later we might have waited much longer. The trick is to come with a total party of 2. There are a few tables that only sit 2 and you can get those sometimes if you're lucky. Also, at night people like to line up behind a specific bar stool to sit there as soon as someone gets up. With a party of 2, you and a friend can get sat that way a little quicker. If you're going to go at night, they do have an excellent beer selection and scotch on tap to tide you over while you wait.
The final logistical thing to note is that they don't put up with anyone's crap. The attitude of Kuma's is imposed upon you the second you walk in the door, and if you don't like it, that's just too bad. Below is an important list of rules to follow which is posted near the entrance.
The Rules of Kuma's Corner
From what I've described above, you may think this is not your place (or maybe you love it), but there's a clear reason why even people who hate heavy metal will only eat these burgers. I haven't had some key burgers in Chicago yet to call it the greatest, but I just don't see how it could ever be topped. Each burger comes with a variety of unique ingredients and is sandwiched between a crisp exterior / soft interior pretzel bun. Many of them come with fried eggs and tons of bacon, and the specialty even has brie cheese with poached pears, but not one of these burgers has muddied or disassembled flavors.
The Iron Maiden
The first time around I got a Plague Bringer. Loaded with garlic and jalapenos, I was quickly overjoyed with flavor. There really was a ton of garlic though, and trust me, I was living that garlic smell for about a day later. If you don't like spice don't get it, but if you can handle the heat this is a good one to go for. This week I got the Iron Maiden. The burger was perfectly medium rare, and the toppings of cherry peppers, chipotle mayo, and avocados gave it a refreshing spin. I would call this one of the lighter burgers they offer since I got it without the cheese, and it was one of the few without a fried egg. The burgers are served with a heaping portion of waffle fries which are the best that I've had since Buff Joes. My eating companions between these two trips have gotten the Kuma Burger, the Kaijo, and the Mastadon. The Kuma is a classic burger, which for them means cheddar cheese, fried egg, and bacon. The Kaijo has bacon, blue cheese, and onion strings. I didn't try this one, but Eric said the flavoring of the blue cheese was just perfect. The Mastadon has BBQ sauce, bacon, cheddar, and onion strings. One thing that's dangerous about these burgers is that they're the perfect size where you fill up with just enough left that it's too little to take home and too good to waste (so you just have to eat it all and suffer the consequences later).
Other food notable mentions include the build your own mac and cheese and the mussels. Both are fantastic looking appetizers that I haven't tried, nor do I think you need to since the burgers are plenty. You should give some of the beer list a try though, and yes they have Jack Daniels on a nitrogen based tap.
I'm not one for heavy metal, and I'm not one for overly loud and crowded bars, but I'd put up with much worse for these burgers. It is completely and utterly worth it. I would imagine that the summer would be a better time to wait it out since you could stand outside if the noise was too much. Plus the cost is pretty reasonable at about $10 a burger. After this, almost all burgers will just taste like garbage. They will spoil your mouth in a good way.
I thought long and hard about this rating. I want to make the important distinction that even though it's not a gourmet restaurant, for it's category, this is about as good as it gets. Thus, I'm giving Kuma's Corner the maximum rating. That's right folks... The Pearl Necklace. 5 out of 5.