After a shopping blitz of Caputo and Caputo Cheese (Caputo's is having an herb/vegetable plant/flower sale right now, lots of good italian plants for very reasonable prices), I decided to have the Harlo Grill and the River Forest Grill face off.
The challenge: prepare me a double cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake.
The categories: Value, Burger quality, Fry quality, Shake quality.
Harlo Grill is about 3 blocks west of the Caputo Cheese Market, so it's probably at North Ave. and 18th. It's open 24 hours every day, except from midnight Sunday to 5:30am monday. It will be closed on Memorial Day, and reopen at 5:30am Tuesday.
I got a double cheeseburger, no onions, an order of fries, and a chocolate shake, to go. The total came to $5 even, although I suspect that was sort of a random figure decided by the woman working the counter. The listed prices were, I think: $2.40 for the cheeseburger, $0.95 for the fries, and $1.40 for the shake. I believe the woman working the counter (and the grill) was Mrs. Harlo.
She worked the grill very well, and had a dozen sandwiches or so going when I arrived, most of them double or single cheeseburgers with onions. The rolls (S Rosen) were toasted on the grill as the burgers cooked.
The burger patties and the fries were both pre-fab.
Burger quality: Pretty gosh darned good. It had that subtle spice that you associate with a long-established burger joint. I don't know how to describe the flavor other than that. The bun didn't get destroyed by the burger or condiments (ketchup, mustard, pickle), and the condiments didn't overwhelm the flavor of the meat. A burger I would definitely have again.
Fry quality: Decent. Nothing special, by any means. They were fried till thoroughly crispy and salted. I could have used more salt on them. I did not use ketchup at either Harlo or River Forest. The fries were consistent throughout the bag, but consistently just ok.
Shake quality: Good. Thick, chocolatey, cold.
River Forest Grill:
Here, I have to admit, I fudged a bit. Rather than get a straight double cheeseburger, I got a Franke Special, so bacon was added. Many chowhounds already know the River Forest grill well, so I'll go into less detail.
The total for my Franke Special with a chocolate shake (bacon double cheeseburger, fries, shake) was $7.50. The shake was about $2, the fries were about $2.50, and the burger was about $3.50. The amount of food was about the same, but the price was 50% higher than at Harlo.
Burger quality: Good, wrapped in that unique roll (untoasted), topped with pickles, ketchup, mustard, and three full-length slices of bacon. It came packaged in wax paper which instantly turned translucent from grease. It didn't have the same old-school spice flavor in the meat that the Harlo burger had. The bacon added a nice porkiness and smokiness to the burger. It was a burger I would definitely have again, although perhaps without bacon.
Fry quality: Again, prefabbed fries. These were more aggressively salted, especially the ones at the bottom of the bag. At the top of the bag the fries were very hot and a little overdone. The fries lower in the stack, though, were great. A little underdone, soft, salty, but not oily.
Shake quality: The shake was virtually identical to the one from Harlo. I tasted no significant difference, good or bad. The shake was larger than the Harlo Grill shake, probably by 2 or 3 ounces.
Value: Harlo Grill. At $5 for a double cheese, fries, and a shake, it's a pretty good deal.
Burger Quality: Something of a tossup. I liked the flavor of the meat from Harlo, but I liked the overwhelming greasiness of the burger from RF. Both were greasy, but RF Grill's was much more so. I think I would choose the Harlo Grill burger in the future, though. I can't really explain why.
Fry Quality: River Forest Grill. The top layer of fries could be tossed, but everything underneath them was really very good. The aggressive salting helped them a lot.
Shake quality: Doesn't matter. Both tasted virtually identical.
My choice for late night grub is Harlo Grill, unless you need a massive grease injection, in which case get all the burger you can handle at RF Grill.
An alternative, if you're willing to pay $1.50 more than the RF Grill tab, is to order an Alehouse Burger from the Avenue Alehouse in Oak Park (on Oak Park avenue, just north of the Eisenhower). It's $8, topped with bleu cheese, french fried onions, and served with fries/chips on the side. It's a more substantial burger than either RF or Harlo, and has a wonderful taste, especially if you get it cooked medium or medium rare. The one big drawback is that they aren't open 24 hours like the North Avenue Grills :)
Anyway, I think Harlo Grill is worth a shot. Another interesting side note, they had Canfield sodas on tap. It's been a long time since I've seen Canfield anywhere, let alone on tap.
I'm filled with my grease quota for the day, or perhaps week, so I leave it up to the rest of you to revisit and critique Harlo Grill.
2400 W. North Ave.
Melrose Park, IL 60160
River Forest Grill
7225 North Ave
River Forest, IL 60305