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"Secret Menus" of America's Favorite Fast Food Joints

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
August 12, 2016
In-N-Out Burger Sign
Karsten Behrens/Wikimedia Commons

"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!"

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Inspiration

The "Brexit" May Mean It's Time for Americans to Visit the U.K.

Putting aside the emotional roller coaster and the inevitable stock market roller coaster induced by Britain's vote to leave the European Union (52 percent "leave" vs. 48 percent "stay"), it's perfectly acceptable to ask, "How does the move affect travelers?" In the near term, the British pound has plummeted to a 30-year low against the dollar. You can purchase pounds for about $1.34 as we're going to press. Analysts are predicting that, barring some change in Britian's decision, the pound may lag for a decade. That means that a notoriously city like London may be within reach of American travelers, or anyone else in possession of U.S. dollars to exchange for pounds. Similarly, the Euro has slid on the news, reaching a low of $1.09, suggesting that summer travel to the Continent may be a smart move as well. Less immediate, but a significant concern, is that travel from the U.K. to Europe will change along with Britain's status, requiring the renegotiation of deals by popular budget air carriers. It's too soon to tell all the major changes coming our way, but as of this morning, reports in the U.K. press, including the Guardian and Times, suggest bargains await. Of course, Budget Travel loves the U.K. and wishes its people well during this turbulent period!

Inspiration

Three-Day Weekend: Norway

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Norwegian acts aren’t quite household names, but the local scene has an impressive range, from Röyksopp (electronic pop) and Enslaved (black metal) to Sondre Lerche (singer/songwriter) and Ylvis (“What Does the Fox Say?”), all the descendants of classical icon Edvard Grieg, who play in small venues like Bergen Kjött (a meat market turned art gallery/concert venue, bergenkjott.no) and the adjacent large stage and intimate club setting at Lille Ole Bull (olebullhuset.no). I know this sounds touristy, but I can’t visit Bergen without walking through the colorful wharf buildings of the Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage site and 14th-century trading center. Dodging the relentless drizzle, I ducked into the expansive Bergen Art Museum ($12, kodebergen.no), then hit the vintage shops and cafés along pedestrianized Skostredet. They aren’t cheap, but Nordic standouts Restaurant 1877, renowned for its seasonal, local organic produce (from about $64 for a three-course meal, restaurant1877.no), and weather-inspired seafood perfectionist Cornelius (from about $48 for a two-course meal, corneliusrestaurant.no), complete with boat trip to its own island, compare to the best dining experiences I’ve had in any city, from New York to Copenhagen. To give your credit card a break, Marg og Bein’s award-winning local seafood (entrées from about $20, marg-bein.no) and Bare Vestland’s delicious Norwegian “tapas,” craft beers, and the best bread and butter you’ll have in your life (dishes from about $5, barevestland.no) offer quality far beyond their price. 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Inspiration

Eat Like a Local in the Bahamas

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Inspiration

Make It Happen: Bangkok

FLIGHTS: No carrier flies directly from the U.S. to Bangkok anymore, but here's what you can do: From the East Coast, fly in any direction, and air travel generally costs more than $1,000. From the west, airfare is almost the same price, but recently round-trip fares with carriers like Air China and EVA Air have been dipping as low as around $700 from LAX and SFO.   STAY: The colorful, stylish Hotel Indigo Bangkok Wireless Road opened a year ago in the city’s embassy district. It might not be the sexiest address, but it’s near Lumphini Park and has a 24th-floor infinity pool with great views of Bangkok (from about $115 per night, ihg.com). EAT: For street food, head to trendy Chinatown, which is now home to buzzy bars and cool galleries. If you're looking for authentic street food, don't worry: Its alleys are still noisy with vendors hawking grilled meatballs on a stick, plates piled high with pad thai, spicy noodle soup, and more. Err—minutes away from Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha)—is a gastropub painted with murals that serves comfort dishes like slices of green mango soaked in fish sauce spiked with chilies and crisp-on-the-outside coconut sticky rice (small plates start at about $1, errbkk.com). DO: The Buddhist temples, like Wat Pho and Wat Arun, are must-dos, but so is a longboat sail through the city’s network of canals. There are many operators waiting at Tha Tien (Tien Pier) that provide everything from basic tours to excursions that serve a meal onboard. Bangkok’s markets are great for haggling and people-watching. The most exciting is the massive Train Market—located behind Seacon Square shopping mall—at night. Its countless stalls house vintage motorcycles, homemade clothes by local designers, antique furniture, and old vinyls. WHEN TO GO: The tail end of monsoon season (September and October) can mean more budget-friendly prices at some of the city’s hotels, but there really is no concrete low season in popular Bangkok anymore. Visit during Loy Krathong, an annual festival that typically lands in November. That's when Thai people all over the country celebrate the water goddess by floating candles on rivers, the sea, lakes—any body of water. In Bangkok, on the night of the festival, the Chao Phraya River takes on a romantic glow. 

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