by Chelsea Lin - 273 Reviews - 109 List
Few restaurants advertise secret menus--it kind of defeats the purpose anyway, right In-N-Out?--and some will flat-out deny they exist, but insiders know that there are a number of high-profile spots in the city serving up both top-secret dishes and classified add-ons to enhance popular items. Here are a few hush-hush items to ask your server for (cajoling may be necessary) next time you're dining out on the town. Just remember, you didn't hear it from us.
Updated: June 01, 2009
The club-style atmosphere (without the pretension) at this casual Presidio eatery lends itself well to hush-hush menu items. Among them, the "Dirty Dozen" is a success: 12 tiny beignets filled with molten chocolate, not to be confused with the standard, and slightly more boring, brioche beignets on the brunch menu.
Appetizers and entrees are for sissies--indulge your sweet tooth by ordering the seven-course dessert-only tasting menu at this sophisticated Union Square restaurant, but bring someone to share. You have to call in a request for the menu at least a day in advance.
For a diet-breaking 34 oz. bone-in hunk of some of the city's best meat, order the rumored short loin chop at this stylish Presidio Heights restaurant, if it's available. The steak's apparently one of Chef Mark Sullivan's favorites and comes paired with crisp potatoes cooked in duck fat and homegrown veggies.
This green-certified Mission bar's owner H. Joseph Ehrmann has just added a new cocktail to the menu called La Tuna Te Toca--a recipe he built after a recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. The brave (or already tipsy) will want to ask for the drink to be made "A Chapuline," meaning the bartender will add three or four lime-marinated and deep fried grasshoppers to the mix--muddled, of course.
With an inventive cocktail menu that includes drinks like a kumquat caipirissima and a Carmella Meyer lemon drop, it's not necessary to stray far from the menu. But bar chef Ronaldo Colli will whip up anything you'd like using seasonal ingredients--ask for his award-winning, tamarind-and-jalapeno Tore Margarita if you want something really special.
Having just been named the "Prince of Porc" at Cochon 555, chef Peter McNee of this Sausalito eatery is currently offering a special dish called Prosciutto Fatta in Casa. Order at the bar and you'll hopefully be rewarded with a plate of thin-sliced salty pork that's been cured even longer than the year Italian tradition mandates.
Every good Japanese restaurant has an "omakase" option, which translates to putting yourself in the chef's hands, and this authentic Japantown spot is no exception. Request the mystery menu and you'll often end up with whatever's freshest, even if it's not on the menu.
If you're not up for Chef Chris Cosentino's offal-heavy rustic Italian fare, order a safe bet: the handkerchief pasta with pork ragu (a menu staple) with an egg cracked over the top. It's reportedly an excellent addition, even if you have to fight your server to get it.
This Hayes Valley alleyway hot spot for coffee's cognoscenti will prepare an off-menu iced latte if requested--it's a good warm-weather treat for those staying away from sugar, as the New Orleans-style iced coffee comes already sweetened.
If you happen to be at this bustling Polk Gulch oyster bar during non-peak hours (is there such a thing?), try asking for the Sicilian-style sardines, filleted like sashimi and topped simply with lemon juice, olive oil, capers and red onion.
Don't be fooled if the cioppino doesn't show up on the menu at this Castro oyster shack, you can regularly get it if you ask for it (nicely, that is). Crab season is especially a good time for the request--without the crab, they call it an Italian Fish Stew.
So it takes some of the fun out since this FiDi mini-burger joint links to its secret menu on its website, but consider it the SF equivalent to In-N-Out's infamous special menu. Order your burger In-O Style for lettuce and tomato (not normally included) or Cheesy Fat Bob for a double patty with cheese; better yet, try the Gelat-O Sammie for a scoop of gelato between two homemade cookies.
While the legendary sausages at this Lower Haight shop aren't a secret, its mammoth burgers (available for $5.50 on Tuesdays from 11:30am to whenever they sell out, usually before 1pm) are definitely only for those in the know. Get there early, order your burger and spend your 30 minutes waiting with a beer at Toronado next door--happy hour is conveniently 11:30am to 6pm.