Yahoo editors have selected this article as a favorite of 2013. It first ran on Yahoo Travel on Aug. 21 and was one of the most popular stories of the year.
Secret menus are huge these days. From Starbucks to Denny's, it seems like just about every restaurant has a fansite dedicated to all the great options its servers aren't allowed to tell you about. They're a lot of fun too.
Ordering off-menu is like being part of a club, slipping the cashier a password that upgrades your "hamburger and fries" to an "animal style with fries well done," in the case of In-N-Out.
The only problem with all of this is that, unfortunately, secret menus don't actually exist. For all their noise, coverage and popularity, the fact is that restaurants just don't have them. The closest anyone comes is places like In-N-Out Burger, which has posted a list of extra options online based on popular customer requests.
"We don't have any unofficial or official secret menu items," said Mark Baldwin, a spokesperson for Chick-fil-A. "We're just able to customize our offerings to meet whatever taste preference a customer may have... We have fresh squeezed lemonade, and we have iced tea, so if people come in and say 'Can I have an Arnold Palmer,' we'll give them half tea and half lemonade."
So, with that in mind, here are some of the best ideas people have had with what their favorite restaurants can do:
#1. Poutine, A&W/Kentucky Fried Chicken
To get this entry, you'll need to go to a joint KFC and A&W location, one of those increasingly common fast food mergers where they've built both restaurants into the same building. They're not that easy to find; the last time I saw an A&W "All American Food" was somewhat ironically in Malaysia.
Still, it's really worth it in a greasy, hate-yourself-the-next-morning, I-just-slept-with-my-best-friend's-wife sort of way.
This fast-food poutine is a serving of A&W French fries smothered in gravy from the KFC counter right next door. This isn't the traditional way of serving poutine--up in Quebec they serve the dish smothered in cheese curds as well as gravy--but it's also not typically served up in a small, orange box either. What it lacks in cultural accuracy, A&W's secret menu option more than makes up for in flavor. This one is well worth trying.
(See also: Outrageous fast foods you can't eat in America)
#2. Biscotti Frappuccino, Starbucks
I waited as long as I could before Starbucks made an appearance here, and you'll be seeing the coffee shop chain again fairly soon. But for right now, the biscotti frappuccino needs a mention. First, however, a warning straight from the barista's mouth: Starbucks gets busy, sometimes really, really busy. Your friendly neighborhood barista is almost always more than happy to mess around with crazy drink combinations for you, except for when she's got 12 people waiting in line. Then all she wants is to crank through her routine and get people out of the store.
By all means. have some fun and go off menu, but do it when everyone has a little room to breathe. Don't be that guy who brings rush hour to a standstill, because he decided to get creative.
When you do, however, make sure try the biscotti frappuccino. It's any ordinary version of the frozen drink, except with a biscotti blended in to give the entire thing a great cookie crunch. It's a fantastic idea, and hopefully we'll see it on the board sometime soon.
#3. Nachos, Chipotle
Chipotle is a simply great idea, and a great, simple idea. It's the fusion of Mexican food with ingredients that won't make you sick and die. The concept is brilliant, and I'm astounded it took someone as long as it did to get around to it.
One of the other great things about Chipotle is that, according to a spokesperson for the company, the employees will try to make pretty much anything they can for you. As company policy, if they've got the ingredients, and your order's not too crazy, they're willing to give it a try. Which brings us to nachos.
An order of Chipotle nachos is fantastic. It comes with a plate full of chips, covered with cheese, meat, beans and choice of salsas. I personally always prefer the corn salsa, but that one's up to you. If there's any confusion, just make sure to specify what you want on your plate. It's not as portable as a burrito, but then again, who really cares?
#4. Cheese Fries, Five Guys Burgers & Fries
When I was in college, I worked as a short order cook for the campus restaurant. I spent my days and evenings (often late into the night) flipping burgers and grilling cheese steaks for anyone who came by with a few dollars in hand. One night, I decided to get a little creative and shoved a tray of French fries, covered in shredded cheddar and hot sauce, into the oven to see what would happen.
The result took almost an hour to clean up, nearly lost me my job and tasted absolutely terrific.
Fortunately, Five Guys has made it a little easier to get a plate of cheese fries. Five Guys' French fries are already some of the best around, especially the Cajun seasoning, and there's little I love more in my neighborhood than running a few afternoon errands with a brown bag full of them. Did you know, however, that they're also willing to cover the things with cheese and bake for a minute before serving them to you? The result is a plate of some of the best cheese fries you've ever had.
Added bonus? No one has to worry about losing his job and telling his girlfriend they won't be going out for any more dates that semester.
#5. Animal Style, In-N-Out
In-N-Out is, as far as I can tell, the place that started it all. Their online "secret" menu was the first of its kind and has inspired fast food diners to try their luck pretty much everywhere else they go. Of course with a restaurant as straightforward as In-n-Out there's not too much room to experiment. Still, they found a little with their off-menu grilled cheese, the piled high 4x4 and the creatively named Animal Style.
An Animal, aside from being a Muppet that plays the drums, is a cheeseburger of your choice with the addition of lettuce, tomato, mustard cooked patty, pickles, grilled onions and extra spread. It's basically a creative way of saying "give me everything," and they certainly deliver.