Sometimes the best thing on the menu isn't really there at all. Limited to a certain number a night or massaged with a super-secret sauce, some burgers are so prized among chefs that they're leaving them off the menu completely—and it's up to discerning diners to find out for themselves.
Thankfully, you don't need to order in the dark anymore. As bartenders are to signless speakeasies, so are chefs to secret burgers—and we've wrangled the best. Let the meat sweats start now.
① Gramercy Tavern in New York, New York
About 25 or so are up for grabs during lunch, and Michael Anthony's beefy burger has been a fixture in the city since its meaty inception four years ago. "It depends on how much beef we have in-house," chef de cuisine Howard Kalachnikoff says. "We buy a whole steer, then use chuck, brisket and short rib as the blend." They load up the patty with a special Alpha Tolman-clothbound cheddar mix, ketchup, mustard, Thousand Island dressing, pickled Fresnos, onions and lettuce, then sandwich it all in between German butterball potato buns.
② Juniper and Ivy in San Diego, California
"I spend a lot of time between L.A. and San Diego, and can tell you every In-N-Out stop on the 5 and 405," Top Chef star Richard Blais explains like a true Californian. "Our burger is an homage to this iconic California burger." Dubbed the In-N-Haute burger, this off-the-menu patty mashes dry-aged meat with beef fat and is crowned with onions, mustard, bread-and-butter pickles and Blais's own Animal-style sauce. However, Blais is already thinking outside of the beef-burger box: He's just about to open The Crack Shack, his fast-casual chicken joint right behind Juniper and Ivy, where there will definitely be a chicken burger.
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③ Holeman and Finch Public House in Atlanta, Georgia
Double-patty goodness is still going strong at Linton Hopkins's gastropub. Though his burger started as a secret order available only at 10 p.m. and limited to 24 a night, popular demand brought it to the main dinner menu last year. But that's all the change the burger has seen. It still comes veiled with American cheese, charred red onions, house-made mustard and bread-and-butter pickles on a house-made bun.
④ Heirloom Café in San Francisco, California
You can't go wrong with brandy-washed Époisses stuffed inside a patty. That's why Matt Straus hasn't touched the five-and-half-year-old secret burger recipe. It comes with onion jam and wild arugula on an English muffin and with a side of pickled carrots. It's still a hit and proves that stoned conversations with your roommate can lead to deliciousness.
⑤ Alden & Harlow in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Michael Scelfo has adapted to the social media times with announcing his sorta-secret burger. Back in 2014, it was a Tweet with a code word; now, it's a quick Instagram. The skeleton of the burger is the same: Creekstone Farms brisket and short rib patty, Gem lettuce, Cabot cheese tuile, salted onions and no-name sauce, but extra toppings change with the season and Scelfo's experimentation. And while he works on opening his second restaurant next year, he's already dreaming of his secret burger there, inspired a bit by Shake Shack. "My kids are obsessed, and we have created our own, but I can't tell you what it is though!" Scelfo teases.
⑥ Virginia's in New York, New York
First, funky Époisses; now, straight-up bone marrow. What will chefs think of next to blend into their burger patties? Christian Ramos pumps up his burger with the silky fat not just in the patty blend but also in the mayo. Available only at the bar, it comes with Cabot cheddar and caramelized onion marmalade for the umamiest burger we've tasted in a while.
⑦ Quinn's in Seattle, Washington
"In-N-Out's Double Double Animal Style is my gold standard for off-the-menu burgers," chef Jeremy Ravetz says. "As for us, we're sticking with the one Ultraburger. It still provides plenty of opportunity for creativity." He's talking about his over-the-top burger that's available anytime and with no limit at his pub. The patty is stacked with a duck egg, bacon, white cheddar, bordelaise-infused fonduta, shaved or seared foie, and smeared with horseradish-Dijon mayo.
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