By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Forget the “secret menu” at In-N-Out Burger. It was fun and exclusive until the company posted descriptions of “animal style” burgers and other code-word items on its website a few years back.
In a number of local restaurants, however, clandestine meal options exist for those in the know. Some are dishes that customers routinely request after they appeared as a special or vanished from the menu because revisions were made.
Others were born on a whim by chefs who cooked for a table of close friends or fellow employees — and for reasons of culinary greatness, they stuck around discretely.
We hacked into several neighborhood establishments and discovered things you won’t see printed on their menus.
Carnitas Snack Shack
2632 University Ave., North Park
The unctuous “quadruple bypass” is a secret upgrade to the eatery’s top-selling “triple threat” sandwich. What you get is the addition of pork belly on top of an established stacking of pork loin schnitzel, pulled pork, bacon, pepperoncini relish and house aioli. Not recommended by doctors, it’s available also at the Shack’s Embarcadero location, 1004 N. Harbor Drive.
3794 30th St., North Park
The half-pound “devilmademedoit” burger garnished with pesto egg spread, Swiss cheese, bacon, garlic aioli and Sriracha sauce is still available upon request despite getting nudged off the menu this year to make room for new sandwiches. Chef Rich Sweeney created the burger in 2015 when testing different deviled egg recipes and while making sliders for a party. He threw a spoonful of the egg mixture onto a patty and recalls thinking at the time, “This could be dangerous in the best possible way.”
1236 University Ave., Hillcrest
An employee wanted to eat something healthy while working a shift last year, and head chef Lety Gonzalez came to the rescue by pairing the restaurant’s marinated chicken breast with jasmine rice and five-spice sauce. She now plates the meal for other employees and regular customers who ask for it, noting that the dish is “clean, easy and flavorful.” For those who want the sauce kicked up, Gonzalez tosses in fresh cilantro and julienne ginger.
Brazen BBQ Smokehouse & Bar
441 Washington St., Hillcrest
Pit master John Bracamonte doesn’t list Brazen’s “burnt ends” on the menu because the chunks of prized meat originate from only one point (the deckle) of a brisket. “We wouldn’t have enough to serve if we put them on our menu,” he said. But the kitchen is able to accommodate “a handful of requests” each day for the richly flavored ends, which are available in combination with other smoked meats or by themselves with bread and a choice of two side dishes.
The Haven Pizzeria
4051 Adams Ave., Kensington
It didn’t take long before customers started noticing a pizza topped with fresh penne pasta and four-cheese sauce flying around the dining room. Co-owner Kate Grimes says it became a thing six months ago after a patron requested it, given the establishment specializes in pizzas and also offers mac n’ cheese options. “It isn’t on the menu and we never thought about making it ourselves until the customer asked,” Grimes said of the 9-inch pie, which is finished off with house-made crouton crumbles.
Pete’s Seafood and Sandwich
3382 30th St., North Park
Southern New England transplants have spread the word that owner Pete DeCoste graciously accommodates their requests for Connecticut-style lobster rolls over the Maine lobster rolls that have become the spine of his business. Instead of chilled lobster mixed with a touch of mayo, the Connecticut alteration features lobster meat sautéed in butter and served hot. “I don’t say anything about it, yet we sell on average about a dozen per day,” DeCoste said. Both versions are served classically on grilled, buttered rolls.
4033 Goldfinch St., Mission Hills
The customer who asked the kitchen three years ago to make him vegan pasta primavera still comes in and orders it while sitting at the bar. “People around him started seeing the dish and requesting it,” said Victoria McGeath, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Mike. The off-menu dish features seasonal, organic vegetables tossed in a choice of linguini, orecchiette or house-made pappardelle pasta with garlic and extra virgin olive oil.
Et Voila French Bistro
3015 Adams Ave., North Park
Chef Vincent Viale’s blue crab cannelloni appear on the menu only Friday and Saturday nights. But they’re usually available all other days of the week with 24-hour notice “to make sure we have everything in the kitchen to make it the same way as on the weekends,” he said. Served in pairs with heirloom tomatoes on the outside, the delicate pasta tubes are filled with the crab and lobster béchamel sauce.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.