In the world of fast food, innovativeness is key to standing out. For a number of leading fast food chains in North America today, the ingredients of their menus are so interchangeable that many restaurants could literally exchange names and the stampedes of their daily visitors would remain unfazed. So important is the day-after-day creative upkeep that even fast food chains already known for their creativity and over-the-top advertising campaigns (Burger King’s plastic-faced mascot and Wendy’s quirky tweet-enabled savagery definitely withstanding) need to keep revamping their menus to satisfy the palette of the ever-demanding 21st-century consumer. Lost in the noise of this hullabaloo to stay status quo, however, is a little-known (at least to the average consumer) advertising trick that is more word-of-mouth than over-the-top advertising campaign: Secret Menus. That’s right. Mish-mashing flagship ingredients and multiplying their sizes is not a new trick in the book of wise and quirky fast-food marketing, but it’s definitely catching on like fire (Five cheese slices instead of one? McDonald’s has your back. Ten different layers of meat instead of one? Arby’s Meat Mountain says yes. Would you like a bizarre cotton candy-flavored frapuccino? Starbucks at your service!) But don’t be too quick to dismiss them as fads to appeal to children’s creative taste buds (both actual children and the inner ones), because they’re turning out to be rather mainstream. In this article, we discuss ten of the most popular secret kid menu items that you, a full-grown adult, would definitely enjoy as much as them.
10. In-n-Out’s Grilled Cheese
In-N-Out is the odd-one-out here because it doesn’t care about the secrecy of its secret menu. In fact, its website even includes a dedicated page called the ‘Not-So-Secret’ Menu, where it confesses that its secret menu is just a number of dishes its loyal patrons like to customize for themselves and that it’s ‘All about making the customers happy.’ I guess the cynic in me spoke too soon. In any case, its [now] classic grilled cheese sandwich is one of its chief secrets, and kids around the continent relish the dish’s two slices of melted American cheese, hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, spread with or without onions on a freshly baked bun. But if this soft-toasted delicacy wasn’t enticing enough to you or your little one, then its lesser popular meaty secrets; including the ‘3×3’ and ‘4×4’ (4 patties and 4 cheese slices) burgers, are bound to draw in the salivating kid inside us. Another tweak, though not in its secret menu, is that In-n-Out will split items at no additional cost if there are two of you hankering for its not-so-secret grilled cheese.
9. Arby’s Meat Mountain
One of the few items on this list that can make it to a fast-food connoisseur’s hall of fame (given that most are beverages), Arby’s Meat Mountain is a legendary behemoth of a burger. Though it is widely known in the inner circles of high schoolers looking for double dares, or teenagers hankering for a meal’s worth of bravado, the burger is so densely packed with roasted protein that even the most seasoned of bodybuilders will find themselves gawking at its length. The boulder stops at a whopping eleven layers of meat, but rumor has it that the faces behind Arby’s wouldn’t have minded a couple more (Go big, go humongous, or go home, I guess.) Even Arby’s secret menu is a very poorly kept secret, and its official website pridefully explains, “Stacked ridiculously high with almost all the meats. Two chicken tenders, slices of roast turkey, pit-smoked ham, corned beef, 13-hour smoked brisket, USDA-choice Angus steak, roast beef, and pepper bacon. There’s also cheddar and swiss cheese somewhere in there.”
While the Meat Mountain continues to draw in customers privy to the burger franchise’s secrets, its patrons also consider the burger to be a little too dry, the secret Arby’s sauce conspicuous by its absence, and far too many fanatics are limited both by their grip strength and their maximum jaw range of motion. But like all marathons that deserve at least an attempt, the Meat Mountain is worth the effort, if not the stares it’ll draw sitting on your tray.
8. Smashburger’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Shake
Though the apple/burger chain of Colorado’s eye is known more for its trademark fresh burgers and its eponymous technique of smashing meatballs into fine and crispy patties, Smashburger’s secret menu holds secrets not-so-smashburger. Indeed, the peanut butter and chocolate shake at Smashburger is a word-of-mouth phenomenon in many pockets across USA and Canada, and your kid is bound to be taken by the Reese’s peanut butter cup expertly incarnated in the form of ice-cream-in-a-cup. The delectable taste of this milkshake is thwarted only by its appearance, with a beautiful dollop of soft-serve ice cream sitting on a mouthwatering mixture of thick milk, Reese’s peanut butter sauce, and a sinful helping of vanilla. The more adventurous of Smashburger customers will cherish a peanut-butter-and-jelly rendition of this item, available for the same price but with the added benefit of the all-around goodness of a classic PB&J in delicious liquid form. Though definitely the most popular item on its secret menu, Smashburger also has an offering of equally quirky secret items, such as the Sin City Smashburger (its beef, smoked bacon, fried egg, and American cheese recipe is straight from the annals of Las Vegas’ burger delis itself) and the slightly more unconventional Fido Style Smashburger, made for hungry dogs (no, that isn’t a euphemism) that enjoy quarter-pound patties, served bite-sized for canine nibblers all over. But there’s another secret menu item that we think deserves special mention, coming right up.
7. Smashburger’s Cheese Patty Melt
Grilled Cheese is doing the rounds on this list – and rightly so, given its classic Americanness, and the nostalgic love the dish has in the hearts of anyone that’s attended high school and dined in its cafeterias. But while taking the bread out of a grilled cheese sandwich is sacrilege, our item here is at the sweet spot between what is a classic burger and a grilled cheese sandwich, the effortlessly delicious cheese patty melt. With golden brown onions as its secret ingredient, rye bread is at the center of this toothsome secret item, and the oozing, heavenly melted cheese between the crunchy toasted slices beckons for consumption, target consumer or not. An added bonus is that its American cheese can just as well be substituted with Swiss, Cheddar, or Pepper jack upon request – mixing and matching, also, is allowed. All in all, Smashburger’s cheesy invitation for anyone that enjoys (relatively) health(ier) bread choices with indulgent doses of cheese is difficult to not indulge.
6. Jamba Juice’s Sour Patch Kids Smoothie
Created based on the idea that healthy drinking starts locally, Jamba Juice has come a long way from being a tiny healthy juice stand in ‘90s San Luis Obispo, California. Today, cherished by children and adults all over for their exquisite and fresh taste, Jamba Juice’s secret menu items mash together classic ingredients and play around with trademark flavors so masterfully that some are just as popular as its flagship products. An example is the Sour Patch Kids smoothie – and though it is named after the sour-to-sweet soft candy, its flavor is concocted by fruits and the native ingredients of its many other items. The deeply sour beginning of every sip of the smoothie comes from 12 ounces of lemonade mixed with one scoop each of lime sherbet, the sour-sweet middle ground comes in the form of a scoop of orange sherbet, elegantly tying together the aftertaste of sweetness, which includes a scoop each of pineapple sherbet, raspberry sherbet, and one whole scoop of freshly ground blueberries. Though available in most Jamba Juice locations, branches not privy to the retailer’s secrets would gladly put together a Sour Patch Kids smoothie if provided the recipe.
5. Chipotle’s Two Taco Kit
The Mexican fast-food chain is one of the first chains of fast casual dining establishments in North America. Renowned for its rapid service of full healthy meals that integrate characteristic Mexican ingredients with enough a touch of North Americanness to make it an excellent addition to our fast-food habitat, Chipotle is famous too, albeit discreetly so, for its secret menu items. Not one to lag behind, the fast-food chain has a luscious selection of Mexican favorites: The Quesarito (Super Burrito), Burritodilla (Quesadilla with more toppings than just cheese), and a taco salad are just a few of its secret offerings. Though these large and filling dishes are obviously the first to be at the center of any hungry adult’s attention, a lesser known secret dish that is popular amongst kids is Chipotle’s Two Taco kit. While its two crisp taco shells allow for three customizable fillings along with kid-sized chips, what sets the two-taco kit apart are its easy-to-choose options (steak, your favorite veggies, and cheese), its low-calorie count (Most of Chipotle’s mainstream products are notorious for being highly calorific) and its obvious appeal to younger customers. As always with Chipotle, this dish is a result of the restaurant’s ingenious ability to bring together healthy food and obviously lesser-than-healthy options, resulting in a delicious package (or in this case, shells) that will remain in the memory of your taste buds for days to come. And for those of us that prefer sustainable choices, Chipotle is probably one of the most environmentally friendly franchises on this list.
4. True Food Kitchen’s Almond Butter, Apple, and Banana Sandwich
Made in the kitchens of one of the world’s most health-conscious franchises, this secret sandwich is music to the ears of anyone looking to go healthy, and its nutritional information (loaded with protein, healthy fats, and negligible sugars) is bound to attract the health-conscious parent edging their children off the abundance of unhealthfulness on restaurant and grocery shelves today. Pioneered by a doctor that wants to gear the world’s stomachs towards anti-inflammatory food (oh, and a major equity of it is owned by Oprah Winfrey, the queen of media herself), True Food Kitchen’s secret menu is as much a secret as is the restaurant itself. But don’t let its obscurity fool you, its items are anything but. Indeed, the secret dish’s deliciously fruity flavors come tucked between dollops of healthy almond butter, and is sandwiched between rye bread, a superfood in its own right (Gluten-free? Check. Low calories? Check. Still whole grain? You bet.) Served with carrot sticks and a side of tzatziki dip, the meal is a complete entrée, and adults too will find that this healthy alternative is a welcome addition to their vegetarian palette, especially if they cherish varying and colorful flavors, and impeccable healthiness to boot.
3. Moe’s Southwest Grill’s Moo Moo Mr. Cow
Small-time or smack-dab at the center of the fast-food map, every restaurant seems to enjoy a menu of finger-licking items that are off their grid. Moe’s Southwest Grill, an 18-year old Georgian goldmine of amazing Mexican fast food, is no exception. Surpassing even Chipotle on the 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend survey, this franchise is home to some of the tastiest, healthiest, and most weirdly named fast Mexican food ever. The ‘Moo Moo Mr. Cow’ is where kids, beans, and delicious meat meet to make a choose-your-own fiesta, but don’t feel excluded. The burrito is sizeable enough to satisfy the appetites of foodies of all ages, and it comes with free chips, salsa, a cookie, and a little drink. The options that grace this dish from burrito heaven include 100% ground grass-fed beef, all-natural adobo chicken, mushrooms, bell peppers, lettuce, black beans, pico de gallo, and delicious cheese, all rolled in a flour tortilla. Though this delightful fast food chain (The acronym Moe’s actually stands for Musicians, Outlaws, and Entertainers), co-owned by Raving Brands, struggled to blossom during its initial years, the franchise is now 5,000-stores strong and has locations in Turkey, Russia, Costa Rica, and even Jamaica.
2. McDonald’s Grilled Cheese
Who would’ve thought it? The world’s most famous burger chain also indulges the smaller pleasures of life, but only on the sly, of course. This item is by no means a regular’s preferred choice, but the secret grilled cheese burger makes dining in McDonald’s innocent and approachable again, before pink slime and foot lettuce forever corrupted how people see fast food in general. Another variant of the original grilled cheese sandwich, McDonald’s offering is stacked inside grilled hamburger buns and includes two wholesome slices of good old American cheese. Though not the most popular secret menu item, the price of the grilled cheese (Just $0.99 USD) makes it a tempting choice for any vegetarian on a budget. With more creative rivals like Hash Brown McMuffin, Land, Sea, and Air Burger, and the Big McChicken, the Grilled Cheese is low-hanging fruit for the creators behind McDonald’s secret menu – but we’re not complaining. If anything, we’re loving it.
1. Jamba Juice’s Skittles Smoothie
Jamba Juice’s covert cooperation with leading candy brands has been benefitting kids in love with the juice retailer for years now, and we insist that you join the party. The Skittles Smoothie is the crowning jewel of its secret menu, a well-deserved spot given that it includes mostly fresh fruits and flavors, and contrary to popular belief, not ground skittles themselves. Though most locations know of the item, any Jamba Juicer would be happy to whip together the smoothie if given the lip-smacking recipe. 12 ounces of Lemonade, combined with one scoop each of lime sherbet, frozen yogurt, and one scoop of strawberries make this red-colored delicacy the bestseller that it is. Compared to its more weirdly named secret counterparts, including Berry Depressing, Blue-Topia, and Dirty Orgasm (Peach, Pineapple, Orange, and Strawberry), the Skittles Smoothie is not only the tastier option, but it is also an overall much safer phrase to use around children. (Seriously, Dirty Orgasm? Someone in the Jamba Juice’s smoothie-naming department deserves a demotion.) And there it is: 10 of our favorite secret kids’ menu items that we’re sure you’ll enjoy as much as we do. As is obvious to anybody with a keen eye and a growling stomach, many of these items are under the ‘kids’ label only for namesake. With delicious ingredients, larger-than-average portions, and the allure of their off-the-menu charm, we invite you to shrug off all limitations and cherish the deliciousness, because these secret menu items unite us all in the pursuit of delicious food: age, culture, and secrecy notwithstanding.