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Badmaash Secret Menu Fried Butter Chicken Sandwich
Photograph: Courtesy Badmaash

The best secret menu items in Los Angeles

There’s more to delicious off-the-menu specials than your animal style fries at In-N-Out.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
Contributor
Jason Kessler
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Can restaurant elitists have anything anymore? In the age of third-party delivery and takeout, the secret’s out at most L.A. restaurants, where off-menu items that once flourished among regulars and those in the know have scooted right onto online menus for the entire dining public to see. 

Others, like Night + Market’s Thai fried chicken sandwich and Howlin’ Ray’s Luis-style chicken sando, have made their way onto the regular menu over the years, while some old-time favorites have reappeared, like Spago’s salmon pizza. We also don’t need to call out In-N-Out’s widely known “secret” menu items, as well as all the various viral TikTok fast food combos, for you to know how to hack your meal at a corporate restaurant chain. 

However, a few secret menu items still persist, for L.A. diners in the know and a restaurant’s regulars; there’s nothing like the rush of ordering a secret menu item, like the ever-changing pasta dishes at Horses on Sunset Boulevard, or their delicate sugar-spun bell jars brought out for birthdays. These dishes typically speak to a kitchen or bar team’s creative range, a chef’s personal tastes and regulars’ longtime favorites.

In honor of this, we’ve rounded up and ranked the remaining proud few—so read on for the top eight secret menu items at L.A. restaurants and bars.

  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • East Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

Uttering “Jitlada” produces a visceral reaction in many seasoned food-loving Angelenos, who might grab their throats as they mime breathing fire. The Thai restaurant might be known for its unapologetically spicy dishes, but owner Jazz Singsanong’s eponymous secret menu burger is actually on the tamer (but still spicy) side. You can only get one when Singsanong is there, and if the longtime Thai American restaurateur feels like making it. Featuring two beef patties studded with chilis and caramelized with garlic and palm sugar, the low-carb Jazz Burger comes on a lettuce wrap with Thai basil, red onion and tomatoes, plus a drizzle of housemade Thousand Island dressing.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Century City
  • price 2 of 4

Crispy skirt! Crispy skirt! As unhinged as these words might sound to some, it’s the only way to respond to this Westfield Century City ramenya’s off-menu snack gyoza. Merged together in a dumpling skirt, Ramen Nagi’s gyoza come to your table fused in a thin batter connecting all the fried dumplings in the pan—a wonderfully crispy amalgamation that shatters with each bite dipped in soy sauce and vinegar. They’re tiny, crunchy and, true to their name, make the perfect snack while you’re waiting for a steaming hot bowl of ramen. Unlike other appetizers, you won’t find the snack gyoza on the menu, so ask your server if it’s available that day.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Downtown Historic Core
  • price 2 of 4

Though no longer listed on the regular menu, you can still order Bar Amá’s signature Tex-Mex tacos, which L.A. fine-dining chef Josef Centeno gives a gourmet flourish with high-quality meat and vegetarian fillings like chicken, beef picadillo, chorizo, potato and shrimp. What makes for a puffy taco, you might ask? They’re deep-fried corn tortillas, which puff up as the masa expands, creating a hollow clamshell shape that’s stuffed with your choice of filling, red salsa, either lettuce or cabbage and a sprinkle of cheese. Be sure to ask your server what’s available, since not every type of puffy taco is regularly available at this Downtown cantina.

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Downtown Historic Core
  • price 2 of 4

You can’t go wrong ordering the regular menu at this family-run modern Indian restaurant with locations Downtown and on Fairfax, where chef Pawan Mahendro’s recipes painstakingly incorporate spice blends made from scratch. However, if you’re looking to switch things up a bit on your next visit, sons Arjun and Nakul have brought a few off-menu twists, including Badmaash’s butter chicken sandwich. Featuring ultra-crispy fried chicken dipped in a creamy butter chicken sauce and showered with thinly sliced cucumbers, this secret menu delight manages to feel saucy, crunchy and fresh all in the same bite.

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  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Downtown Fashion District
  • price 2 of 4

Normally, this unapologetically spicy Thai takeout spot in Downtown L.A. doesn’t allow for substitutions or add-ons, with one off-menu exception: the American fried rice, which head chef Wedchayan “Deau” Arpapornnopparat ate while growing up in Bangkok. Made with ketchup and topped with fried egg, cilantro and a slice of lime, Holy Basil’s American fried rice can be customized with moo krob (crispy pork), fried chicken or additional fried eggs. It can only be ordered in-person at Holy Basil’s Santee Passage stall, but the wait is worth it for this uniquely sweet and savory rich dish.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • West Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

For regulars at Gracias Madre, the taste and aroma of lime and orange peel pervade this mind-boggingly clear off-menu margarita, which can be made with mezcal upon request. The crystal-clear drink comes courtesy of bar director Maxwell Reis's quarantine tinkering efforts with the Spinzall, the first centrifuge designed for culinary use. To make it, Reis takes the bar's leftover lime juice and rinds each day and spins it down to make the clear lime syrup in a labor-intensive, hourslong process that cuts down on the restaurant's food waste and results in a fragrant, citrus-y and refreshing sweet drink.

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  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Westside
  • price 1 of 4

For the rare days when the Hickory Burger at this no-frills West L.A. institution just doesn’t feel right, spring for the restaurant’s off-menu tuna melt, a straightforward rendition of cheese (cheddar or Swiss) and tuna salad on griddled bread, with optional grilled onions sandwiched in between. For those who eschew tuna salad (or maybe just mayonnaise), Apple Pan’s patty melt, made with ground beef patties and cheese, is equally delicious, particularly with a side of soda served out of the pie and burger shop’s retro paper cones.

  • Restaurants
  • Delis
  • Fairfax District
  • price 2 of 4

This iconic Jewish deli on Fairfax is famous for its matzo balls, pastrami sandwiches and staying open for 24 hours, but you likely didn’t know about its deep-fried kreplach, an off-menu special that longtime patrons might still remember from the menu’s previous iterations. Fried until crisp and stuffed with brisket, these Jewish dumplings are a flaky, meaty indulgence worth ordering any time of day. (You can also add them to your matzo ball soup.)

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