Shhh! A Guide to Secret Menu Items in San Diego

Special burgers, custom waffles and under-the-radar cocktails are just some of the things you can order on the DL
July 21, 2014
by Darlene Horn

Admit it. You like being in-the-know about off-menu food items you can order at some of the hottest restaurants and bars in town. Even ordering the In-N-Out burger “animal-style” gives you a thrill — and just about everybody knows about that! We did a little digging of our own to uncover nine far-more-secret menu items around town. Read on for San Diego's most under-the-radar, "secret" foods and drinks to order the next time you go out. 

Surf & Turf at Encore Champagne Bar & Dining Room

The scene-stealers at Encore’s restaurant are the champagne and bubbles along with proper eats like pâté de campagne, duck confit and smoked salmon. But the off-menu Surf & Turf plate combines the best of two worlds: steak and caviar. The dish tops New York strip carpaccio with white sturgeon caviar, fennel, coriander rub, arugula, frisée, tangerine slices and croutons.

Difficulty to Obtain: Available year-round. You just need to ask for it. 

Price: $25

Thanksgiving Pie at Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon

This Encinitas eatery has almost every conceivable pie available: from individual-size berry pies to meatball pies to feed a family of four. If you feel like revisiting the taste of fall, the secret Thanksgiving Pie packed with turkey, green beans, housemade stuffing and gravy piled into a sage buttermilk biscuit crust will do the trick.

Difficulty to Obtain: Call ahead to order.

Price: $35 for a nine-inch pie

Boo Boo Bars at Elizabethan Desserts

Unless you’re stopping by for office treats or a party later in the day, there’s really no excuse to visit Elizabethan Desserts in the morning. But here’s a legit — albeit secret — reason: Boo Boo breakfast bars. Puffed cereal coated in caramel with layers of peanuts, pretzels, marshmallows and chocolate is a great sweet-and-salty way to start off the day. 

Difficulty to Obtain: Available year-round. 

Price: $2.75 per bar

In-N-Haute at Juniper & Ivy

San Diego transplant and Top Chef alum Richard Blais let the cat out of the bag on his secret menu item soon after Juniper & Ivy opened. Almost everyone knows about it. But that doesn’t mean we don't love his ode to In-N-Out burgers any less. Marin Sun Farms ground chuck and dry-aged fat are hand-formed into two patties. Taken from the In-N-Out playbook, mustard is grilled right into the meat. A toasted brioche bun, bread-and-butter pickles, American cheese and grilled onions complete the burger. It's served with triple-cooked fries. 

Difficulty to Obtain: Only a few burgers are available every evening, so order on the early side if you're really got your heart set on it. 

Price: $17

Rabbit Poutine at Jsix

Chef Christian Graves has a well-hidden gem that's worth knowing about: fries topped with rabbit braised in a savory tomato sauce and covered in a thick blanket of cheese curds and gravy. It resembles more of a casserole than poutine. After one bite you'll want to broadcast this secret to the world.

Difficulty to Obtain: Medium-high. Get to know your server well and you might get this beauty delivered to the table, although he or she will probably deny it exists at first.  

Cost: $11

Adult Float at Searsucker Del Mar

Chef de cuisine JC Colon was onto something when he concocted this cocktail that speaks to the little kid in all of us. He creates an ice cream by combining vanilla custard and Jameson Irish Whiskey — but he doesn’t stop there. The frosty treat is topped off with Belching Beaver’s Peanut Butter Milk Stout forming a perfectly nutty, boozy adult float.

Difficulty to Obtain: Medium-easy. Although servers say you have to know a secret handshake to get this, they've got the ingredients to make it at any given moment. So just ask.

Cost: $16 price includes 22 oz. of beer to top off the float

Barrel-Aged Blackberry-Lavender Whiskey at Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa

Lead bartender Cory Jacklyn says you can order the hotel’s specially aged cocktail infusions directly at the bar. His staff places a mix of lavender and berries in an oak barrel with the Estancia's single-barrel Jack Daniels for a month until the whiskey and spices merge and mellow out. 

Difficulty to Obtain: Medium. There's a limited supply of this whiskey. Ask for it at the bar and hope that the bartender on duty is in the mood to part with a glass. 

Cost: $13

The Savory Tree and The Mercado at Café 21

The mixologists at Café 21’s Gaslamp location like to keep it fresh. So cocktails come and go according to the season’s freshest ingredients. But you'll never find these drinks on the menu. Order The Savory Tree (pictured on the right) and you'll get a tall sipper made with Tru Garden Organic Vodka, green Chartreuse, Evolution's Essential Greens juice, ginger beer, green tea-lemongrass simple syrup and lime juice garnished with basil leaves, celery bitters and Himalayan sea salt. It's a doozy. There's also The Mercado (pictured on the left), made with jalapeño-infused liquor.

Difficulty to Obtain: Medium-hard. If you’re looking for one of these two drinks, you may or may not be able to get them, depending on availability of ingredients.

Cost: $8

The Elvis and The Strawberry Shortcake at Bruxie

This OC-based waffle chain serves up a wealth of savory and sweet items from their extensive menu and rotating seasonal specials. But for something off-the-menu, it's only your imagination that limits your choices. Popular secret menu items include the Elvis (pictured), where the signature crisp waffle is filled with peanut butter, bacon and sliced bananas. There's also a strawberry shortcake waffle with whipped cream and strawberries.

Difficulty to Obtain: Easy. The staff is very accommodating and will create these indulgences for you whenever you like, as long as they've got the ingredients. 

Cost: Starts at $7

secret menu item