A few months back, Matt took me to Top Notch Beefburger for the first time. Matt’s knowledge of Chicagoland and Wisconsin burgers and their respective restaurants, joints, drive-thrus, and diners is impressive. His knowledge on what makes a beef burger, well top-notch, is a bit of a family tradition as his father Barry is the true connoisseur. Talk about a man who should write a book if not the book on the Midwestern burger, Barry carries a detailed Rolodex of his burger experiences that would fascinate any burger and non-burger foodie alike. Top Notch Beefburger is Barry’s favorite burger and burger joint, period. What started out as a good, quick place to grab a bite while covering high school basketball games on the South Side for the Chicago Tribune twenty years ago, became the benchmark that Barry would compare all other burgers to across the nation. When Barry introduced Matt to Top Notch, a tradition was born, and this being a Chicago staple since the early 40’s, I needed to check it out for myself. A few months ago I visited and documented my experience in an article for Chicago Foodies. It was a that time I learned that the owner, Diran Soulian, who had taken over the family business nearly sixty years ago, had fallen ill. What I learned a few days ago is that Diran passed away last week. Grubstreet wrote an article about Diran and his time at Top Notch and showed me a little love quoting my write-up in the end. In Memory of Diran, I am re-posting my article here. Thanks, Grubstreet, for showing me some love and thank you Diran for your years of quality service that made everyone from late night reporters to neighborhood families to war veterans like yourself, feel like they were right at home.
There are a few things we as Chicagoans know when it comes to food. We know that mustard is the only condiment one needs on their hot dog (and celery salt, if you ask me). We know there are only two things that are important when ordering an Italian beef sandwich; sweet or hot peppers…dipped or double dipped. We know pizza comes one way; deep dish, piping hot from a fourteen inch pan, oozing with cheese and slices of Italian sausage. And although you can get a decent burger throughout this entire food-loving city, the original of all beef burgers comes from a little joint with a big heart for doing things the old-fashioned way. Top Notch Beefburgers has been serving up the South side community since 1942.
This diner style establishment located in Beverly, does not stop at the South Side community. In fact it reaches Chicagoans from all over the city as well as burger connoisseurs from all over the nation. Books have noted Top Notch as one of the best burgers in the country. Newspapers and magazines have written glowing reviews alike. But what keeps Top Notch at the top of their game are the families that have been eating their mouth-watering burgers and fries for generations. From the minute you walk in, it is clear that family and friendship are the priority here and that has not changed since Diran Soulian took over the family business in 1954. But us Chicagoans, we have our opinions. And beyond the inviting atmosphere that Diran and his staff care so much about, Top Notch does indeed make one of the best if not the best burgers in town. What makes them so darn good?
For starters, they grind their meat in house. That’s right folks. There is nothing frozen or being reheated here. Sure, a lot of burger spots are doing that now, but they have not been doing it since 1942. One could say that Top Notch served as the pioneer for every other freshly made burger in Chicago. And that same philosophy goes for the fries, too. Really, they should be called the-best-fries-you-will-ever-have-in-your-life-fries, because they are exactly that. These crispy bites are sliced fresh daily from whole potatoes and then fried to order. What makes them really special? They fry them in beef tallow, people! Essentially rendered beef fat, beef tallow gives these fries that same off the grill taste. It beats duck fat, oil, or anything else you can fry a potato in by a long shot. The burger and fries are straight forward, honest diner food that not only satisfy your belly with each juicy bite, but warms your heart in the mix of it. And to wash it all down, do not miss out on their milkshakes and malts! Thick, smooth, ice cold liquid velvet in every slurp and gulp. The perfect compliment to your fresh off the grill burger and salted, piping hot fries. Of course, if burgers are not your thing, Top Notch has an entire menu also serving breakfast from 8am – 11am every morning.
But why people come here and keep coming here is for the total experience. Top Notch is one of the last standing classic Chicago diners who truly care about their customers. While head chef Sam graciously invited me into the kitchen to show me where the heart and soul of Top Notch lies, Jim (current restaurant manager) walked me around the restaurant telling stories and sharing pictures of Soulian and his family. They both made me feel that I was somehow part of the Top Notch family even though it was only my first visit. For that, I will always be grateful because us Chicagoans we love our food, but we love it more when we feel like we are at home.