In this age of hyperseasonal cooking and daily changing menus, it's become tricky to track down what used to be the go-to order for restaurant insiders: off-menu dishes, those things that are available only to those who know to ask. That doesn't mean they're gone, just that it's harder than ever to find food that the general public doesn't get to know about. It's out there, though.
Grub Street scoured the city looking for awesome dishes and drinks that, for whatever reason, aren't printed on menus: old favorites that chefs have retired but will make upon request; large-format feasts that only regulars know to ask for; kitchen-staff favorites that they don't want to bother making for everyone who walks in the door; and killer food that just might not fit in with the restaurant's regular menu.
So, check out this guide to some of the city's best secret eats, then, as always, take to the comments and let everyone know what your go-to off-menu order is as long as you don't mind spoiling the secret. And when you're doing all that, check out the off-menu selections in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philly, and San Francisco, too.
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Where to Get It:Craftbar
The staff says this $76 dish is for two people, but it could easily feed more: The preparation is always changing based on what's available (the kitchen breaks down whole Duroc pigs each week), but expect an awesome combination of pig preparations (roasted rack, braised shank, and housemade kielbasa here) paired with seasonal produce (baby eggplant, cippolini onions, sunchokes), and polenta. All finished with bacon jus and cracklins. (You can generally order this simply by walking in, but call ahead to guarantee its availability.)
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Wood-Fired Guinea Hen
Where to Get It:Locanda Verde
Every Tuesday, the kitchen gets a dozen guinea hens from Vermont, a number so small that they don't let the general public know about it. No wonder — we bet everyone would order it: The breast meat is roasted with foie-gras butter, and thigh bracioles are stuffed with mushroom, pine nut, shallot, and liver. The whole thing comes with potato purée, Swiss chard, and chanterelle mushrooms.
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Where to Get It:Peels
There's a regular burger on the menu at Peels, but leave that for the hoi polloi. What you want is the secret burger: Piedmontese beef slathered with homemade pimento cheese then topped with bacon, pickle jalapeño slaw, pickles, and lettuce. On the side: homemade tater tots.
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Charcoaled Tempura Leeks With Strained Buttermilk
Where to Get It:Atera
Granted, there isn't much chance for an "off-menu" dish at a restaurant with a nightly set menu, but people who order the vegetarian tasting are privy to dishes that meat-eaters won't get, like this fried-leek dish. The kitchen grills the leeks over charcoal before removing the blackened outer layers and using the ash in a tempura batter.
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Where to Get It:B&B Winepub
Chef de cuisine Paul Di Bari spent time in Kurt Gutenbrunner's Wallsé kitchen, so he knows his way around Austrian food: His super-crispy off-menu schnitzel is made with either pork or veal (depending on what's available), comes with seasonal vegetables (recently sugar snaps and roasted corn), and gets finished with lemon-caper buerre blanc.
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Where to Get It:The Brindle Room
New York has about a zillion pizza options, but one of the most interesting is a pie that's barely publicized: an off-menu pizza with a super-crispy crust that's built in a cast-iron skillet — dough is put in the pan to cook, with the toppings added as it goes; the whole thing is quickly finished in an oven — at an East Village restaurant otherwise known for its comfort-food classics.
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Where to Get It:Pegu Club
This stiff drink was once on the menu at Audrey Saunders's cocktail spot but has been swapped out for other seasonal options. No matter: It's as easy as ever to order. The drink itself is rhum agricole (a French-controlled type of rum made with sugar cane that's stronger than your usual Bacardi), green Chartreuse, and bitters. The garnish: a liqueur-filled lime cup that the bartenders set aflame for just a touch of tiki flair.
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Where to Get It:The Red Cat
The Chelsea bistro's over-the-top deep-fried bacon dish has been on and off the menu sporadically since its inception. And though it's currently off, the restaurant assures us it's always available.
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Where to Get It:Osteria Morini
This is way better than your usual Italian hoagie: Brunch diners at Michael White's Soho spot can get a sandwich of guanciale, a fried egg, and taleggio on a house-made bun. On the side: Pecorino potatoes that are kind of like the world's best hash browns.
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Where to Get It:Sauce
The Rivington Street restaurant with its very own butcher shop is, of course, going to specialize in meat. This dish is no exception: extra-thick bucatini is tossed with mint and pecorino cheese then topped with a dry-cured, 24-hour braised spare rib belly chop. Call ahead for this one — it takes a full day just to cook it.
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Where to Get It:Cadaques
Chef Guillaume Thivet doesn't list this Catalan seafood stew, but he always has it on hand for those who ask. And the combination of shrimp, mussels, market fish, lobster broth, fingerlings, and almonds is worth the inquiry.
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Wagyu Beef Bop
Where to Get It:Morimoto
The menu at Iron Chef Morimoto's Chelsea restuarant is enormous, but there's still a dish that only in-the-know diners can get: Fried rice and wagyu strip loin in a bowl so hot that it sears the beef at the table. Theatrical!
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Spicy Lamb Tacos
Where to Get It:The Dutch
The restaurant tells us the catalyst for this dish was the silly taco caddy they found. So, to get the actual dish in the restaurant, they started making tacos. In this case, it's lamb meat that's been spiced, smoked and cooked in beer, topped with radish, cilantro, cabbage, lime, queso fresco, pickled jalapeño, and carrot-tomatillo-garlic-chipotle salsa.
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Where to Get It:Edi and the Wolf
Call ahead, and for $100, four people can tuck into an entire roasted duck at this Austrian spot in the East Village. In addition to the duck, sides include pretzel brioche and braised red cabbage.
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Where to Get It:Eleven Madison Park
Of course, Edi and the Wolf isn't the only restaurant specializing in whole-roasted duck. The lavender-roasted version at Eleven Madison Park was one of the city's most famous dishes before the restaurant changed its menu format, and it's still around. If you still yearn for the old days, you can call ahead to request the dish, and the kitchen will be happy to accommodate.
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Where to Get It:Via Tribunali
In case you couldn't tell from this list, chefs like doing off-menu pizza. But how do you do that at a pizzeria? Via Tribunali's Nico Calzone — yes, that's his real last name — has this awesome four-point pie. The seasonal toppings (or is that fillings in this case?) change every day. Just ask for it next time you go.
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Where to Get It:Ardesia
There's no vodka in the Bloody Mary served at this westside wine bar. Instead, the staff infuses dry sherry with jalapeño and combines it with pimenton-spiked tomato juice. It's a lighter, fresher — and quite possibly, better — take on the classic hangover cure.
Where to Get It:Corkbuzz Wine Studio
Not only are these fritters unlisted, they aren't even available until 10 p.m. Even though the choux pastry beignets, mixed with cornmeal and fresh kernels, started as a special, the staff figured they're the ideal accompaniment to Champagne, so they stuck around.
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Where to Get It:Telepan
Yes, Bill Telepan's Upper West Side spot is famous for its refined, composed takes on Greenmarket produce. But it's not all buttoned up: Bar diners can get individual pizzas if they ask. The crispy dough is made with a fifteen-year old sourdough starter, and the toppings change regularly, but expect things such as veal Parmesan with ricotta; or a cheddar, spinach, and Benton's bacon option.
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Where to Get It:Nitehawk Cinema
We don't think they do this at the AMC in Times Square: At Williamsburg's ultra-hip Nitehawk movie theater, drinkers can get an off-menu Martinez (a combination of gin, sweet vermouth, and Maraschino liqueur that some say is the forefather of the mordern-day martini) that's been barrel-aged for six weeks.
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Where to Get It:Maialino
Leave it to Danny Meyer to figure out a way to accommodate gluten-free eaters at a restaurant specializing in pasta: Chef Nick Anderer's kitchen always has a few gluten-free pastas available (one of which is usually house-made) and can pair any of them with whatever sauces their customers might want.
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El Gringo Cocktail
Where to Get It:The Standard Grill
Another cocktail that got bumped from the menu but proved so popular that the bar can make it on demand: The Standard Grill's El Gringo is a combination of tequila, tarragon-infused triple sec, muddled jalapeño, housemade sour mix, and smoked sea salt.
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Pig's Head Banh Mi
Where to Get It:The Daily (at Public)
This take on a traditional Vietnamese sandwich used to be available only at brunch at Public, but chef Brad Farmerie has now made it available during the evening hours at the restaurant's adjacent cocktail bar.
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Where to Get It:Lowcountry
This Southern staple once graced the Lowcountry menu but was excised in favor of pimento-cheese-baked oysters. But fans of the original can still request it — as long as the kitchen has fresh oysters, chef Oliver Gift shall oblige in the name of some southern hospitality.
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Where to Get It:Dell'anima
There's plenty of pasta actually on the menu at this West Village favorite, but one that's always available is this rich combination of creamy ricotta and seasonal produce such as beets or eggplant (the latter of which is pictured here). Is it better than the regular offerings? Tough to say, but it certainly has a little more cachet.
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Sweet-Potato Fries With Harissa Aioli
Where to Get It:Marble Lane
Manuel Treviño's spot in the Dream Downtown actually has several off-menu options on any given night — steamed buns, lobster dumplings, and even desserts — but our favorite is still the simple side of crispy sweet-potato fries and the gently spiced dipping sauce.
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Where to Get It:Hill Country
Red chili and macaroni and cheese are both regularly available at the Flatiron barbecue joint, but what you probably don't know is that, upon request, the restaurant is more than willing to combine them into a single gonzo mash-up. (Now, if only there were a way to get some crushed-up Fritos on top ... )
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Where to Get It:Recette
Leave it to chef Jesse Schenker's hyperimaginative kitchen to update one of the world's most staid dishes: Instead of beef Wellington, the staff swaps in langoustine and fatty goose liver into a tiny puff pastry shell. The finishing touch is a sauce made with Japanese red curry.
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Linguine alla Herbe
Where to Get It:Rosemary's
The restaurant's worst-kept secret, its off-menu burger, proved so popular that Rosemary's is making it an official addition. But they've still got at least one secret dish: a plate of linguine and ricotta finished with a garden's worth of herbs from the trattoria's rooftop.