To make a name for yourself in Southern California's competitive restaurant market, you have to stand out. While some foodie spots flaunt their latest avocado-laced creation on influencer accounts and YouTuber vlogs, there's something unique to secrecy nowadays.
Sure, we don't need to remind you about In N' Out's well-known selection of special animal-style orders, as well as any of the thousand fast food combinations you made and could probably still stomach in high school.
But with this list of the best off-menu items, we reach for more than that. These are the picks to impress your fellow restaurateurs with — the dishes that, when brought to the table by your server, will make everyone around you wonder what underground foodie society you must be a part of and what the dress code is there.
So, without further ado, here is a comprehensive list of SoCal's top-secret orders:
1. Canter's Restaurant, Bakery, Deli and Bar: Fried Kreplach
Find these pockets of meat-and-potato bliss nestled beneath the regular menu at this LA staple. Who knows, you might even convince them you're a regular.
2. BRERA Ristorante: Farinata
In the heart of the arts district, transport yourself to the river-laden countryside of northern Italy at BRERA Ristorante. If you really want to full dining experience, start off your meal by asking for the farinata — a pancake made from flattened chickpea powder, drizzled in oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.
3. Bar Amá: Flamin' Cheeto Pie, Puffy Tacos
For some reason, flaming hot cheetos are going through a renaissance right now, and Chef Josef Centeno is riding that wave like the great, wild Chester Cheeto himself with the Flamin' Cheeto Pie. And if that's too out-there for you, try the Jonathan Gold-approved Puffy Tacos instead.
4. BÄCOSHOP: Breakfast Baco
Baco Shop knows how to do lunch. So if you really want to impress your co-workers on your next midday culinary escapade, dial back the clock and go for the Breakfast Baco. Who knows? It might earn you that raise.
5. Howlin' Ray's: The Howlin’ + and All the Fries
Alright, this lineup is a little extensive, so bear with us. For off-the-menu fries, check out any of the following: Mario-style, Luis-style, Jojo-style, Matt-Style, or Juicy-style. For a side, ask for the fried pickles, too. You won't regret it. The Howlin’ + or the even hotter Howlin’ ++ might be a different story. For that, just be sure you like spice. That’s all we’re gonna say.
Oh yeah, and there’s also the Luis-style Sano — a slice of spicy chicken between Texas toast and topped with cheese — as well as the JoJo-style Sando in case you want to switch out the toast for a waffle.
6. Ho Kee Cafe: Private Kitchen Menu
At this unbeatable Chinese spot, ask for the private kitchen menu for selections that usually take longer to make. We hear the Razorfish is top-notch, but that's only scratching the surface. Be sure to call ahead! Shouts out to the dynamic duo at the HangryDiary (@hangrydiary) for letting us in on this one.
7. The Apple Pan: Tuna Melt, Patty Melt, Ham Sandwich, Cheese Fries
Oh, you thought the quintessentially-American Apple Pan stopped the buck at their menu orders? Introducing, your new favorite orders. Ask about the tuna melt (with or without onions), the patty melt, ham sandwich or cheese fries next time you find yourself taking a pit stop on Pico.
8. Joan’s on Third: Joan's Cheeseburger
Sometimes it's best to keep things classic. Joan's on Third knows just how to do that, and if you ask for Joan's Cheeseburger you'll be brought back to simpler times where burgers could simply be burgers with the quintessential tomato lettuce and mustard. Granted, there's a little flare with the brioche bun and side of onion rings, but nothing to step you too far out of your comfort zone.
9. The Bazaar by José Andrés: A Trio of Tasters
Feeling equal amounts adventurous and boujee? Legendary chef Jose Andres has a trio of dishes for you: Jambon iberico de bellota, Siberian sturgeon caviar, and, of course, taco and avocado cotton candy.
10. Maple Block Meat Co.: Maple Block Cheese Burger
Ever bitten into your regular, everyday burger and thought, "this isn't nearly hearty enough?" If so, Maple Block hears you. Introducing: the Maple Block Cheese Burger, complete with a brisket patty, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard and a dill pickle spear. It's not always available, though, so make sure you keep your options open.
11. Kettle Black: Polpette Pizza
Pizza is a beautiful thing — and no one caters to that better than Kettle Black in Silver Lake. So how do you make this classic dish even more breathtaking? Meat, and lots of it. Ask for the Polpette Pizza to see what we mean.
12. Frankielucy Bakeshop: A Trifecta of Treats
FrankieLucy — the Sunset Blvd bakery serving up Fillipino-style sweets — has a few items in rotation, so read closely. While off the menu for now, there's rumors the insta-famous Ube Pavlova might make a miraculous return. But for now, ask about the three-layered Purple Heart Emoji cake or even the ube cheesecake — you really can't go wrong either way.
13. Wally's Beverly Hills: The Truffle Pocket
Yes, you heard correctly. For a hefty $28, you can dig into a calzone filled with shaved black truffle and melted Gruyere. But, then again, luxury comes at a price, does it not? This item is NOT offered in their Santa Monica location.
14. Wexler’s Deli: The Russian Hack
Sure, you could stick to spreading regular cream cheese across your bagel. But why not take it to the next level at Wexler's and opt for a spread of lox, capers, onions, and caviar, to boot? If you got the $100 to pay for it, that is.
15. Jitlada Restaurant: The Jazz Burger
Named after co-founder Sarantip Sinsanong, this colorful sandwich is almost too spicy for any regular menu. Keep it covert, but go ahead and order the Jazz Burger, if you think your taste buds can handle it.
16. Petit Trois: Parisian Jambon-Buerre Sandwich
You think you knew the PB&J sandwich? Allow Petit Trois, LA's own Parisian ambassador, to heighten your pallet with this French staple for lunchtime.
17. Halo Top Scoop Shop: Stardust Sundae
Get out-of-this world with this intergalactic special from one of Santa Monica's pre-eminent ice cream stops. If you ask for the Stardust Sundae, get ready for a wild ride of swirling blues and purples inside a vanilla soft serve with sugar free sauce and topped with a rock candy wand. Blast off!
18. City Kitchen Express: Secret Star Wars Menu
On a secret menu far, far away: order a variety of Star Wars-themed items from City Kitchen to start your beach day off right in Santa Monica. We recommend the Master Yoda, ChewVader, or Princess Leia sandwiches.
19. Animal Restaurant: Just Ask
Regardless of what you make of the title, this signature burger comes packed with a short-rib patty that has bone marrow mixed into it, topped with caramelized onions, Jack cheese, secret 420 sauce and marble bread. You'll forget how embarrassed you were when you ordered it and had to say the name — just ask your server.
20. Doomie's Home Cookin': The Vegan Big Mac and More
At Doomie's, the Hollywood-based spot putting a vegan spin on American classics, their secret menu changes so often that favorite items come and go in a snap. Our solution? Ask what they're offering off the menu as soon as you get there. Popular appearances from the past include the Vegan Big Mac, spicy Sriracha and BBQ fries, or just substituting any bun on a sandwich into a grilled cheese. The opportunity is endless for you fearless, vegan foodies!
21. Spago: Spicy Tuna Cones and more
You’ve most definitely heard of this savory take on a sweet desert — Wolfgang Puck’s team over at the luxurious Spago have been serving it at the Oscars every year. But there’s much more to Spago than meets the eye — all you have to do is ask. Try the smoked salmon pizza with dough that was made in-house, which Puck has been serving up for the past 37 years. We hear the Wiener schnitzel is a good choice, too. That being said, they’re always carrying something extra in the kitchen at Spago, so if you’ve got a hankering for, really, anything — ask and see if they have it! Our only final recommendation: kaisershmarrn for desert. Thank us later.
22. Menotti's Coffee Stop: A Path to Secret Drinks
Alright, we're gonna be a little extra-covert on this one. There is, indeed, a secret menu at this instagram-worthy spot for upper-echelon coffees, but you'll have to find it inside. Try looking behind the bourbon barrels, and let your curiosity guide you. Go forth, coffee drinkers! Explore!
23. Cecconi's: Secret Steak
If you're hankering to figure out what all this hype over a "secret steak" is at Cecconi's, expect the unexpected. Your order will depend on what the restaurant has ready — so you could end up with a tomahawk, filet mignon or something we haven't seen yet! In any case, we think you'll be pleasantly surprised by this Venetian staple in WeHo.
24. Mexicali Taco & Co.: Carne Asada Fries, Fish Taco
Double down on these specials from Mexicali's secret orders list. The fries are topped with carne asada, cotija cheese, roasted peppers, cilantro and serrano cream — these aren't going anywhere, despite not finding them on the menu. Meanwhile, the fish tacos come with pico de gallo, pickled onions, and spicy crema, but are only around for a limited time so act fast!
25. Guelaguetza: Vegan Squash Soup
Smack in the middle of Koreatown is an oasis of flavourful Oaxacan culture known as Guelaguetza. While they're just starting their expansion to Las Vegas, they’re still serving up unique dishes in their first location where it all started. Our suggestion for your next trip there? Ask about the Vegan Squash Soup or “Sopa de Guías.” They’ll know what you’re talking about.
26. Alfred Coffee / Alfred Tea Room: Military Latte, Matcha in a Coconut
Alfred Inc. has a few coffee houses dotted across LA, so getting to these secret menu selections shouldn’t be too difficult. The Military Latte, only available at Alfred’s coffee stores, is like a regular matcha latte, but with an espresso shot. For the more adventurous, try getting the Matcha in Coconut: a matcha latte mixed with coconut water and served in an actual coconut, which Alfred has in supply at all stores (except the ones in Japan…so that might be hard to get to!)