That menu in your hand? Throw it on the ground.
Some of the best burgers around the country are off-the-menu orders that only restaurant regulars or industry folks know about.
Welcome to the wonderful world of secret restaurant burgers. Here's where to get the best of the bunch:
Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta
It's 10 p.m. For chef Linton Hopkins, "It's burger time!" His wife, Gina, threw out the idea of having a late-night, off-the-menu cheeseburger. "It's not a gimmick," Hopkins explains. "A handcrafted burger takes a lot of time to prepare correctly." Every night, he dishes out exactly 24 of them, which you can reserve ahead of time. Your reward for planning: a double-patty burger topped with American cheese, griddled red onions, house-made mustard and bread and butter pickles, all stacked on a house-made bun.
Heirloom Cafe in San Francisco
Sometimes stoned conversations with your roommate can lead to great ideas. "Great" meaning grinding deliciously pungent, unpasteurized, brandy-washed Époisses cheese into your beef patty. That's the story behind owner (and celebrated sommelier) Matt Straus's cheeseburger. He eschews the usual ketchup and mustard for onion jam, lettuce for wild arugula, and buns for a locally baked English muffin. And of course, it doesn't come with fries--pickled carrots, all the way.
Gramercy Tavern in New York
And you thought chef Michael Anthony took his Japanese cooking seriously. He makes everything in-house for his lunch-only burger, from the freshly ground Adirondacks Grazer beef patty to the buns made from German butterball potatoes. Anthony sends out only about 25 burgers a day, so listen to your waiter: That verbal rundown of the specials is your ticket to bacon-topped, clothbound cheddar crowned goodness. And, the greenmarket-loving chef has a very of-the-moment rotation of condiments, including mushroom-caramelized onion jam and pickled and raw onions.
Quinn's Pub in Seattle
The foie gras- and duck egg-topped Ultraburger "takes extravagance to the extreme on the ultimate everyman's food," says chef Jeremy Ravetz. "It's a little too decadent to order every day." Simply ask for the burger and Ravetz goes to town: He takes a typical burger on the menu--Painted Hills beef with bacon, white cheddar and horseradish-Dijon mayo--and adds the aforementioned accoutrements and a few changing flourishes, like pork sausage, braised cabbage and apple butter. Bonus: The Ultraburger comes covered in Bordelaise-infused fonduta sprinkled with shaved or seared foie gras.
Alden & Harlow in Boston
You need a secret code word to order chef Michael Scelfo's off-the-menu burger. Well, as secret as a Tweet can be. "It started off as a way to interact with people via social media--something just for fun," Scelfo says. Every Friday, Scelfo tweets out the secret burger code word. The current Secret Burger is a blend of freshly ground Creekstone Farms brisket, short rib and beef plate, grilled then crowned with little gem lettuce, a Cabot cheese tuille, and salted onions ("Salting draws out the acidic qualities and gives it a nice savory crunch," says Scelfo). It's dressed with his famed No-Name sauce, his grandma's hybrid sauce of Caesar and Thousand Island dressing. Stay tuned: Scelfo most recently teased a peanut butter and pancetta "stoner" burger for loyal Twitter followers last week.