Why you should care

Because ordering off-menu is where it’s at — and it just got a whole lot easier.

“Uh … can I have a Quesarito?” I asked, obvious hesitation in my voice, to the line chef at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Palo Alto, California, on a recent Friday evening. Without a blink, she proceeded to make the quesadilla-burrito mash-up of deliciousness. “I’m going to have to write that down,” said the gentleman ahead of me in line, clearly intrigued by my unconventional order. About 17 million calories later, I had successfully placed and devoured my first order from a secret menu — and man, was it good.

Who knew about the Cotton Candy Frappuccino (eww or yum?) or the Nutella Drink?

OK, so these secret menus at a host of popular restaurants aren’t so secret anymore. In fact, the Chipotle chef told me a lot of people order the off-the-menu Quesarito, a burrito made with a quesadilla shell. I made my discovery thanks to #HackTheMenu, a crowdsourced website full of secret menus from big-chain eateries like Burger King, Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Subway, Panera Bread and In-N-Out.

I mean, we all knew you could order a soy, double-shot Caramel Macchiato, extra-hot and hold-the-whip at Starbucks — but who knew about their Cotton Candy Frappuccino (eww or yum?) or the Nutella Drink? All is revealed online.

#HackTheMenu’s Kiley Libuit says he and his San Francisco Bay Area-based co-founders started creating their own secret menu items growing up. For example, the “suicide drink,” as they called it, was a drink consisting of five or six different flavors blended together from a soda fountain. Initially they shared these menu items with friends only, but then, Libuit explains, “It kind of grew into: ‘Oh, this is cool, you know, we should share this with more people.’ ”

The site is just over a year-and-a-half old and has a growing list of items that the co-founders gather by asking workers at fast-food restaurants, as well as crowdsourcing submissions from everyday foodies. Libuit says #HackTheMenu has grown through word-of-mouth. In fact, just search Twitter for the hashtag phrase #HackTheMenu and there are numerous tweets about ordering something off-menu. (A Vancouver-based tweeter claims if you order a “Puppuccino” at Starbucks, you’ll get “a cup of whipped cream for your dog.”) Be aware, however, that the menu prices on the site aren’t always reliable, since prices vary by region and can fluctuate franchise to franchise or over time.

Libuit says secret menus have become really mainstream these days, so most restaurant workers have customers who order a secret menu item on a daily basis. It’s a win-win for restaurants, since secret menus add to the novelty and buzz surrounding a brand — as well as free publicity in a world where everyone tweets and Instagrams about what they’re eating. In-N-Out has embraced the trend with a “not-so-secret menu” section of its website, while Starbucks has reportedly promoted a secret menu item on social media.

“I think it brings a little more excitement to fast food,” says Libuit, “and being able to personalize and do something different that not most other people know about — it’s kind of cool.”

So the next time you find yourself at In-N-Out, skip the regular offering and ask for the 3 x 3 Burger or Animal Style Fries. You might like it better than what you (and thousands of others) have been ordering for years. And who knows? It could instantly boost your street cred.

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