The original Top Notch Beef Burgers on 79th, with Diran Soulian behind the counter and his parents at left.
Photo: courtesy Top Notch Beef Burgers
Today we have a number of places that offer hamburgers which use freshly-ground beef of a particular quality, along with fresh, handcut, twice-fried fries— and make some noise about both of them as a way to distinguish themselves from the next place serving mere frozen “Angus Beef” patties. But it was only a few years ago when both of those fresh things were much rarer, and many food cognoscenti cited a burger place in the south side Beverly neighborhood as a rare model of what burgers and fries should be but rarely were. That place is Top Notch Beef Burgers, which opened in 1942 on 79th street but has been on Beverly’s small town commercial strip since the 1950s. You could cite many reasons for that longevity— the freshly-ground-in-house round steak from which the patties are made; the beef tallow in the fryer oil that gives them a lushness that peanut or canola oil will never know— but surely the biggest reason was Diran Soulian, who just passed away at age 84. Soulian took over the family business from his parents shortly after getting out of the Army after the Korean War, and maintained its quality standards and commitment to the old-fashioned ways of doing things for six decades.
There are many tributes to the restaurant he spent his life running online— from this old Tribune review to Serious Eats, Hamburger America, and not least, ourselves— but we like the ending of this Chicago Foodies post from just a few weeks ago; Soulian was no longer working at the restaurant, it appears, but his spirit was obviously shared by his staff:
Top Notch is one of the last standing classic Chicago diners who truly care about their customers. While head chef Sam graciously invited me into the kitchen to show me where the heart and soul of Top Notch lies, Jim (current restaurant manager) walked me around the restaurant telling stories and sharing pictures of Soulian and his family. They both made me feel that I was somehow part of the Top Notch family even though it was only my first visit. For that, I will always be grateful because us Chicagoans we love our food, but we love it more when we feel like we are at home.