Everybody loves to share in a good secret, and the experience is all the more delicious when food is involved. That’s why “secret menus” at chain restaurants have become so popular in the past 15 or 20 years.
Secret menu items aren’t exactly on a menu, secret or not, at least not a written one. They’re simply combinations of ingredients that restaurants already have on hand, put together in ways that may not be officially sanctioned but that don’t take much extra work on the part of employees and tend to make customers very happy. And these are the restaurant chains with the happiest customers.
Knowledge of these off-the-menu creations, which may cost extra (but don’t always), is shared by word of mouth or through social media — or at least it was until almost everybody got in on the secret, which seems to be the case today.
Moms across America, for instance, now know that McDonald’s will make their picky little eaters a grilled cheese sandwich on request. It doesn’t take much to figure out that if Dairy Queen serves root beer and vanilla ice cream, they will probably put them together for you into a root beer float. And is there a burger lover in America who doesn’t know about the “animal style” offering at outlets of that beloved West Coast chain?
Bear in mind that some chains actually publicize their secret menu items, while others deny that they exist at all and even discourage their staff from making them. It’s always worth trying, though. Just ask politely if they’re available (bearing in mind that when places are very busy, they might not have time to grant your request).
24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of some of the country’s best secret menu foods and beverages, representing 20 different chains, from Arby’s to Wendy’s, with plenty of everybody’s favorites in between — including fast food chains with the best breakfast menus.
1. Olive Garden: Half and half pasta sauce
This popular Italian dinner house chain is famous for its Alfredo sauce. Other house options, though, include mushroom, marinara, and bolognese-style meat sauces. Can’t decide? Ask for the chef to combine two (Alfredo and marinara work particularly well together, blending into a nice pink sauce), or order your pasta plain with two sauces on the side and dress it yourself.
2. McDonald’s: Grilled cheese
No, there’s no official McGrilled Cheese at McDonald’s, but they’ll almost always make one to order. It’s just American cheese grilled inside a hamburger bun, and it’s been delighting kids for years.
3. Sonic Drive-In: Extreme tots
Sonic used to sell these loaded potato tots but retired them from the menu. You can make your own, though, by enhancing an order of chili cheese tots (still available) with sides of jalapeÃ±o slices, sliced onions, and ranch dressing.
4. Arby’s: Meat Mountain sandwich
One of the most famous secret menu items anywhere, this is a caution-to-the-winds creation that piles servings of virtually all the chain’s meat offerings onto one bun: sliced steak, roast beef, corned beef, brisket, ham, roast turkey, chicken tenders, and bacon. As long as you’ve gone this far, you might as well add Swiss and cheddar cheese.
5. Starbucks: Dirty chai latte
Can’t decide between coffee and tea? Ask the barista for a chai latte turbo-charged with a shot of espresso.
6. Burger King: Burger King club
This is the chain’s Original Chicken Sandwich turned into a club with the addition of bacon, cheese, and tomato.
7. Jack in the Box: Breakfast tacos
The tacos are famous here, and a number of breakfast items are also available, but for some reason a breakfast taco isn’t among them. To correct this oversight, order a Grande Sausage Breakfast Burrito and ask for it to be served in a taco shell instead of a flour tortilla.
8. Dunkin’: Coconut mint hot chocolate
There are numerous ways to customize coffee and chocolate drinks at Dunkin’, but one of the best is this simple enhancement of mint hot chocolate with a shot or two of coconut flavoring.
9. Popeye’s: Cajun gravy fries
The brightly seasoned Cajun fries here need just one thing to convert them into a secret menu delight: a generous application of the chain’s rich gravy on top.
10. Red Lobster: Shrimp po’boy
It might not pass muster in New Orleans, but an order of Red Lobster’s popcorn shrimp heaped between halves of one of the chain’s well-loved Cheddar Bay biscuits makes a really good sort-of po’boy sandwich.
11. Chipotle: Nachos
Nachos aren’t offered officially here, but Chipotle has all the fixings — tortilla chips, beans, meat (the barbacoa is best for the purpose), salsa, and of course cheese.
12. In-N-Out: Animal burger
This preparation is so well-known that it frankly isn’t much of a secret anymore, but it isn’t on the menu, so it counts as a secret. It’s one of the chain’s justly renowned burgers topped with mustard, Thousand Island dressing, pickles, and caramelized onions. (You can get an order of fries animal-style, too.)
13. P.F. Chang’s: Mongolian chicken
Mongolian beef, made with sliced flank steak in a sweet soy glaze, along with garlic and scallions, is a popular entree here. For a change of pace, ask for it made with one of the restaurant’s several preparations of chicken instead.
14. KFC: Poutine
The emblematic French-Canadian specialty called poutine consists of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. There are no curds at KFC, but when their legendary Double Down is on the menu, as it is from time to time, they do have cheese, and you can get some, along with some gravy, over an order of “secret recipe” fries.
15. Shake Shack: Chicago burger
Though it’s best-known for its burgers, Shake Shack began as a hot dog cart in a New York City park, and they take their franks seriously. They’re served Chicago-style, with relish, mustard, cucumber, onion, pickles, tomato, celery salt, and peppers. If you’re more of a burger eater, order a classic ShackBurger and ask for all the condiments that would ordinarily go on a dog.
16. Wendy’s: Barnyard burger
Another item that’s very much an open secret, this is a hefty overdo-it-yourself sandwich involving alternating layers of burger, bacon, cheese, and spicy chicken filet.
17. Five Guys: Patty melt
This classic burger variation doesn’t show up very often on chain restaurant menus, but at Five Guys, you can make your own. Just ask for a grilled cheese sandwich (served on a griddled inside-out bun) and add a burger patty and grilled onions.
18. Dairy Queen: Root beer float
One of the most popular “secret” Dairy Queen offerings, this is just a traditional float, consisting of vanilla ice cream in a cup filled with root beer.
19. Taco Bell: Double grilled quesadilla
Order a steak or chicken quesadilla and ask for it to be double-grilled. The process crisps up the exterior so that it’s almost like eating a large, flat taco.
20. Chick-fil-A: Fried chicken club
The regular menu here offers a perfectly good chicken club sandwich, a piece of grilled chicken breast with Colby Jack cheese, bacon, lettuce, and tomato on a multigrain brioche bun. What could make it better? Ask for it with a piece of crispy golden-brown fried chicken breast instead.
Sponsored: Want to Retire Early? Here’s a Great First Step
Want retirement to come a few years earlier than you’d planned? Or are you ready to retire now, but want an extra set of eyes on your finances?
Now you can speak with up to 3 financial experts in your area for FREE. By simply clicking here you can begin to match with financial professionals who can help you build your plan to retire early. And the best part? The first conversation with them is free.
Click here to match with up to 3 financial pros who would be excited to help you make financial decisions.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Tempo Editorial team.