Here, Eat This

The Secret Menu Items of Houston Restaurants

Don’t you just hate it when an old favorite disappears from the menu? Here’s a secret: It might not be unavailable. Even after some dishes are taken off the menu, certain restaurants know that their loyal customers are still going to ask about them, and keep what they need on hand to make them.

There are also special dishes the restaurants will make — but only if you ask. Here’s a list of the unique items available only to those in the know.

Big Eyed Fish: Sometimes, customers just love some dishes so much that restaurants have to keep them around. At Big Eyed Fish, the frequently requested secret menu items are the seared venison with risotto, citrus side salad and port reduction and the jumbo lump crab stuffed shrimp, which comes with steamed rice, veggies and smoked tomato sauce. 

Churrasco’s: A reader says that the Shepherd location always seems to have chocolate tres leches available — even if it’s not on the dessert menu. Chef David Cordúa says to call and request it in advance to ensure it's available. Cordúa says that for the recent (sad) Texans game, the restaurants made more than 1,000 pieces of chocolate tres leches. 

Chuy’s: Thanks to the reader who tipped us off to the secret "Chuy-Gooey Dip." It’s essentially a seven-layer dip — a bowl full of queso, refried beans, jalapeños, pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream.

Damian's: If you’ve been a longtime customer, you might recall this restaurant's 16-ounce whopper of a veal chop, stuffed with prosciutto and fontina cheese and topped with mushroom marsala. It’s called veal chop valdostana and it’s still available for those who ask. The other secret dish here is the fettucini con salmone fumicato, pasta tossed with spinach capers and thin slices of smoked salmon

The Durham House: For the rest of the cool season, this new Heights restaurant will have an off-the-menu entrée that showcases local poultry. It comes with a side order, too. 

El Real Tex-Mex: When Robb Walsh’s The Chili Cookbook came out, he mentioned to me during an interview that a bowl of chili con carne was on the original menu but it was taken off because it wasn’t selling. Of course, El Real still needs chili for its dishes, so it’s not as if it disappeared. Drop in for a bowlful, or do what we did and get a quart to go. That, topped with a dollop of El Real’s chili con queso, is quite a treat. Add a bagful of the house-made tortilla chips for only $2. Also by request only: El Real’s luxurious Crab & Avocado Enchiladas, topped with big lumps of crab meat and fresh, creamy avocado slices.

Happy Fatz: The longtime gourmet hot dog and dessert specialty shop in the Heights has several secret menu items. Co-owner Rebecca Sanders said, "We constantly have new customers come in for the first time and ask for one of the following items which was suggested to them by their friends or family." For breakfast, ask about the Sun Shiner taco and the Happy Fatz Street taco. For lunch, check out The Mother Clucker (a combination of The Clucker and Texas Chili dogs, with hash browns, bacon, grilled onion, over-easy egg and chili), the tomato caprese panini, the mysterious-sounding Blue Gargoyle (a hot dog with jalapeños, gorgonzola and bacon) and the Challah Bread Adult Grilled Cheese.

Hubbell & Hudson Bistro: The bistro’s ambitious dry-aged premium beef program is no secret. However, the under-the-radar fact is that customers who ask can buy raw steaks to take home and cook themselves. Individual steaks are vacuum-sealed for easy handling and storage.

Kata Robata: No one ever thinks to order miso soup at Kata Robata — mainly because it’s not on the menu. The restaurant does have it, though and makes it fresh daily. Other off-the-menu treats include agadashi tofu and edamame.

Kenny & Ziggy’s: When asked about secret menu items, owner Ziggy Gruber joked, “The deli is kind of like When Harry Met Sally: Everyone is always making their own off-the-menu special.” That said, it does indeed have one, very specific secret menu item that everyone should know. It’s called The Buddy Boone and is essentially a Reuben that uses two potato pancakes as the “bread.” It’s named for a policeman who’s been a longtime regular customer. According to Gruber, Boone likes to add Cholula sauce to his namesake “sandwich” for a little extra kick.

Mark’s American Cuisine: This fine-dining hallmark has several secret dishes. There a tomato caprese salad with burrata; a crab sampler that has three different kinds of crab, each with its own sauce; and a bistro-style fish of the day. Have a sweet tooth? In that case, be sure to ask for the peanut butter ice cream sundae. It includes chocolate and vanilla ice cream, homemade peanut butter candies, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

Ninja Ramen: At this popular ramen bar with a fine selection of Japanese whiskies, the secret isn't food — it's drinks. Specifically, ask for the Anvil Shot Special, a $1 tribute to Anvil Bar & Refuge. If you're brave, ask for the "Firefighter Shot." Owner Christopher Huang won't say exactly what it is, but does say, "It's a fun, interactive shot that involves all the fellow customers at the bar." Good luck on that one! 

Quattro at Four Seasons Houston: The tortilla soup usually makes an appearance only for Sunday brunch, but guess what? It’s available every day for those who know to ask for it.

Rainbow Lodge: Sometimes these items are on the menu, but even when they aren’t, but the kitchen will still make them for you! These include the pesto grilled shrimp on garlic toast with caper butter, and buffalo chili. Owner Donette Hansen said, “It’s not on the menu, but everyone knows we have the chili when it’s cold.” She also says that some customers order the rosemary and garlic grilled lollipop lamb chop as an off-the-menu appetizer and the buffalo tenderloin at lunch.

RDG + Bar Annie: A reader tipped us off and we called to verify: Robert Del Grande’s restaurant is happy to make its rabbit enchiladas for customers, provided all the ingredients are available that day.
Sud Italia: General manager and co-owner Shanon Scott says that there are special dishes the restaurant gets specific requests for from Italians — but of course these are available to anyone who asks! One example is the orecchiette alla barese. It's orecchiette pasta with rapini, anchovies and olive oil. Another is a Pugliese-style risotto called riso cozze e patate that includes rice with potatoes and mussels. Also, Sud Italia serves fried, fresh sardines upon request. Scott says, “These are all dishes that you will not find anywhere in Houston.”

Roegels Barbecue Co.
: Pitmaster Russell Roegels says that on most weekdays, he usually has something special on the smoker. Last week, he was smoking whole pigs' heads, and at other times, smoked pork belly is there for those who know to ask. 
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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook