There’s a new contender to add to the ongoing “best burger” conversation in Chicago. And it just so happens to come from a Rogers Park gas station.
Hot spot Burger Bite (located at 1500 W. Devon, inside the Shell station) opened this past May, but it’s been a years-long dream for owner Edgar Bonilla. In six short months, it has received a flood of attention with constant chatter in neighborhood Facebook groups. Food Network stopped by the modest eight-seat restaurant in October to film a segment for a new series.
Unanimous 5-star reviews have also taken over Yelp, Grubhub, Uber Eats and Door Dash’s portals, praising the restaurant’s towering burgers with creative toppings, fries and thick shakes. The big seller is a “Cowboy Burger” with onion rings, mild cheddar cheese, bacon and BBQ sauce. There’s also the popular “Buenos Dias Burger” with a sunny-up egg, bacon, American cheese, hashbrowns and chipotle mayo. In addition, the menu features BLTs, grilled cheese sandwiches, jalapeno poppers, mozzarella sticks, hot dogs, slices of cake, ice cream and milkshakes in nearly every flavor.
But what many are blown away by is the fact that Bonilla’s juicy burgers (always made fresh and served in Turano bread and hand-stamped with Burger Bite’s logo) are crafted in such a unique location. The restaurant is housed just in front of the gas station’s car wash and sits next to rows of snacks and a pair of slot machines that people play while diners nosh on Bonilla’s food.
“I didn’t know this, that many people think restaurants in gas stations have joke food. When people come in, they’re like, ‘Oh my god you got a great burger in the gas station.’ They can’t believe it,” Bonilla says, sitting down for an interview at one of the restaurant’s small tables.
Bonilla explains that he makes the burgers with a secret recipe of spices and uses a flat grill rather than a broiler so they stay juicy. He’s also gotten creative, adding things like pineapple, chihuahua cheese, ham and jalapenos on top of the B&B Burger, for example, an idea he took from street food carts in his native Mexico.
Our chat takes place on a recent October day, Bonilla’s first day off since he opened the doors in the spring, though he’s happy to be back and share the origin story of Burger Bite, introducing his wife Berenice, who helps run the place (as does a teenage daughter when she’s not in school).
At age 35, Bonilla has worked in the restaurant service industry for nearly two decades, since immigrating to the U.S. at age 18, including most recently at Cozy Corner diner just down the street from Burger Bite. After years of working as dishwasher, busboy, server and manager, Bonilla decided he wanted to have his own place. An idea took shape on a trip five years ago when he and his family planned a vacation traveling the entire old Route 66, from Chicago to California, and stopped to eat along the way.
“There’s a lot of diners kind of like this, and they have all these shakes, burgers [and] the floor is black and white,” Bonilla says, pointing to a black-and-white tiled wall he made to look like the bygone restaurants he was inspired by; neon lights add to the effect. (Bonilla also admits he’s a big fan of modern places like Shake Shack.) “On our trip, I was talking to my wife, and said, ‘One day we’re going to have something like this.’”
Bonilla and his family live down the street from the gas station, and when he saw a vacancy in part of the building that once housed another restaurant, Bonilla jumped at the opportunity.
“The first time I had seen this place empty, I was right there. I was at Pump 6 filling my car,” he says, pointing at the fill-up station just outside the window. The owner at the time turned down the idea but soon sold the station, and new proprietor Tom Cyriac has since welcomed Bonilla, inking a rental agreement last December.
“The old [station] owner left their old menus and everything up. … We had a lot of customers that would always come in and ask us when we’d be opening up a kitchen again, and they’d say, ‘When you do open it, can you do a burger spot?’” says Cyriac. “So it worked out perfect.”
Cyriac is also a first-time business owner, so there’s a part of him that wants to support Bonilla in his efforts. “Whatever I can do to help him, I want to,” he says, adding, “Any popularity for him, it benefits our business, too.”
In fact, Cyriac helped connect Bonilla with the Food Network opportunity. The channel is starting production on a new competition-style series slated for December that features restaurants in gas stations. Producers had seen the flurry of social media activity for Burger Bite and contacted a Shell representative who went to Cyriac with the idea. He says Bonilla and his food live up to the hype.
“The [burgers] are really good. I think the one thing that people don’t understand is that, yes it’s a burger coming out of a gas station, but it’s not like he uses frozen patties or anything. He actually buys ground beef, he marinates it, he makes the patties so, it’s a fresh burger that you’re getting,” says Cyriac. “I want people to know the work he puts [into] it.”
Many people are taking notice, like Edgewater residents and friends Melanie Tilman and Genell Scheurell, who gush about Burger Bite while enjoying scoops of ice cream.
“There was a post in the Edgewater Facebook group, so we said, ‘Let’s try it.’ We’re always looking for the best burger in the neighborhood,” shares Scheurell. “The hamburgers are out of this world … and a very reasonable price for the area.”
Adds Tillman, “It reminds me of where we used to eat when we were kids — diners and truck stops. You’d go into places and it was fun and they had interesting things in the shop … who cares [where it’s located]? The food’s good.”
Burger Bite is located at 1500 W. Devon Ave. and is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 9 p.m. Dine-in, pickup and delivery are available.