Things aren't always what they seem. Often, your favorite restaurant is hiding something from you. No, we're not talking about a bottle the chef might be nipping into when service ends or any unwelcome guests hanging around the kitchen. We're discussing dishes reserved only for in-the-know diners, servings kept in low-profile until word-of-mouth or a whisper from the waiter earns them a place on your plate. Sometimes these take the form of a secret specialty, a super debaucherous dessert, a conscious tweak, or even an entire low-key menu of variations or experimental potions. Here now, a look at 21 such off-menu dishes and drinks served around L.A. restaurants, or at least the ones our restaurants were willing to give up. You're not going to see them printed on the menu, but if you ask nicely, you just might find them hitting the table next time you're out on the town.
Animal Style Fries
Where to Get It: In-N-Out Burger Animal Style, The Flying Dutchman, mustard-grilled patties, 4x4's, and 40x40's. California's beloved burger chain carries what might be the country's most famous secret menu, really just a shorthand tongue for tailoring your burgers, fries, and shakes to your own taste, something the restaurant just chalks up to being flexible, still insisting "we don’t have any secrets at all."
The Classic Burger
Where to Get It: Burger Lounge One of the city's favorite new burger joints, this Southland chain has patties made from quinoa, wild salmon, and free-range turkey. But it really nails nostalgia in this upgrade of McDonald's staple cheeseburger, pairing six ounces of single-source grass-fed beef and organic American cheese, with crisp pickles and raw onions on a whole wheat bun that bears a hint of Blackstrap molasses.
Egg Huck McMuffin
Where to Get It: Huckleberry Another advance on a Golden Arches standard, this hallowed café and bakery covertly splits Zoe Nathan's maple bacon biscuits in the kitchen then piles on two steaming scrambled eggs and thick slices of bacon for a breakfast treat that makes getting out of bed early worth the struggle.
Pig Ear Chicharrones
Where to Get It: Lazy Ox Canteen A cherished off-menu dish that's almost always available since Josef Centeno's term, chef Perfecto Rocher seasons then brines these pig ears overnight to give L.A.'s ubiquitous gastropub snack a Spanish accent, resulting in deep fried, crackling curls of oreja de cerdo to dip into a sharp horseradish aioli with a spritz of lime.
Where to Get It: Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air Leave it to Puck to stash a sizable secret stock of caviar just for V.I.P. visitors to Hotel Bel-Air. If you're pressed to impress your tablemates, order right and score your own parcel of California white sturgeon and Russian Imperial caviar from his hush-hush supply.
Where to Get It: ink.sack Michael Voltaggio's sandwich shop is still the rage on Melrose, but many of the swarm still don't know about the "no dough" option that offers any of his dishes wrapped in a lettuce leaf to placate carbo-phobes. Here, we find the chef's banh mi with pork belly, pork butt, and chicharrones tied together sans the bread.
Where to Get It: Locanda del Lago Executive chef Gianfranco Minuz prepares this off-the-menu fresh water specialty common to Lake Como restaurants using small fish unique to Bellagio. The chef grills this brined swimmer for a traditional serving with soft polenta and balsamic, and also offers it in an off-menu crudo, though few but the wayward Italian in Santa Monica typically inquires into its availability.
Where to Get It: Soleto Chef Sascha Lyon's secret sandwich is quickly turning into a neighborhood neccesity when the lunch bell rings, serving as an Italian-slanted stand-in for a burger, with three two-ounce spheres of beef stuffed into a Chef's Bakery ciabatta slathered with house-made marinara. Melted mozzarella and Grana Padano dramatically flow freely in a skirt that wraps up around part of the sandwich.
Warm Cauliflower with Chili Arugula Pesto
Where to Get It: Stella Rossa These days, there's no shortage of dishes starring cauliflower as a hearty vegetarian option on what's typically a meat-lover's menu. At Stella Rossa, this jade jumble of arugula with pesto-shellacked cauliflower is no exception, making carnivores curious about the bright, fresh cipher their vegan friends are being offered.
Secret Ssam Platter
Where to Get It: Moo Dae Po To accompany its AYCE barbecue, this capable Korean chain employs a well-composed ssam platter of healthy greens and roots that outshine the offerings at much of its competition, with a variety of edible leaves like perilla, lettuce, and radish wraps to twist over your meat, served aside a spreadable, spicy ssamjang.
Where to Get It: Whist Executive chef Tony DiSalvo and his chef de cuisine Chris Crary tap into local L.A.'s tastebuds with this off-menu burger infused with elements of Korean cuisine. The chefs prepare the patty with a sweet chili glaze, adding kim chi mayo, pickled vegetables, and bacon for a cross-cultural study in carnivorism.
S.O.S. (Steak Oyster Sandwich)
Where to Get It: Tom Bergin's Tavern This recently reworked Irish tavern of Fairfax legend has an off-menu surf and turf po'boy designed by New Orleans chef-owner Brandon Boudet, who layers fried oysters on top of a cast iron-seared ribeye on a butter-toasted roll with Béarnaise. Goes great with Guinness and you probably won't have to eat again for the rest of the day.
Vegan Chili Cheese Fries
Where to Get It: M Cafe M Café knows how to keep its meat-free devotees from slipping, offering up a secret "Loaded Burger" with tempeh bacon and fresh avocado, as well as these chili cheese fries that blanket organic spuds with Daiya cheese, a sprinkle of fresh parsle, and a spread of chili beans. These vegan fries go even better with a liberal dose of hot sauce.
Where to Get It: Cecconi's Ask your server about the "secret steak" and chef Andrea Cavaliere will utilize whatever cut of grass-fed BN Ranch cattle he has on hand in the kitchen. It may be a porterhouse, it may be a double filet, but it will most likely come served with roasted potatoes, peperonata, and a creamy morel sauce. A perfect gateway to the chef's off-menu tiramisu.
18-Oz. Bone-in Rib-Eye
Where to Get It: Duplex Since it's more fashionable to eschew hulking plates of beef for single digit-priced small plates in her West Hollywood neighborhood, chef Lauren Cartmel serves this 18-oz. bone-in rib eye steak on the sly, offering the massive slab of meat with a changing tide of sides that shift with the product available at her nearby farmers market.
Where to Get It: Craig's Slim chance this crunchy, gooey, chocolate-jumbled dessert pizza could stay shrouded for long, though not every guest may be lucky enough to see their pie requests fulfilled. Bittersweet, white, and milk chocolate chips are melted over a full-size honey wheat pizza crust, spread with crumbled cookies in place of Parm, and dolloped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream fto complete the hottest mess on Melrose.
Black Forest Custard Shake
Where to Get It: Short Order An ideal sip of sweetness for the dawning of Oktoberfest, this drinkable take on Germany's classic cherry torte fills a mason jar with chocolate custard milkshake and a cherry compote, topped with crushed chocolate chunks for the expected extra layers of chocolate and topped with a dark cherry.
Where to Get It: Wood & Vine Making use of the small fire pits on his Hollywood restaurant's patio, chef Gavin Mills adds a shot of comfort to quiet nights by offering al fresco diners the tableside makings for DIY s'mores, sliding them a five-dollar set-up of chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows to grill over their personal fires.
Secret Cocktail Menu
Where to Get It: Tasting Kitchen Bartender Justin Pike launched an off-menu cocktail program shortly before the start of summer, slipping guests a vintage postcard inked with a changing range of six new drinks each week, bearing names like "The Hasslehoff," "Loony Horse," and "Valkyrie." Really a bit of R&D, Pike has added a few of the more popular drinks to his full-time arsenal.
Cielo Verde Cocktail
Where to Get It: Playa Another super-smooth Julian Cox production, Cielo Verde takes both its title and assets from the restaurant's state-of-the-art rooftop garden. The drink is Playa's take on a daiquiri featuring Laphroaig mixed with lime juice and pineapple syrup, spinkled with red chili flakes and permitting a small, creeping sting of aged rum to emerge clearly on the back-end.
Smoked Salmon Pizza
Where to Get It: Spago Any day now Wolfgang Puck will pull the sheet off of Spago's fresh face, a renovation that comes with a brand-new menu supposedly scrapping his legendary smoked salmon and caviar pizza. However, the chef teases that he still may "have to do certain things for some people." This just might mean that one's A-list status will soon be determined less by their price-per-picture, but by how quickly they can get this gone-but-not-forgotten Spago staple.
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