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Shh, Don't Tell Anyone About These Hidden Burgers

At what point is a great burger no longer a secret? Is it even possible for a chef to have a noteworthy burger on the menu these days without everyone going gaga over it?

The Russell House Tavern secret burger
The Russell House Tavern secret burger
Katie Chudy

Every great burger, if you think about it, has started off as a secret. It takes time for the hordes of Instagrammers/bloggers/food media peeps to be hip to it all. Nothing is a literal overnight sensation, not even the strongest of contenders in the great big burger pyramid. The famed burgers that are currently the ones we’ve all come to love, the Craigie on Mains and Alden & Harlows of the world, weren’t immediately two of the top burgers.

In the case of Craigie, there was a slow build and online chatter before it exploded into one of the most buzzed-about burgers in the country, and for good reason. It was one of those hidden treasures that absolutely lived up to the hype. First on the menu, then slowly off the menu, it is now available in severely limited quantities and only at the bar. The mystique built and has thus reached its apex. Still delicious as ever, it is hardly a hidden attraction anymore.

The Alden & Harlow burger was popular almost immediately, but it still had that unique burger allure for the first few months, taking diners a little while before they caught on to its greatness. But now forget about it. The limited supply will sell out fast, sometimes within a half an hour, so the secret is out. The true secret lies in their secret-secret burger, which is entirely off-menu and is a revolving door based on available ingredients and the creativity of the kitchen. You might find a burger topped with peanut butter and a fried pickle, or another with beef tongue pastrami. It’s always different, and it’s definitely unlike anything else that’s out there.

Drink is known for its brash mixologists and too-cool-for-school vibe, and it works. They serve a version of the ubiquitous Big Mac, again off-menu and in limited supply, that will make you live out your wildest childhood burger fantasies as an adult. It is not to be missed.

When you think of Toro you should be thinking of one the best restaurants we have in Boston, not of the burger. But that’s a shame because the compact little burgers they serve at lunch (not to be confused with the sliders during dinner) pack quite the umami punch and are an exquisite treat that deserves to be on everyone’s burger radar. The theme seems to be that the higher-end restaurants are entering their own personal burger playground and joining the fray. Everyone expects some semblance of a great burger at a dive bar, pub, or burger-centric fast-food joint. That’s a no-brainer. But it’s the places that you wouldn’t necessarily expect (having nothing to do with the chef’s skills) that may surprise you.

Sycamore in Newton has recently started serving burgers, just once a week on Sundays at the bar, ever so slightly dipping their toes into the burger game for good measure.

All Star Sandwich Bar, of course known for their thoughtfully prepared yet gut-busting sandwiches, are quite the aficionados with their burgers, so leave your opinion of whether or not you think a burger is a sandwich at the door.

Harvest is a lovely fine-dining restaurant with a simple and satisfying burger that matches its profile perfectly, even though it's not where one would expect to enjoy a burger.

Russell House Tavern already has one of the best burgers around on their menu, but they too have an ever-changing off-menu burger that is consistently exciting and certainly not to be missed.

Highball Lounge will serve you something unique and enticing, so order some tater tots with a side of an off-menu burger.

Other spots such as West Bridge, Bronwyn, and Puritan & Company are worth noting because they are not places one would necessarily expect to find a great burger.

Hidden, for the most part, seems to be allocated to places that are already great, but with so many other notable dishes worth trying on the menu, that humble burger is often easy to overlook. It’s a tricky situation, where chefs probably don’t want to be known for something so ordinary as a burger, but these are some of the city's top-tiered chefs for a reason, and even if they won’t admit to it, each and every one of them is capable of making a damn fine burger.

The off-menu burger trend is likely here to stay, with top chefs approaching the burger explosion with a hush-hush attitude to try and tame the fire. The secretive and hidden burgers are fine by me; you can go ahead and order any number of "fancier options" presented before you. I’ll be the guy looming over a greasy patty, possibly snapping a photo and telling the world about it in the process.

—Richard Chudy

In addition to documenting his burger adventures on his six-year-old Boston Burger Blog, Richard Chudy is co-author of an upcoming cookbook, American Burger Revival, due out in May 2015.