Some secrets are meant to be kept — but others are too delicious to go undiscovered. So we did a little digging to bring you some of the best hush-hush dishes in the Denver area.
Bacon-and-Egg Burger at The Populist
The Dish: As the name suggests, this RiNo smash doesn't generally trade on insider tips. But Jonathan Power admits that certain “modifications” to existing menu items “have caught on a little with some guests” — in particular the burger that “started as an employee end-of-night dish and now gets ordered by bar customers every now and again.” Add the 63-degree slow-poached egg and bacon-onion jam that comprise one of Power’s best-loved creations to his grass-fed beef patty, and voilà, you’ve got yourself something special.
How to Get It: Make nice with the bar crew and they can hook you up.
3163 Larimer St.; 720-432-3163
Fish Collars at Lola
The Dish: At LoHi’s longtime magnet for Mexican seafood, chef Kevin Grossi showcases the wonderfully fatty collar from salmon, yellowtail, mackerel and other fish in ever-changing specials like the halibut at right.
How to Get It: According to Big Red F culinary director Jamey Fader, “There are only ever two per night, and we always give them to one server only to sell. Guests who are regulars know to ask, but after that it's luck of the draw.” Here's to good fortune, although early dinner reservations would undoubtedly up your chances.
1575 Boulder St.; 720-570-8686
Mac and Snacks at Steuben's
The Dish: At everybody’s favorite Uptown neo-diner, the secret dishes are always right in front of your face, being simple mashups of regular menu items. Take one of chef Brandon Biederman’s favorites, the mac 'n' cheese topped with “Steubie’s snacks,” chunks of pork shoulder that have been deep-fried and rolled in powdered sugar, for a gooey-crunchy, sweet-salty, extra-guilty pleasure.
How to Get It: Ask and you shall receive; Steuben’s easygoing crew is open to all kinds of requests. (And bonus: after 10 PM, they still offer their “Lucky Seven” combo deal — a cheeseburger with fries and a lawnmower beer for $7.)
523 E. 17th St.; 303-830-1001
The Ocho at Osteria Marco
The Dish: The carbonara pizza at Frank Bonanno’s underground Italian hideaway in Larimer Square sounds perfectly innocent as described, topped with pancetta, pecorino and an egg. What the menu doesn’t tell you is that it happens to have a far more lascivious sibling called the Ocho — which boasts not one, not two, not three, but eight whole eggs.
How to Get It: The Osteria Marco team almost didn't want to give their little secret away, but after a bit of coaxing, they assured us that it’s “just one of those items that has to be requested.” We suggest respecting their concern and ordering it only when the dining room is not too busy.
1453 Larimer St.; 303-534-5855
Scallion Pancakes and More at Zoe Ma Ma
The Dish: Boulder’s top spot for Chinese comfort food has a few off-menu goodies for patrons prepared to follow owner Edwin Zoe’s directions. We're talking scallion pancakes, soup dumplings and Mama's "fire-pot feast," composed of "top-secret" dishes for eight people.
How to Get It: The pancakes are easiest to score; they're available by request so long as the kitchen isn't slammed. But if you want soup dumplings, you've got to order and pay for them a minimum of 24 hours in advance — and then show up right when they come out of the steamers, or you'll "forfeit" your purchase, according to Zoe. Finally, the hot-pot banquet also requires prior arrangements by phone.
Price: From $3.75 for the pancakes up to $50 per head for the fire pot.
2010 10th St., Boulder; 303-545-6262
Tagliatelle di Rosmarino at Panzano
The Dish: At the Hotel Monaco’s Italian fixture Downtown, chef Elise Wiggins has struck gold with countless signatures over the years, from the grilled Caesar to the crespelle ai funghi. But the pictured rosemary tagliatelle with goat cheese, dried cranberries, pine nuts and lemon-basil emulsion is in a stunningly vibrant class of its own. And though it’s no longer on the printed menu, it might as well be, given its continued popularity with those in the know.
How to Get It: Wiggins keeps the ingredients on hand to this day, so all you have to do is ask.
909 17th St.; 303-296-3525
The Dish: Nelson Perkins is a master of the so-called nasty bits. His contemporary Highlands haunt even boasts its own state-of-the-art meat-production facility called Viande, where sous-chef Kyle Foster breaks down whole animals while overseeing the extensive charcuterie program. That leaves the kitchen plenty to play with each week, including the gorgeous lamb's tail you see here. Of course, the revelry continues at downstairs cocktail lounge Ste. Ellie. According to beverage director Kevin Burke, “A truly off-menu item that we really don't talk about much are the 'Nashville hot chicken butts,'” he says. “We take the tail off of the chicken, marinate it in a little buttermilk, and deep-fry it in a light, spiced breading. Then we send it out on grilled bread with a mess of Real Dill pickle chips.” Check it out in the leading image, at top.
How to Get It: Perkins promises that at least a couple of specials based on off-cuts — be it beef heart, pig trotters or lamb kidneys — are available in the dining room nightly on a first-come, first-served basis. As for the, er, chicken nuggets, says Burke, “We usually have one or two orders per night for guests who know to order them" by name.
Price: It depends on the cut, but expect about $20 for a dish like the lamb's tail, while the Pope's nose (as the chicken's rump is also called) goes for $6.
1553 Platte St.; 303-477-1447