The advent of the Mexican food category may be part of the reason why spicier food is becoming more and more palatable, Mochal says. Consumers look not only for variety but also for something with a kick to it.

Schmal offers another explanation for consumers' interest in more flavorful food: America's aging population. Besides having a need for more flavor excitement as taste buds age, older consumers have been exposed to more flavors, and their broadened palates more accepting of international and ethnic flavors, she says.

According to the trend-tracking firm FoodWatch, a few emerging flavors are chopped garlic and parsley, as well as orange and ginger. Cilantro and Caesar are a couple of flavors gaining awareness, and mainstream flavors include Ranch, bacon and barbecue.

“Americans as a whole are embracing different flavors,” Gibson says. “People just want to try new things, and they're starting younger and younger with expanding their taste buds.”

Diana Barto is a freelance writer based in Waconia, MN, and a former BEEF senior associate editor.

More meat on the menu

Here's a handful of the specialty burgers showing up on restaurant menus.

  • Applebee's “Bruschetta” burger — a 100% Angus beef burger crowned with a zesty pesto sauce and fresh bruschetta mix, set on thick wedges of mozzarella and served on focaccia bread (developed by renowned chef and food network personality Tyler Florence).

  • T.G.I. Friday's Dippable French Onion Burger is an all-beef patty with caramelized onions, melted Swiss cheese and mayonnaise, served with a side of French Onion Soup.

  • T.G.I. Friday's Dippable Cheesy Bacon Cheeseburger is an all-beef patty topped with melted American cheese, crispy bacon and golden-fried provolone cheese, served with a side of Chipotle queso.

  • Red Robin's 5 Alarm Burger is topped with pepper-Jack cheese, jalapeños, fresh tangy salsa, sliced tomato, crisp lettuce and Chipotle mayo.

  • Red Robin's Santa Fe Burger features fire-roasted Poblano peppers, guacamole, sautéed onions, crisp tortilla strips, lettuce and Pepper-Jack cheese, and is served on an onion bun with Ancho mayo.

  • Red Robin's Banzai Burger is marinated in teriyaki and topped with grilled pineapple, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo.

  • Bennigan's offers a BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger and a Peppercorn Bleu Cheeseburger that are both served on pita bread.

  • Chili's Grill & Bar had a limited promotion last summer to “Build Your Own Big Mouth Burger.” Patrons chose from a selection of more than 30 toppings, from onion strings to chipotle pepper sauce.

  • Ruby Minis are four, fresh, 100% USDA Choice ground beef mini burgers topped with American cheese and onion straws on toasted buns garnished with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup and pickle.

  • Wolfgang Puck's Mini Kobe Sliders are bite-sized burgers on Brioche buns with sweet pickles.
    Diana Barto