Food & Drink

The Best Secret Menu Items in Chicago

Published On 09/13/2013 Published On 09/13/2013
secret burger at M Burger
M Burger | Sean Cooley/Thrillist

Keeping a secret can be tough. It can be near impossible when that secret is beer-battered, bacon-wrapped, or bourbon-infused. Clearly such edible treasures are meant to be discovered, so Chicago’s sweet and savory steel trap is open in our round up of some of the city’s best off-menu items.

Courtesy of Acadia

Mini lobster rolls

Acadia

Address and Info

South Loop

Sure, Acadia was awarded two Michelin stars this year, but do the foodies flocking for 10-course tasting menus know about Chef Ryan McCaskey’s mini renditions of his famous lobster rolls available at the bar upon request? Don’t think so. Unless you’re a foodie who enjoys tasting menus. In which case, thanks for reading.

Courtesy of Buck's

Buckin' Bloody Mary

Buck's

Address and Info

Wicker Park

Order the house Bloody Buckin’ and it’ll come with a fried chicken wing, deviled egg, a hot pepper, homemade pickles, and pickled okra. It’s a hangover helper, a meal, and a work of fine art, all nestled into a mason jar.

Pulled pork potato skins

Homeslice

Address and Info

Lincoln Park

I’ve never had anyone call me Homeslice, but I’d imagine if it did happen it’d occur in Lincoln Park, and that person would shortly after be eating some potato skins. So it makes sense that this place would have a pulled pork version you could order on the hush hush. Bro food at it’s finest!

Courtesy of III Forks

The Grand Daddy Patty Melt

III Forks

Address and Info

The Loop

Your grand daddy is probably proud if you have the means to order $26 hamburgers like this on the regular. It’s actually one of the more affordable items on the menu at this fancy steakhouse, so the 10oz of certified Angus beef, crispy pork belly, cheddar, and saffron horseradish mayo in between toasted marble rye is a pretty good deal when you look at it that way.

Fried fish po-boy

BIG and Little's

Address and Info

Lakeview (& other locations)

They’re no secret themselves. After being on Triple D they now have three locations around town. Knowing about this off-menu beer-battered whitefish with pickled jalapeños, chili aioli, and their signature samurai sauce on a French roll though will make you more hip than the bleached blonde biker that helped put them on the map. Unless you weren’t already.

Courtesy of Tack Room

The Ace

Tack Room

Address and Info

Pilsen

“Ace” is equestrian slang for acepromazine, which is a horse sedative. If you order it this way, your burger comes with a Slagel Family Farm Juicy Lucy, seared foie gras, pork rillettes, sunny-side egg, and bacon jam on a brioche bun, which has been known to cause a similar sensation to it’s namesake.

Baller Roll

Sunda

Address and Info

River North

Wanna be a baller? Shot caller? Well, this roll is made with the maki equivalent of 20in blades including toro Japanese Wagyu, fish roe, black truffle, crispy chip, wasabi crème, soy truffle vinaigrette, and scallions. It’s got a $75 price tag, but then again you’ve achieved baller status for the evening.

Courtesy of De Noche

Chilaquiles

De Noche

Address and Info

Logan square

Its sister restaurant next door (Café Con Leche) is well known for the mix of tortilla chips, salsa verde, eggs, sour cream, Monterrey cheese, Mexican rice, and refried pinto beans. If you want them on the business side of a big night out, De Noche serves them up from 10pm-midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

Skillet cookie with ice cream

Output Lounge & Sportsbar

Address and Info

West Town

It’s pretty simple, take a freshly baked chocolate chip skillet cookie and put chocolate chip ice cream on top of it. What’s more complex is trying to describe to someone how delicious this concoction of warm cookie marrying cold ice cream is.

Courtesy of Seadog Sushi

The Fish Bowl

Seadog Sushi Bar

Address and Info

Noble Square

No, you’re not sipping booze from a ludicrously long straw in Wrigleyville. This Fish Bowl is chocked full of fresh salmon cubes, veggie tempura, Japanese white rice, shredded cabbage with spicy mayo, smoked salmon, and a special soy sauce topped with black tobiko. Way less of a chance seeing vomit on the sidewalk too!

Courtesy of Lowcountry

Secret Sauce No. 5 aka "The MJ"

Lowcountry

Address and Info

Wrigleyville

Lowcountry does customizable Southern seafood boils here, but you’ll notice that the heat level on the menu only goes up to four. If you’re into Homer Simpson-style hallucinations, order “The MJ” in your bag and be sure to have a glass of milk nearby.  

Cheesy tots

Umami Burger

Address and Info

Wicker Park

When fries just don’t live up to the delicious umami-ness levels of your burger, ask for the off-menu tots which are infused with aged parmesan and cheddar cheese.

Courtesy of Twisted Spoke

McGangBang

Twisted Spoke

Address and Info

West Town

If your name is Mick, you can drop an effortless Old School reference simply by saying, “I’m here for the gangbang.” Not only will they bring you their Mickey D’s inspired burger with two patties, a fried chicken breast three slices of cheese, tomato, lettuce, pickle, and various secret sauces, they’ll have no choice but to give you props for the fun movie quote recall after you show them your ID.

Courtesy of Green Street Local

The Parmelicious

Green Street Local

Address and Info

West Loop

Training for a marathon? There’s a colossal serving of baked angel hair pasta appropriately named The Carbalicious that will make for a performance enhancer. With the secret upgrade of a chicken fried steak patty, you can convince yourself that adding protein will make you much faster during the big race.

The Humdinger

Donald's Famous Hot Dogs

Address and Info

Pilsen

Donald’s secret menu item just might trump all the rest on this list in terms of being “huge.” The Humdinger is a tamale in a hot dog bun smothered with chili and cheese, and it’s making America great again.

Courtesy of Mad Social

MAD Secret Pork Belly

Mad Social

Address and Info

West Loop

It’s not just a secret. It’s a MAD Secret!? Regardless, this slow roasted pork belly with pickled red onions, sautéed kale and red cabbage, red chili purée, and fresh herb salad will make you happy you ventured off-menu.

Courtesy of Nini's Deli

PB & J slider

Nini's Deli

Address and Info

Noble Square

Nini’s menu used to be much larger, but after downsizing for a more efficient customer experience super fans still yearned for certain OG items. This slider with homemade guava jelly, peanut butter, and sweet plantains sandwiched between two tostones  (green plantains) is often teased on its Instagram account and can be ordered if you ask Juan nicely.

Phil’s Special

Fatso's Last Stand

Address and Info

Ukrainian Village

An edible tribute to the late owner, the Phil’s Special embeds a hot dog inside a polish then smothers it in onions, mustard, and mac & cheese atop a Turan Ciabatta. The man who made such a sandwich combination most certainly must have been one true Chicagoan.

Sean Cooley/Thrillist

Barnyard Burger

M Burger

Address and Info

River North (& other locations)

Referred to by many as the In-N-Out of Chicago. Similarly, M Burger’s moneymakers are burgers, fries, and shakes, but unlike the cult following of the California chain, you can order chicken, bacon, or turkey burgers off of the menu. Put those altogether under one bun and their Barnyard Burger will be the only Animal Style you’ll ever order again.

Sean Cooley/Thrillist

Wrecking Ball

Potbelly’s

Address and Info

Lincoln Park (& other locations)

It's ham, turkey, roast beef, and salami topped with meatballs Swiss cheese, mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Potbelly’s actually has 15 different items on its secret menu, but I chose the Wrecking Ball cause Miley Cyrus knows how to rock an MJ jersey.

Courtesy of Urban Belly

Egg Noodle

Urbanbelly

Address and Info

West Loop

In the mood for noodles, but tired of the ramen trend? These guys do a secret fried egg noodle dish with tofu, Chinese eggplant, mushrooms, and spicy pork broth.

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Don Kenyatta is a Thrillist freelancer who never could keep a secret. Especially when it comes to food.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Acadia 1639 S Wabash, Chicago, IL 60616 (South Loop)

Tucked away in a nondescript South Loop building, this Michelin-starred restaurant showcases chef Ryan McCaskey's contemporary take on classic American fare. Inspired by Maine, Acadia is unique for pulling off a sophisticated multi-course tasting menu (available in five or ten courses) and an à la carte bar menu that sports an aggressively indulgent burger. Whether you're there for the complete prix-fixe experience or for a cocktail and oysters at the bar, Acadia is definitely a special occasion spot.

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2. Buck's 1700 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

Buck's is a warm, friendly rustic-chic Southern eatery that specializes in the two B's: biscuits and booze. We are partial to their amazing brunch menu, but you can't go wrong with any meal you eat here.

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3. Homeslice 938 W Webster Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

Homeslice is a retro log cabin pizzeria boasting 30 signature thin crust pies made with six base sauces (BBQ, ranch, spinach ricotta... ). The interior is incredibly rustic, with 400 pounds of exposed Douglas Fir tree beams that Oregon natives imported from the Northwest.

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4. Sunda 110 W Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

Toeing the line between swanky hotspot and sophisticated dining destination, this Asian fusion concept from Rockit Ranch Productions is a worthy choice for an undeniably hip meal out in River North. The menu offers some seriously interesting eats (duck breast kimchi, oxtail pot stickers) and includes sushi, sashimi, and plenty of wok dishes. The beer list is heavy on the Asian pours, and there are sake and speciality cocktails as well. Sunda's decor feels just as sleek as the menu with polished black bamboo and high wooden tables.

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5. III Forks Prime Steakhouse 180 N Field Blvd, Chicago, IL 60601 (Loop)

III Forks Steakhouse is a contemporary steakhouse nestled in Chicago’s Lakeshore East. With a lively bar/lounge area and beautiful views overlooking the park side—not to mention the array of over 3,000 fine wines from the spectacular glass wine room—this spot is perfect for special occasions or after-work drinks. The menu features USDA Prime beef and ocean-fresh seafood.

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6. BIG & little's 1034 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

Lakeview’s B&L is a cash-only, counter-serve American eatery that offers some of the best-bang-for-your-buck food. Its soft-shelled crab po’boy is unbelievably tender and covered in a crunchy batter. It’s served with a bed of lettuce, pickles, fried soft shelled crab, a squeeze of lime, and delicious chili aioli "special sauce.” Other notable menu items are the cajun fries (crispy with a pillow-y soft inside) and tacos (al pastor and Samurai fish). Service is fast, and you may even get a glimpse of co-owners “Big” and “Little” in the kitchen.

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7. Tack Room 1227 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608 (Pilsen)

Brought to us by the Dusek's team, this equestrian-themed piano lounge offers live performances Thursday through Saturday nights, creative bar fare like beef-fat fries, and fantastic cocktails like the mint julep mixed with George Dickel 9 year rye, house sugar, and mint.

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8. D'Noche 2710 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

This Latin spot in Logan Square serves up Cuban, Mexican and South American original recipes and plate presentations in a trendy, urban space. The atmosphere feels modern, definitely not hole-in-the-wall. It’s good for dates, romantic or casual dining, and even large groups. Happy hour is Monday through Thursday, from 3 to 6pm, with a $4.50 margarita deal. One of the most popular is “Oaxaquita" made with mezcal and chili powder with a chili and salt rim (different for sure, but perfect for the drink). Start with a plate of croquetas— the aioli like sauce is delicious and you’ll want to pour the rest of it onto your entree.

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9. Output Lounge & Sportsbar 1758 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (West Town)

This casual hangout features bar food with great wings and all the classic fried apps you could want for game day. A Chicago game—be it baseball, basketball, football or hockey—is always on one of the 16 TVs. Located just a few blocks from the United Center, die-hard sports fans flock to this friendly neighborhood spot. There’s a bevy of bar eats like burgers, salads, sandwiches and specialty wings with 10 types of house-made sauces, as well as bar drinks like 60 domestic, imported and craft beers in bottles and on draft. Hang out on the patio with the crowds in the warmer months, or reserve the space for private events.

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10. Seadog 1500 W Division, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

This snug, BYOB sushi bar (helmed by the steady hand of a Coast vet) has ample ambiance what with its candlelit reams of wood and exposed brick, and hidden, garden-lined patio, but they also sport inventive maki like the soft shell crab, strawberry, mango & daikon Tango. It has proven to be an awesome pairing with the cash you'll have left over from the whole BYOB thing.

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11. Lowcountry 3343 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

Lowcountry in Lakeview serves customizable seafood boils in a Southern and nautical atmosphere with a backyard feel. Buckets of beer are a cheap solution for a big group, and the short-and-sweet roster of specialty cocktails (margaritas and daiquiris), classics and house wine still offer plenty of other options. At 10pm, picnic tables start getting cleared off for beer pong and “bro country.” Downstairs, there are several private karaoke rooms that are available for rent. Experience all of this, but not without ordering a bag -- yes, a bag -- of shrimp, corn, potatoes, and sausage boiled with Cajun spices.

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12. Umami Burger Wicker Park 1480 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

LA-based burger chain Umami Burger has arrived in Chicago via Milwaukee Ave. Here, each patty is seared, topped with special Umami seasoning, and cooked to medium rare (plus, the toasted Portuguese-style bun features a branded "U" on top). Try the Manly Burger made with beer-cheddar, bacon lardons, and smoke-salt onion strings. Or, exclusive to the Chicago shop, the Calabrese Burger that digs into the city's love of sausage with a calabrese sausage patty, fondued truffle cheese, and house-pickled giardiniera. Sides include fries, tempura battered onion rings, four dipping sauces. The Un-Beef menu section provides a sushi-grade ahi tuna burger with daikon sprouts, crushed avocado and gingered carrots. But possibly best of all, the street art-tagged interior houses a full bar with a whiskey wall that goes 70 varieties deep, plus 20 beers on draft or in bottles.

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13. Twisted Spoke 501 N Ogden Ave, Chicago, IL 60642 (West Town)

In case the exterior motorcycle art and bike handlebars on the front door didn't tip you off, Twisted Spoke is a biker bar. The West Town hangout is beloved by Chicagoans of all stripes thanks to a massive selection of whiskey and beer, legendary Bloody Mary menu, rooftop garden, and sinister bites like barbecue nachos and fried jalapeño poppers. Of all the things that make Twisted Spoke stand out though, it's the weekly Saturday night "Smut and Eggs," when you can order breakfast food and watch porn. Um.

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14. Green Street Local 130 S Green St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Watching the big game and stuffing your face full of above-average bar fare need not be mutually exclusive. This sleek sports lounge is equipped with a multitude of TV screens (including a massive projection screen for special events), comfy booth seating, and equally comfy eats ranging from pizzas and a brick of baked pasta aptly named "Carbelicious" to calamari fried in a Captain Crunch cereal batter and an out-of-this-world skillet cookie.

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15. Donald's Famous Hot Dogs 2325 S Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60608 (Pilsen)

Donald’s is an affordable made-on-the-grill burger, chicken and hotdog joint in Pilsen. The beef is huge, juicy and extremely tasty, and side portions are hearty, especially the cheese fries, which actually taste like fresh potatoes. Donald’s also offers seafood and soups, but the most popular menu items are the gyros. There’s a small lot, so hang out or grab the goods to-go.

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16. MAD Social 1140 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

If you're looking for a restaurant to impress friends, get drinks with co-workers, or take a hot date, West Loop's Mad Social should be at the top of your list. The menu features a serious selection of cured meats and cheeses, so assemble your charcuterie plate and settle into one of the leather banquettes with a vodka cocktail. The real stunner is the burger, stacked high with crispy onion rings and served with deliciously greasy fries because honestly, why choose one side?

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17. Nini's Deli 543 N Noble St, Chicago, IL 60642

This casual, straightforward deli, run by a family local to the Noble Square area, features multi-ethnic sandwiches and cuisines. From empanadas to falafel, all of their menu items are thoughtfully prepared using healthy ingredients. They are well known for their Cubano sandwiches with surprise plantains in the middle.

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18. Fatso's Last Stand 2258 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Ukrainian Village)

This no frills, Ukrainian Village eatery pretty much has the perfect name, with a menu chock-full of items like fresh-cut fries, char dogs, and burgers. One of the staples here is the Double Fatso with cheese -- two perfectly grilled beef patties flanked by slices of American cheese, onion, and secret sauce -- a burger that can give In-N-Out a run for its money.

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19. M Burger 5 W Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60654 (Near North Side)

M Burger is a fast-casual burger mainstay from restaurant group behemoth Lettuce Entertain You. In any of its numerous locations across the state of Illinois, you can (and should) indulge in the Old Fashioned Cheeseburger -- lettuce, pickle, onion, tomato, secret sauce -- or the M Burger -- same, but plus bacon, minus tomato. Make it a double, you’re in the Midwest, after all. Get the crispy chicken sandwich or turkey burger if red meat isn’t your thing, but no matter what you order, get a side of fries and a signature shake (for sipping and for dipping your fries). Thank us later.

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20. Potbelly Sandwich Shop 924 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

Potbelly's an outstanding chain, for all the right reasons. The sandwiches are seriously stuffing, and the secret menu is even more baller.

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21. Potbelly's 601-617 N Hamilton St, Lincoln, IL 62656

Potbelly's is a sub sandwich franchise with several outposts in Chicago, serving up good vibes and great sandwiches, as per their motto. They use high quality meats, cheeses and vegetables in all of their menu items and deliver fast and friendly service. They offers breakfast as well, in addition to other lunch staples like soups and salads.

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22. Urban Belly 1400 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (Avondale)

Simple Asian street food is revolutionized with gourmet flavor combos, such as lamb & brandy dumplings and bay scallop soba.

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