Ah, Bernie's Burger Bus. Regarded as a staple among locals for juicy gourmet brisket-and-chuck burgers, milkshakes, and family-friendly dining, the beloved casual eatery officially opens inside the Loop, at 2200 Yale, on July 31 at 7 a.m.
The first iteration of Bernie's Burger Bus was actually just a rundown 1986 school bus that was refurbished by owner and chef Justin Turner into a burger hub on wheels back in 2010. From there, the business grew, with brick-and-mortars in Bellaire and Katy, and so did Turner's acclaim. He won the competition cooking show Chopped in 2016 and used the prize money as you'd likely expect any Chicago native would — to go see the Cubs win The World Series for the first time in 108 years.
Today you'll find Turner's original burger bus (the name Bernie is a nod to his grandfather, and a picture of him still hangs above the windshield) parked inside the new 3,300-square-foot eatery, which houses the spacious kitchen and is sure to be a magnet for Instagram freaks. The new location also features lockers that you can mark up with the graffiti of your choice (keep it clean, folks), a full bar, a pet-friendly patio and a new breakfast service.
Update August 9: Bernie's Burger Bus announced that it will no longer offer breakfast at the Heights location, so it can just focus on the burgers and other menu specials.
Turner tells the Press he anticipates a lot of business from people heading into work, folks who might want to grab something quick and easy to take to the office in the morning. That's basically why he created a menu of breakfast sliders packed with frittata-style eggs — imagine a fancier fast-food sandwich — with three options, including a classic bacon/pork sausage and cheese slider with chipotle aioli, a slow-roasted beef slider with swiss cheese and chimichurri, or a vegetarian option with pepper jack, guacamole and pico de gallo.
For people with more time to dine in, you'll find a decadent riff on chilaquiles called the Spanish Club, a hearty breakfast bowl and larger breakfast sandwiches served daily.
As for the rest of the menu, all the BBB signatures are available, including those addictive truffle fries and the salted caramel apple shake, along with sauces and specialty ingredients made at the restaurant's commissary—"tipsy" Jack Daniel's onions, roasted garlic tomatoes, ketchup, mayo, and more — which assures consistency among the locations.
Turner even has somewhat of a scientific method to creating the perfect burger, which he's tested out via a number of blind tastings and trial-and-error in a food lab. Did you know, for instance, that putting mayo on the bottom of a bun can act as a barrier against the meat's juices turning it all soggy? In this case that bun would be challah sourced from Slow Dough, which carries a nice greasy sheen on the top as it well should, but somehow stays pristine and soft on the bottom.
Burgers such as The Homeroom, bedecked in oozy fried egg and bacon, and The Cheerleader, with crispy fried jalapeños and a dollop of spicy ranch and melty pepper jack, are still on the menu, but you'll also find numerous specials: $3 sliders on Wednesdays, fried chicken sandwiches (for a limited time) and Turner's cult-favorite lobster rolls, which are served on Fridays.
"I'm actually a seafood guy," he says. "Back when I was a personal chef, that's what I was known for."
Whether or not that means a seafood restaurant could ever be on the way is anybody's guess, but Turner recently told CultureMap that he's eyeing more potential locations in Houston and even Austin. That's a long way from his days working the line at Wendy's and Outback Steakhouse, two places where the chef actually got his start.
On the booze side, you'll find adult milkshakes and a cocktail list curated by Anvil and 13 Celsius alum Linda Salinas. Frozen drink machines will rotate concoctions — for now try the gin bramble with a blackberry syrup lurking on the bottom that will take your drink from white to purple and jammy in the best way for summer.
There's also an ancho-chile riff on a Pimm's Cup that's dangerously refreshing and lots of bourbon and beer.
Daily happy hour specials, 3 to 7 p.m., include $4 drafts, $5 wines and frozen drinks and $1-off boozy shakes.
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SHOW ME HOW
Enjoy one while your children scribble all over the kids menu (it's okay, they're made for coloring-in), which features a new all-beef hot dog and decadent chili cheese tots. But please, people, just make sure they know the difference between the boozy and the non-boozy shakes.
Bernie's Burger Bus
2200 Yale, 713-867-8600
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.