9 Need-to-Know Secret Menu Items

By Sarah Freeman  |  February 18, 2014
Credit: Patrick Fahrner

Can you keep a secret? There is deliciousness hiding between the lines of menus around Chicago. Restaurants' infamous secret-menu items, made famous by fast-food chains like In-N-Out, are often too extreme to last on the real menu, but delicious enough for in-the-know regulars. From cookie butter milkshakes to massive burgers, if you think you know the menu at your favorite eatery, think again.

  • Ay Chiwowa

    This seasonal menu item is also an off-menu favorite. The Mexican hot chocolate, created by Partner Arturo Gomez, features whole milk, Abuelita’s brand chocolate and butterscotch. As an added warmer, the drink is spiked with tequila reposado. The finishing touch is whipped cream and cinnamon.

    311 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-643-3200

  • Credit: Arnold Klein

    CH Distillery

    Food and beverage director Krissy Schutte goes high-tech with her off-menu special. She uses an ISI whipped cream nitrous oxide canister and two slices of chile to rapidly infuse CH Vodka with the spicy chile flavor. After a 20-second infusion, she releases the pressure in the canister, and the flavor is extracted into the vodka, making a very fresh-tasting infusion.

    564 W. Randolph St.; 312-707-8780

  • Le Colonial

    All year, follow Le Colonial on Tumblr and learn about a new off-menu special each month. This month, it’s the Gold Coast Comfort bowl - a Vietnamese-style bibimbap made by layering pork fried rice and a sunny-side-up egg with cilantro and chile sauce. Guests are instructed to break the yolk and mix it into the flavorful rice.

    937 N. Rush St.; 312-255-0088

  • Credit: Patrick Fahrner

    The Dawson

    Bar director Annemarie Sagoi is well-known for her gourmet Jell-o shots. She recreates classic cocktails into bite-size works of edible art with flavors such as the Winter Pimm's Cup (gin, Pimm's, mint, cucumber, lemon, ginger, applejack and barrel-aged bitters) and Dr. Bombay (gin, Prosecco, sherry, amaretto and acid phosphate).

    730 W. Grand Ave.; 312-243-8955

  • Edzo’s

    One hardly needs an additional flavor option when indulging in a milkshake at Edzo’s. The selection includes the standard chocolate, vanilla and Oreo as well as more decadent options like Nutella, hot fudge and maple. But the real winner is not on the menu. It’s the Speculoos shake, a shake made with the Belgian sugar cookie spread, aka cookie butter.

    2218 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-697-9909

  • Francesca’s

    In the two-decade-plus history of the restaurants, no dish has been forgotten. If the kitchen has the right ingredients, it can prepare any former menu item, even if it does not remain on the menu today. One of those items is the Calamari in Padella, a sautéed alternative to fried calamari, made with spinach, chopped tomato, capers, garlic and lemon white wine sauce.

    3311 N. Clark St.; 773-281-3310

  • Credit: LTH Forum


    Chef Mickey Neely pays tribute to South Side tortas shop Dona Torta Chilanga with La Guapachosa. This massive sandwich is layered with braised brisket, lard-fried pork belly and roasted pork loin, followed by a dousing of pork jus and then white bean purée, pimentón aïoli, butter, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, sriracha, cilantro, whole-grain mustard, crème fraîche, pickled cauliflower, pickled red onion and chicken liver mousse.

    3201 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-252-9700

  • Sunda

    In-the-know Filipinos know about chef Jess DeGuzman's traditional dishes of the Philippines, Sisig. Named for the cooking method used to prepare fish and meat, it features parts of the pig’s head and liver, seasoned with chile peppers.

    110 W. Illinois S.; 312-644-0500

  • Twisted Spoke

    Inspired by and named after the famous secret menu item at McDonald's, the McGangBang is a massive sandwich with a fried chicken breast, two hamburger patties, three slices of cheese, tomato, lettuce, pickles and several secret sauces. It’s served with hand-cut fries and can be ordered with a wink and a nod. It’s just one of the many off-menu burgers around the city.

    501 N. Ogden Ave.; 312-666-1500