"Secret Menus" of America's Favorite Fast Food Joints
"Off the menu" has an elegant ring to it, no? We associate the phrase with high rollers and celebs who are certain the chef has something up his or her sleeve that they're not broadcasting to the world. Well, it turns out you don't have to be on the A-list to order off the menu—and you don't have to be dining at a white tablecloth joint to make special requests. Our friends at Foursquare have compiled tips left by their users—always a great resource for real-life feedback—about some of America's favorite off-the-menu orders from affordable, quality chain restaurants. From imaginative and messy riffs on burgers to unusual twists on pizza, sandwiches, and burritos, there's a little something here for everyone.
IN-N-OUT BURGER, a regional chain in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Utah, has a devoted following for its better-than-fast-food burgers. Foursquare user Jessica says, "It's not on the menu, but they'll substitute a veggie burger if you ask!" Nick recommends, "Ask for your burger Animal Style [with extra spread, pickles, and grilled onions]. Not on the menu, but the only way to go." And Andy says, "Get the 'grilled cheese' off the secret menu."
M BURGER, in Chicago, offers its own "secret menu," too. Samantha says to order "Doctor Betty! Beef burger with avocado, tomato, and pepper jack cheese." Mikinzie says, "Try the cheese frieds with jalapeños on the secret menu. You won't regret it."
TORCHY'S TACOS, in Texas, has a following statewide and beyond. Bryan recommends "Go for the Ace of Spades on the secret menu. Sausage, brisket, cheese, queso, Diablo sauce, sour cream and a fried egg. It made me a believer." Marc says, "LOVED The Matador." Nick insists, "Order the Hillbilly. You won't regret it."
UMAMI BURGER, with locations in California, Illinois, Nevada, and New York, also boasts a secret menu. "Must order their cheesy tots and truffle fries," says Betty. Rameen recommends, "Spicy Bird (turkey burger)."
JAMBA JUICE, with 800 locations in 26 state, the Bahamas, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, and South Korea, helped jump-start the smoothie worldwide. It continues to delight the taste buds with off-the-menu specialities. "The Pink Star is my favorite," says April. "It tastes like a pink Starburst. Ingredients: lemonade, soymilk, raspberry sherbert, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and fresh strawberries." Continuing the candy-flavored theme, Alex says, "Ask for the White Gummy Bear. So good."
FOOSACKLEY'S, a local chicken restaurant with locations across coastal Alabama, offers some tasty variations you must be in-the-know to ask for. "It's not on the menu, but try a Buf-foo-lo Chicken Sandwich. It's chicken dipped in buffalo sauce, topped with ranch on a bun. Delicious!" says Whitney. "For a vegetarian option, or just a tasty alternative, try the Grilled Cheese! It's not on the menu, but it is worth ordering! And to spice it up, try dipping it in ranch! Mmmmm!!" says Brandon.
PAPALOTE MEXICAN GRILL, with two locations in San Francisco, includes a Super Adobo chicken burrito you won't find on the menu, according to Foursquare user The Feast.
PANERA BREAD, with locations across the U.S. and Canada, will serve up a Steak and Egg Protein Bowl with onions and cheese if you ask them to, says Dee.
MELLOW MUSHROOM, with locations across the U.S., mostly in the Southeast, includes some surprising pizza options that only insiders know. "Ask for the Maui Wowie pizza," says Jhim. "Pesto sauce, mozzarella, banana peppers, pineapple, jerk chicken, ham & bacon. Heaven!" Johanna says, "Order a chicken Caesar pizza. It's not on the menu, but they'll still make it and it's awesome!"
Five myths about Moscow
Moscow is a city that carries with it a whole host of associations — some good (soaring ballerinas at the Bolshoi, anyone?), some not so good (brutish oligarchs with flashy cars, maybe?), some merited, and some not. The tourism industry that works to bring travelers to and through the city is aware of its perception and is addressing these "myths" systematically in order to improve both the way Moscow is perceived and the actually tourism experience on the ground, according to Sergey Shpilko, chairman of the committee on tourism and the hotel industry in Moscow, whom I met with while visiting the Russian capital last month. Myth #1) Moscow is not safe. According to Shpilko, there were only 24 criminal reports filed by tourists in Moscow in 2010, and 39 filed in 2009. And while he admitted that the bombing at the Domodedovo airport in Moscow earlier this year in which dozens were killed raised concerns about the city's safety, he is hoping to get the word out about the other — safer — side of Moscow. Indeed, while visiting the city, often times wandering completely on my own, I never felt unsafe and the threat of Chechen rebels remained deep in the back of my mind, rarely surfacing. As for my personal safety, I just kept my bag zipped up and my tourist map folded up, and never felt uncomfortable. It's a big city, it's easy to blend. Myth #2) Moscow is expensive. Okay, now this is where Shpilko and I are going to have to agree to disagree a bit. He cited information that the average cost of a business-level hotel room in 2010 was 6,664 Russian rubles or about $230 (that's not really that inexpensive). He also noted that there are mainstream and budget operators that offer all-inclusive tours with $100 per diems. Okay, that's a little cheaper. But generally speaking, I didn't find Moscow or Russia in general to be cheap. It might not be as expensive as Western Europe or the United Kingdom where the currency exchange rates put the dollar at a disadvantage, but prices were often on par with New York. Myth #3) There's nothing to see in Moscow but the Kremlin or the Bolshoi Theatre. Shpilko said this was a myth about Moscow, and I don't know if people actually think this or not, but it probably goes without saying that this is far from true. The city is teeming with museums and galleries (new and old), churches and monasteries, and theatre and performance venues, not to mention endless shopping options and a whole host of hip bars and restaurants (check out the Red October or Krasny Oktyabr island across from the Kremlin). One could easily spend four or five days in Moscow without getting bored. Myth #4) Moscow is the economic capital of Russia and St. Petersburg is the cultural capital. This kind of goes with Myth #3, but this was something I was actually told by several people who had been to Russia and that I pretty much disagree with wholeheartedly. Well, yes, Moscow is the political and economic hub of the country, and yes, St. Petersburg is incredibly charming and full of cultural institutions and happenings. But, Moscow has its own charms and cultural offerings. And what's with people thinking Moscow is one big, ugly business center? I didn't get that at all. It's big, but the city is on par architecturally and culturally with many major European cities. At least in my opinion. Myth #5) Moscow's traffic is horrendous. This is no myth. Shpilko admitted it, I experienced it. There's no getting around it. According to Shpilko, plans are in place to address the issue, especially in the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. On the plus side, I got around very easily and with much delight on Moscow's metro system, which in addition to being efficient and clean, is home to numerous unbelievably beautiful stations (they put New York's subway stops to shame) worthy of touring as much for their design and decoration as a means to bypassing said nasty traffic. More from Budget Travel: Moscow Made Easier Russia's Hermitage opens a "wing" in Amsterdam Why your Russian river ship shouldn't sink
London riots: One expat's take, on the ground
I finally fell in love with London during the riots. Stiff upper lip, and all that. By writing a positive blog post about the riots, I don't—by any stretch of the imagination—mean to trivialize the suffering of the more than 200 people made homeless by arson or the countless shops—many of them family run—that were wrecked in a terrifying way that no amount of property insurance can forgive. I also don't want to ignore how upsetting it is to live in a place experiencing unrest. The uncertainty can be intense. On Monday in South London (where I live, far from the tourist circuit), shops and pubs that ordinarily remain open until eleven o'clock were spookily closed by five. Helicopters flew overhead. Police were nowhere to be seen. The Balham mosque, roughly 300 feet away from my flat, was being guarded by its black-bearded worshippers. Hours later, shops about 150-feet and farther from my flat were hit by stupid violence. The echo-chamber of TV news and the worried messages from neighbors made it a sleepless night. But enough with the bad part. What hasn't been said enough is that Londoners are a wonderfully resilient and open-hearted people—as their response to the riots demonstrates. They're very much worth visiting on your next major vacation. The Blitz-era slogan of "Keep Calm and Carry On" became a visible reality as I worked side-by-side with neighbors in cleaning up. The signature photograph in newspapers and on websites has been of citizens carrying brooms in the streets. Naturally, new friendships have been microwave fast. Within hours of Monday night's widespread looting and arson, the Twitter feed @RiotCleanUp received more than 80,000 followers. I followed its instructions, bringing a broom to nearby Clapham Junction, which had been hard hit during the looting. In this one neighborhood on a weekday morning, there were hundreds of Londoners ready and willing to clean up. They had marched there from a previous borough where they had found there was nothing to clean up because the residents had already been busy at work since dawn. Keep calm and carry on, indeed. Why did people riot? We have to wait for smarter people than me to explain why the riots happened. In the meantime, I have sympathy for the view expressed online by a fellow travel writer, Benji Lanyado: "A sad underlying factor: Their lives are boring. This is thrilling for them. Suddenly they matter." He says that, and I repeat it, without condoning the rioters: They're morons, and they deserve criminal punishment. But I agree with Lanyado that it was the illicit thrill that probably caused many of them to take to the streets. When I moved here as an ex-pat a year ago, I had immense respect and curiosity for England. Who couldn't? But admiration isn't the same thing as affection. Having seen the city's classy response to trouble, I'm now totally enamoured. I never expected the moment I would fall in real love with London would be while sweeping up broken glass and smashed electronics in a street. But Londoners have never seemed more impressive. Stiff upper lip and all that. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT LONDON'S RIOTS? SOUND OFF IN THE COMMENTS. THANKS. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL London still welcoming tourists amid riots London: Tours led by the homeless London: Top fish and chip shops
London still welcoming tourists amid riots
As riots in London and in other cities in the U.K. continued into their third night on Monday, VisitBritain assured that the country is still welcoming tourists and that the violence and looting is far from any major tourist sites. "We're continuing to monitor the situation closely," said Karen Clarkson, vice president North America for VisitBritain, the country’s tourism marketing organization. "There are pockets of unrest occurring in London," she said, but added that they are occurring away from the destinations that travelers normally visit. More than 600 people have been arrested in a swath of rioting that began in Tottenham, England on Saturday over the fatal shooting by police of a 29-year-old man, Mark Duggan, the BBC reported. Over the past three days, riots and looting have spread to various cities throughout the country, including Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and the capital. Prime Minister David Cameron returned early from his summer vacation and recalled Parliament in the wake of the continued unrest, BBC reported. "We're actually not getting a lot of calls about the London issue at the moment," said Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar Tours, which offers numerous tours that include London. "Perhaps [our passengers] are understanding it's a suburban issue that's largely contained." Indeed, the events in the U.K. "have been largely confined to secondary shopping centers in the suburbs," the European Tour Operators Association said in a statement. "No iconic landmarks have been affected. So long as the damage is contained outside of central London, then there will be little long-term impact on demand for London as a tourist destination." "London is still one of the safest and most vibrant tourism destinations in the world," ETOA stated. Clarkson said that of the airlines and tour operators she had checked in which, while most had recevied calls from concerned travelers, none had seen any cancellations yet. "There are approximately 330,000 [international] visitors in London on any given day,” said Clarkson, adding that this is a busy time for travel to the U.K. "Tourists attractions are receiving and welcoming visitors as usual." A spokesperson for London & Partners, the official promotional agency for London stated, "it is currently too early to anticipate the effect on tourism and inward investment but we are monitoring the situation … Past experience tells us that London recovers very quickly from such events and we will focus on recovery activity as soon as it is viable to do so." London & Parners has posted updated information for visitors on its website. More from Budget Travel: Theft from luggage at airports and how to avoid it Bookworms rejoice! Harry Potter takes over London and New York London: Top fish and chip shops
How do you choose where to go on a three-day weekend?
Hotwire.com released its list of the top-ten most booked destinations for the upcoming Labor Day weekend, and as usual, big cities dominate. New York $195 (average nightly hotel price) Boston $129 Chicago $90 Las Vegas $95 San Francisco $135 Toronto $93 Vancouver $116 San Diego $94 Dallas-Fort Worth $59 Washington, D.C. $89 if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('31b1df89-acb6-47db-9ac1-870808ce3966');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)But it came as a slight surprise to me that New York—which has far and away the highest average hotel price on the list—ranks number one. Sure, the Big Apple is great. We have the Statue of Liberty, museums galore, pizza, Broadway, the Yankees, and most importantly, the Budget Travel offices. But I would have suspected that budget-conscious Americans might flock to more wallet-friendly regional hubs on a three-day weekend. So what gives? Leave a comment and let us know how you decide where to go on a three-day getaway! (And by the way, you don’t need to shell out $195 for a hotel in New York! Check out our New York hotel page for stylish options under $150.) MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Times Square Like a Local A Tour of New York's Best Street Food New York's Hopping Beer Scene