Carl’s serves a style of burger found throughout the central Midwest south of Chicago and Milwaukee. It’s not unique to this area (The Sycamore Drive-In of Connecticut serves the same thing, calling it French-style); but it’s a must-eat on the trail of notable American hamburgers. It’s slider-thin but significantly wider, getting smashed down hard on the grill as it cooks, its edges turning into a crisp filigree of glistening beef. It is thin enough that a double or a triple makes good sense, as does the addition of cheese plus lettuce, tomato, and all available condiments.
Burgers are the main attraction, but Carl’s also is a source for Midwest chili in multiple forms: as three-way chili and as a topping for tamales and foot-long chili dogs. The thing to drink is root beer drawn from the barrel, served in a frosted mug.
Expect to wait for a seat at lunch time. But not too long. Turnover is quick; and it is mesmerizing to watch the staff juggle cooking for sit-down and take-out customers.