I’m never one to say bye to a burger, so I was excited to check out Howdy Burger, a new addition to the Green Street eat scene. I’ll tell you if it’s worth the trip to the U of I campus and if it stands out among a saturated (fat) market.
Howdy Burger is located on Green Street in the heart of U of I's campus, occupying what seems like a perpetually turned-over space that in recent memory has been an Indian restaurant and a pizza place. It’s prime real estate, but in one of the most competitive regions of C-U. The area already looks completely different than when I frequented it only a few years ago. Campustown seems in the midst of a total redo as business staples that have been there for decades (RIP, Campus Florist) are demolished and in their places sprout high rise apartments. One of those changes is Howdy Burger, a restaurant nestled in between Zorba’s and — surprise! — an unoccupied space.
I’ll admit that I was a little reluctant to travel to Howdy Burger, because due to its location it’s not very non-student friendly. There’s hardly any parking and there is a lot of foot traffic. However, I was delighted to realize that it was UIUC’s spring break, so it wasn’t going to be as daunting of a trip as I expected. I managed to find a parking spot nearby and was even the only person in the restaurant. Now, I don’t want that to seem like a mark against Howdy Burger, the lack of crowd was merely circumstantial.
The interior is a modern and very trendy space, but it's not too focused on the frills that so many hip restaurants now rely on. It’s clean and straightforward with a simple menu that has room for expansion. The menu items are pretty classic: a bacon lover, Tex-Mex, Hawaiian breeze, and monster burger (their signature burger but bigger). For the population of Chicagoland natives that dominates the U of I, Howdy also offers a Chicago dog. Plus they offer a vegetarian option and two types of chicken sandwich (original and Nashville hot). Their only side is hand-cut fries, but they do offer four different flavors of milkshakes.
The whole day leading up to this review I told myself, “I am eating a burger today” (sometimes that’s the sort of positivity you need to get through the day), but I technically didn’t accomplish my goal. I was set on a burger, but I was persuaded by the menu to order the Nashville Hot Chic Sandwich ($5.50). It’s a brioche bun, chicken thigh with chili oil, sweet chili cranberry slaw, and pickles. And of course I ordered fries ($1.50).
Because I was the only one hanging out at Howdy Burger, my food was quickly prepared, but not suspiciously so. It’s not like it was so fast that I assumed it was premade; I could see them make my fries fresh. They’re shoestring, and pretty darn good. What french fry isn’t?
But that chicken sandwich was one of the best “fast food” chicken sandwiches I’ve had. The chicken skin was so crispy and delicious and the real deal. I’m pretty sensitive to spicy foods (I’m a wimp) but the Nashville hot sandwich wasn’t too spicy that it wasn't unenjoyable. Au contraire. The slaw and pickles were the perfect toppings and the only ones needed even for a "specialty" sandwich.
Naturally, I had to find a way to try a burger from Howdy. That’s what they specialize in, afterall. I went back to grab a good ol’ burger and to get that milkshake. Howdy opens at 11 a.m., so that’s the time I went on a Saturday afternoon. I was a bit confused upon my arrival to find that I wasn’t the only one waiting outside the doors to the restaurant. That’s because there were two employees also waiting. Howdy was off to a late start this day and didn’t unlock the doors for anyone to get in until about 11:05 a.m. Plus, I was going to have to wait for the employees to fire everything up (the kitchen, set up tables, and even turn on the lights). In reality it wasn’t that long of a wait, but not a wait I should have had to endure in the first place.
I ordered the Signature Burger and a chocolate shake. The Signature Burger is a potato bun, Angus patty, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, sweet onion, and “howdy sauce” (which I’m surmising is a mix of mayo, mustard, and maybe a bit of ketchup). The Signature will set you back $4, and is a pretty small burger. For the price and size, it’s a good snack. The Signature Burger reminded me of a higher quality Quarter Pounder. I paired it with a regular chocolate shake ($3.50), which is also available in a large size ($4.75). Unless you’re in the mood for a sugar-induced coma, I would stick with a regular size rather than the large. But, hey, no judgement here if you go for the large; it’s a milkshake! And that’s how I feel about Howdy’s milkshake, it’s just that. It was thick and a nice treat when the temperature outside finally felt nice, but it wasn’t necessarily anything to write home about.
Overall, Round 2 was a lackluster experience compared to when I first visited and ordered the Nashville Hot Chic Sandwich, but the positive experience I had Round 1 makes up for it. If you visit Howdy, I highly recommend ordering one of their specialty sandwiches. They’re high quality and affordable, so give them a chance. My first meal was fresh, tasty, fast, and still under $10. Surprisingly, they’re only open until 8 p.m., but I expect that to change as they finding their footing. My only apprehension is their location, but if that’s what is hindering you too, worry not; they deliver via GrubHub. So, really, what are you waiting for? Howdy Burger has an inscription on its wooden bench seating: “Eat clean, stay fit, and have a burger to stay sane.” Better do what they say.
625 E Green Street
M-F 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sa + Su 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Photos by Remington Rock