The summer and fall months beg for something grilled, and of course, the best kind of grilling is that which you don’t have to do yourself. We decided to sample four notable burger joints in central Illinois—not the greasy chains, but establishments known for quality burgers—to see what all the fuss was about. According to our taste buds, it was well worth our time.

Burger Barge

Burger Barge has been a lunchtime favorite on the East Peoria riverfront since it opened in 1996 (it’s been dry-docked since 2002). It’s easy to see why one of the restaurant’s mottos is “Burgers are serious business ’round here!”—its menu is easily the most burger-intensive in the area. Owner Gigi Irwin said what makes her burgers unique is that the Burger Barge employs its own butcher and uses nine ounces of fresh ground chuck with no additives or preservatives for each burger. The Burger Barge also uses a two-part process: a flat-top grill sears the meat, then a charbroiler gives it flavor.

Featured burger: With eyes bigger than our stomachs, we had to try the “Buy the Farm” burger. We gave this nine-ounce burger, butterfly pork chop, and chicken breast stacked on a bun with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and the Barge’s special Dock Sauce our best effort, but two people couldn’t finish it. Impossible to believe, Irwin says many customers have conquered this monster of a sandwich.

Ludy’s Kickapoo Creek Saloon

Thanks largely to word of mouth, people from all over Illinois and beyond make the drive to Ludy’s, located on Route 150 in Kickapoo. Its Famous Burger incorporates a half-pound of the best meat possible, ground daily, with a special mix of seasoning, the recipe for which only Ludy’s employees are privy to learning.

Featured burger: The Famous Burger can come plain, with cheese (mozzarella or hot pepper), or you can add onions. Unable to resist a challenge, we sampled all combinations (plain pictured here).

 

Khaki Jack’s Australian Outback

Located in north Peoria on Allen Road, Khaki Jack’s is a sandwich standby for regulars ordering their favorites and for newcomers wanting something a little different. All burgers are grilled to order on an open flame, made of 100-percent beef, and include the freshest ingredients. Of special note are the buckets of peanuts on every table, and, of course, the menu items containing ostrich meat, which our server explained is very lean and has more protein than chicken or fish.

Featured burger: The Blue Cow Mountain, just one of the customer favorites at Khaki Jack’s, includes bleu cheese and grilled onion. [As our resident guinea pig, art director Mandy Barrett was brave enough to order—and finish—the “Oz” ostrich meat burger, saying she’d easily do it again.]

 

Sully’s Pub

Founded in 1973, Sully’s Pub has been a mainstay in the downtown area for people looking for a quick bite—and a positive sign there’s good food to be had, it’s usually swamped. Its burger specialty is the Sully Burger, “the original half-pound angus that started it all”; the cooks use a half-pound of unseasoned meat for each burger and cook it to order.

Featured burger: Craving a bit of a kick, we ordered the Rajun Cajun burger, one of the more frequent requests. It includes Cajun seasoning and is topped off with Pepper Jack cheese. a&s