Secret Menu Items in Chicago

Like what you see? Don't bother looking for it on the menu. Ditto for the other seven items listed here. Rather, these dishes are part of a growing trend of secret menu items that in-the-know customers request on a regular basis. And now you can, too. (Photo: Mia Francesca's off-the-menu sauteed calamari by Lisa Shames.)

Updated: December 16, 2009

Secret Off-Menu Dishes at Chicago Restaurants


Mia Francesca

3311 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657

SAUTEED CALAMARI with capers, tomatoes, spinach, shallots and garlic: The secret to this dish, says owner Scott Harris is getting the pan scalding hot. And he should know since he created this dish some 20 years ago when diners were looking for an alternative to the Lakeview restaurant's fried calamari and he (now an uber-restaurateur) was still working the line. When done right, the calamari has a subtly charred flavor, says Harris, without ever touching a grill.


The Publican

845 W Fulton Mkt, Chicago, IL 60607

SMOKED TROUT HASH BROWNS: With 20 percent of the menu changing on a daily basis, it's not unusual for customers to ask for off-the-menu items, says sous chef Erling Wu-Bower, which often leads to some ?happy accidents in the kitchen.? Like this dish, which features smoked trout from Idaho, apples, pickled fennel, fromage blanc and hash browns folded omelet-style.


David Burke's Primehouse

616 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

BONE MARROW with roasted garlic cloves, cherry mostarda and toasted baguette slices: When regulars would come in to the River North restaurant, meat-loving chef Rick Gresh occasionally treated them to his idea of a perfect snack. Turns out they liked it as much as he did, and now it's available for the asking.


Nacional 27

325 W. Huron, Chicago, IL 60610

LUXE EL CORAZON: Mixologist Adam Seger is known for his ingredient savvy when it comes to creating cocktails, and his El Corazon made with Corzo silver tequila, pomegranate juice and fresh-squeezed lime juice served in a peppercorn-and-salt-rimmed glass is no exception. Up the ante and ask for the "luxe" version and watch him garnish it with a flipped inside-out lime half filled with Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal.


Zest Restaurant

525 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

O?BRIAN POTATOES: In general, this hotel restaurant is happy to oblige special requests, whether it's for an off-the-menu crust for one of their fish or meat dishes--think lemon-caper or mushroom--or special side dish, like couscous mixed with chorizo. But it's the breakfast dish of diced baked potatoes sauteed with onion and fresh peppers from a previous menu that diners ask for most.


Osteria Via Stato

620 N. State St, Chicago, IL 60610

AMARO CONNUBIO: Sure, the River North restaurant's housemade burnt caramel gelato is great on its own. But when topped with Amaro Averna, an Italian digestif made with herbs and liquor-soaked citrus rinds, it's a match made in heaven (?connubio? does mean ?marriage? in Italian, after all). A bartender from Sicily made it for executive chef David DiGregorio and he, along with plenty of Osteria regulars, has been hooked ever since.


Zocalo Restaurant

358 W Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60610

CARNE EN SU JUGO: If you thought the housemade tortillas at Zocalo were great, wait until you try this weekend-only dish from the same tortilla-making woman. Grilled flank steak sits in a pasilla chile broth with whole black beans, applewood smoked bacon and chorizo and is garnished with diced radishes and arbol peppers.


Crofton on Wells

535 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60610

SUZY?S SPECIAL WEDNESDAYS: Here's a new twist on the secret menu item. Chef/owner Suzy Crofton creates a weekly, request-only special that's constantly changing--a recent one featured squash soup with preserved duck paired with a pork shoulder confit and pickled tropea onion sandwich--but the $20 price tag doesn't.