The 10 Best Restaurants for Secret Menus

Here's a little known fact. Back in the 1970s McDonald's first began to experiment with nuggets as a food delivery option. So the company went looking for something to nugget.

Faced with the vast options available McDonald's retreated to its labs (we envision technicians wearing immaculate lab coats feeding tiny cheeseburgers to diabetic mice) and came back with onions, chopped, battered and deep fried. So it was that the fast food giant introduced its signature menu item: the onion nugget.

How this failed will forever remain a gastronomic mystery, but somehow chicken wound up the preferred nuggets (which themselves come in four shapes: boot, bone, ball and bell).

The thing is, there's very little doubt that if CEO Steve Easterbrook decided to reintroduce the onion nugget in 2016 it would be greeted with roaring success, at least for the first 15 minutes. Particularly when it comes to food, there's something compelling in the forbidden, the bizarre, the clandestine.

This explains, in no small part, the enduring popularity of fast food secret menus. It's fun to be in the know, to get your lunch through a wink and a nod that adds an extra patty to the KFC double down (itself already a mix of Dadaist self-parody and outright internal sabotage).

It's an idea popular enough to spawn countless articles and several dedicated websites. For some restaurants the "secret menu" is nothing more than occasional bout of creativity. Others have leaned into the curve. So for anyone out there who wants to try something a little different, give one of these ten restaurants a try.

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10. McDonald's
10. McDonald's

Unlike some restaurants, McDonald's has never formally embraced its secret menu, but it still has one of the most robust and varied selections out there. Indeed, the McDonald's secret menu is a veritable coronary cornucopia.

Options include sandwiches like the Land, Sea and Air burger, which, despite sounding like a joint-forces operation, is in fact a sandwich featuring a Big Mac stuffed with a Filet-o-Fish stuffed with a McChicken. Or, those who crave their fast-food-fix earlier in the day can get the Mc10:35. Sort of like a sideshow steak and eggs, the Mc10:35 is two beef patties from a McDouble shoved inside an Egg McMuffin.

Originally named after the narrow window in which you could order it, the Mc10:35 was once only available during a 30-minute overlap between when McDonald's stopped breakfast service and started up lunch. Now, of course, with all day breakfast you can go ahead with this dubious treat at any time.

9. In-N-Out
9. In-N-Out

Unlike many of their colleagues the folks at In-n-Out have learned to love the secret menu, so much so that they've made it part of their brand identity with a section of the restaurant's website dedicated to the "Not So Secret Menu."

And they do a fairly good job. Unlike many secret menus, which involve jumbling incoherent add-ons together and pretending to enjoy the results, In-N-Out produces some decent combos. For sure, some of this is about as secret as basic arithmetic; the double, the 3x3 and the 4x4 all involve discovering what happens when you add an extra patty. However, options like the grilled cheese or protein style, a burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf, are kind of clever and fun.

Some reports even suggest ordering your burger "mustard grilled," which involves slapping some mustard on the uncooked meat before grilling. It's one of the more inventive, and actually tasty, secret selections on the market.

8. Wendy's
8. Wendy's

There is one reason Wendy's is on this list.

It has nothing to do with either breadth or depth of the restaurant's secret menu, in fact, Dave Thomas's empire has done almost no work in this important field. (And it is a surprisingly important field as many restaurants are discovering the PR boost that can come from letting customers have a bit of fun with the process.) Nor does this have to do with any contributions to advertising or hype.

Wendy's has almost no secret menu to speak of, except for one item with a name so gloriously, grotesquely awesome that it alone has earned a place on this list: The Meat Cube.

To assemble the Meat Cube (in many important ways the Voltron of hamburgers), order a Dave's 3/4 Lb Burger and ask for another hamburger and slice of cheese added on top. The result will be a pile of beef one pound large and, in fact, surprisingly equilateral in shape.

Who doesn't want a good pile of lunch?

7. Starbucks
7. Starbucks

Starbucks is one of the leaders in secret menu technology, largely because of the range of flavored syrups it offers and the surprisingly game attitude of its baristas. In fact, whole websites are dedicated to the possibilities at Starbucks alone.

Some of the secret menu items come from mixing and matching the store's various coffee options such as the spectacular Green Eye, achieved by pouring three shots of espresso into a small coffee. In better days that could be improved upon further still by adding an energy powder the chain once carried, but we live in a less civilized time. Other patrons can also order their drinks in the little known, and unlisted, "short" size, getting a cup even smaller than the small (sorry, "tall").

But the real heart of the secret menu comes from the endless combination of flavors you can make of the many syrups and Frappuccinos on offer. It would be impossible to list them all, so instead try Starbuckssecretmenu.com to get recipes like off-season eggnog lattes, vanilla white mocha, caramel brulee and more.

6. Arby's
6. Arby's

Hello, old friend.

Of the restaurants on this list, it's most believable that Arby's would have a recipe book hidden out of sight. After all, something has to have been keeping the company in business all these years. It was either a deeply hidden talent for food preparation or after-hours burlesque inside the walk-in.

Arby's does manage to boast an impressive and rather classy sounding secret menu. Options include roast beef and Swiss, BLTs, Reubens, turkey and cheddar sandwiches and the Arby's Melt (which introduces the novelty of melted cheddar to a roast beef sandwich).

Dare I say... some of this actually sounds pretty good. My apologies to Roark Capital Group, I know how hard you work to keep that under wraps.

5. Chick-Fil-A
5. Chick-Fil-A

Putting aside the owner's tendency to make unfortunate remarks about homosexuality, and subsequent discovery of the branding challenges in bigotry, Chick-Fil-A actually makes some pretty good chicken. This is why the discovery of a remarkably good secret menu over there is actually something of a big deal.

As opposed to the Arby's Meat Mountain or the McDonald's McGangbang, Chick-Fil-A actually serves up several secret recipes you might well choose to eat.

Options include the fried chicken club, a chicken club sandwich with a fried patty instead of grilled, or the blueberry cheesecake milkshake, in which a slice of blueberry cheesecake is blended into your vanilla shake. Probably the best of all, though, is the chicken quesadilla. Built from the tortillas for wraps, grilled with sliced chicken and peppers in the middle, the only real question is why this hasn't become standard fare company-wide (although some reports are that it already exists at a few Southwestern locations).

4. Jamba Juice
4. Jamba Juice

2J (by which Jamba Juice shall henceforth and forever be known) has the same appeal going for it as Starbucks: it's less that the company has a secret menu than that it has all the menu. Where the smoothie and juice bar has set options, by mixing and matching many, many flavors, you can invent literally thousands of combinations.

The challenge is finding the good ones. It's kind of like being handed a dictionary and a word processor. Sure you've got everything you need to write the next Game of Thrones novel, and may well finish before George R.R. Martin, but it's still not time to quit your day job.

Many websites have dedicated entire sections to 2J's many options. Possible smoothie flavors include apple pie, Fruity Pebbles, Skittles and chocolate covered strawberries. Less appealing options include the "berry depressing" and the "hello Jesus." (Personally, I try to keep theology and blended beverages largely separate).

Just, when you order be sure to know the ingredients you want. These folks have to make a lot of smoothies every day. They probably won't know the exact amount of lime sherbet to put in a Skittles or how many blueberries go into a PB&J.

3. Sonic
3. Sonic

In many parts of the country Sonic is best, if not only, known for its gratingly annoying commercial featuring two slow-witted men bantering over fast food to cover the emptiness of their own existence. It's rare that a restaurant can so seamlessly bridge the gap between cartoon hedgehogs and Nietzsche, but there we are.

I'm told they also serve food.

It's this latter, far lesser, category we're interested in today, because wherever Sonic's restaurants are, they seem to keep some pretty great food off the menu. The grilled ham and cheese feels like a no-brainer for a restaurant that already grills cheeses, and while the restaurant officially discontinued the fried pickles, it remains widely reported that you can still get them. 

Meanwhile in the Southwest there are reliable reports that Sonic will actually serve a Frito pie upon request. For anyone who has never been to Arizona, this is a pile of Frito chips larded with chili and cheese sauce. It is best consumed by those who have embraced the commercial's message about the meaninglessness of life and therefore see no need in prolonging it.

2. Shake Shack
2. Shake Shack

Thanks to their liquor license, the good folks at Shake Shack can serve a beer float.

This is just a spectacular use of the secret menu.

The trouble with secret menus is that most fall into one of two categories. Either it's just a fancy term for ordinary substitutions (putting bacon on your cheeseburger does not constitute a discovery), or it's a way or making life harder on some poor line cook by ordering things omitted from the menu for a reason. The restaurant has almost certainly thought through the implications of stocking both French fries and shredded cheese. 

A beer float, however, is simply brilliant. I recommend it as the only way to consume ice cream from now on.

1. Chipotle
1. Chipotle

Like In-N-Out, Chipotle is one of the big names in secret menus. People absolutely love ordering off book here and, the grumbling of the line cook aside, what's not to love?

For starters the quesadilla, a Mexican staple left perplexingly off the restaurant's svelte menu, can be rediscovered. Even better there's little explanation required; everyone knows what a quesadilla is and it's relatively little trouble for staff to make.

Nachos, too, are available through one simple substitution. When you order your burrito bowl ask for chips instead of rice at the bottom, and what comes out will be a piled high bowl of nachos ready for you to tuck in. Like the quesadilla it's delicious and easy on everyone involved.

Then there's the quesarito, the large, legendary creation that everyone seems to know about if few have ever actually ordered. It's the yeti of secret menu foods. The quesarito is a burrito wrapped in a cheese quesadilla, a smashup of two foods in one. While this is probably best recommended if you're bulking up for some sort of weight-gain challenge, it is certainly popular.

Perhaps the secret to Chipotle's secret menu isn't that tough after all. This is all food you'd actually want to eat, something you'd order whether or not it came with a side of "fun."

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