Everybody likes to be in on a good secret, right? Whether that means a friend’s entrusting you with the news that she’s newly pregnant, getting an email that entitles you to a sneak peek of a fashion line or a new movie, or (in Martha Stewart’s case, at least) receiving insider-trading tips, being privy to knowledge that not everyone shares can brighten up an otherwise dull day and make us all feel just a little bit special. The excitement that being in the loop inspires is no less pronounced when it comes to the most popular food chains in the United States. Why else would so many of them have secret menus, if not to pique our curiosity and stroke our egos (oh, and tickle our taste buds)? From burger joints to smoothie stands to coffeehouses, no on-the-go food or beverage purveyor is what it seems these days. Read on, but keep it on the down-low …
1. In-N-Out Burger
This beloved West Coast institution is a pioneer in the secret-menu realm: for years, California residents heard tell of its unpublicized offerings—until finally the rumors became so widespread that the company caved and began listing many of these items on its Web site. The basics:
- Animal Style: a mustard-cooked beef patty served on a bun with lettuce, tomato, extra spread, pickles, and grilled onions
- Double Meat: two beef patties served on a bun with lettuce, tomato, spread, and optional onions
- 3×3/4×4: three or four American cheese–topped beef patties, respectively, served on a bun with lettuce, tomato, spread, and optional onions
- Protein Style: a beef patty wrapped in lettuce leaves, rather than a bun
- Grilled Cheese: two slices of American cheese served on a bun with lettuce, tomato, spread, and optional onions
Despite In-N-Out’s publication of its secret menu, the company hasn’t practiced full disclosure: the Flying Dutchman (two slices of cheese between two beef patties—no bun), and Animal-Style fries are two additional selections that customers in the know order frequently.
All manner of top-secret fare is hiding under our favorite golden arches—maybe the Hamburglar ran off with the part of the menu that includes these goodies:
- Land, Sea, and Air Burger: one beef patty, one McChicken patty, and one Filet-O-Fish, all sandwiched between a single bun
- Biscuits and Gravy: just what it sounds like (available during breakfast hours only); this combo used to be on the official menu but was removed in the 1980s.
- Chicken and Waffles: a McGriddle sandwich with chicken in the middle
- Pie McFlurry: a McFlurry blended with a single-serving pie
- Big Mac with Quarter Pounder Patties: literally, a beefed-up Big Mac featuring heftier patties; in Alaska, this is known as the McKinley Mac.
- The All-American: a regular hamburger with pickles and ketchup only
- The Big McChicken: a Big Mac in which McChicken patties replace the bun
- The Poor Man’s Big Mac: order a double cheeseburger with lettuce and Big Mac sauce, and ask for onions and lettuce (both of which are free) on the side; then doctor your burger yourself, and voilà, you’ve got a $1 version of the classic Big Mac (sans sesame seeds on the bun).
- Fries with Big Mac Sauce: when you place your order, ask for the secret Big Mac sauce as an accompaniment.
3. Taco Bell
Don’t let that greedy little Chihuahua who kept telling TV viewers to “drop the chalupa” in the late ’90s fool you—at Taco Bell, the customer’s always right. If a location has the ingredients on hand, it will fulfill any special menu request you make, from meatless meals to extinct products like Cheesaritos. Despite the company’s laissez-faire attitude, it still helps to know the magic words that turn a regular old taco into a taco supremo. If you order anything “fresco,” the kitchen will make you a healthier version of that recipe by omitting the sour cream and other sauces and replacing the cheese with pico de gallo. And adding “spicy green” to the beginning of your order will get you a dish slathered with Taco Bell’s unadvertised but highly coveted secret Green Chile Sauce.
4. Jamba Juice
This smoothie-serving powerhouse has been holding out on us big-time: Examiner.com and numerous other online sources claim that Jamba Juice employees have the know-how and the ingredients to make more than thirty drinks that either were not approved for the company’s official (and much healthier) menu or have been discontinued. The staffers are forbidden to actively suggest or answer questions about this forbidden fruit, but savvy sippers love sucking down drinks with names like White Gummi Bear, Strawberry Shortcake, Fruity Pebbles, Push Pop, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Skittles, and Pineapple Dreamin’.
One cautionary note: as tantalizing as a smoothie blended with cereal or rainbow-colored candy may sound to some people, these secret Jamba Juices don’t actually contain any such particles—instead, the company concocts combinations of sugary ingredients, such as sherbet and frozen yogurt, that replicate the flavor of the confections they’re named after.
5. Dairy Queen
At this old American standby, the only thing holding you back is your imagination. Like Taco Bell, DQ is willing to make you anything you’re craving with the ingredients it has onsite—so willing, in fact, that most DQ locations house a book full of recipes for obsolete menu entries. Standouts include:
- Peanut Buster Parfait: a parfait cup with several alternating layers of vanilla soft-serve ice cream, peanuts, and hot fudge
- Chocolate Chip Blizzard: a Blizzard whirled with the quick-hardening dipping chocolate usually reserved for DQ’s ice-cream cones
- Banana Split Blizzard: a Blizzard composed of all the classic banana-split ingredients
- Lavender Blue Sundae: a blueberry sundae mixed with marshmallow
Given that all U.S. cities seem to have a Starbucks outpost on every corner, it may not come as a surprise that this coffeehouse megachain quietly brews up almost as many clandestine concoctions as it does the standard tall, venti, and grande cups of joe. No amount of caffeine, flavored syrup, or whipped cream is frowned upon when you order one of these beverages:
- Short Drink: if you’re craving just a mini pick-me-up, order a “short” version of any drink on the menu; it comes in a kid-size cup and costs less.
- Biscotti Frappuccino: buy an individual biscotto and ask your barista to blend it into any Frappuccino drink for a crunchy treat.
- Red Eye: a shot of espresso in regular drip coffee
- Black Eye: two shots of espresso in regular drip coffee
- Green Eye: three shots of espresso in regular drip coffee (with a side of insomnia and serious heart palpitations)
- Poor Man’s Latte: order an Iced Americano with no water and half ice, then pour in your own half-and-half at the condiments station; the result is a Breve Latte for a fraction of the cost.
- Chocolate Cream Frappuccino: a Frappuccino made with chocolate syrup and chocolate Frappuccino base
- Cake Batter Frappuccino: a vanilla Frappuccino made with both vanilla bean and almond flavoring
- Crunch Berry Frappuccino: a strawberry-and-cream Frappuccino with hazelnut flavoring; it tastes just like Crunch Berries cereal.
- London Fog: Earl Grey tea blended with vanilla flavoring
- Zebra Mocha (aka Penguin Mocha): a combination white-chocolate/chocolate mocha
- Red-Tux Mocha (aka Bleeding Penguin): a Zebra Mocha plus raspberry flavoring
Mum’s the Word
Fast food is as quintessentially American as baseball and apple pie. It might not always be the healthiest option, but in a go-go-go country like ours, it certainly is convenient and cheap to just pop into the nearest Starbucks before work or pick up an In-N-Out Double-Double on an errand-filled Saturday. So the next time you decide to grab something on the fly from one of these ubiquitous chains, why not make it fun by ordering an under-the-radar treat that’ll prove you’ve got the inside scoop? Whether you’re feeling nostalgic for a discontinued childhood favorite or just plain gluttonous, go for it. Just don’t tell them I sent you.
Photo courtesy of idogcow (cc)