What is that, you might wonder, when you see a towering burger stacked with foie gras or a giant bowl of steamy broth that looks like nothing on the menu. What is she talking about, you’ll ask, when your friend requests a special sauce you’ve never seen listed. Everybody is not cooler than you, they’re not part of some special food illuminati, they just know what’s up: Seattle’s got secret menus and dishes and you have to know to ask for them. And some day, when you lick the first of your vegan sundae off your lips, you, too, can gleam with smugness as the person behind you says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
1. Vegan Sundae at Molly Moon’s
Known as “Molly’s Favorite Vegan,” this sundae doesn’t fit on the menus in the ice cream shop’s many stores, but they’ve always got it. No animals were harmed — or even milked — in the making of the vegan coconut ice cream, chocolate sauce topping, coconut whipped cream or candied hazelnuts.
2. Raindrops at Japonessa
Somewhere over the rainbow, where the menu is far behind you, dinner melts into dessert like lemon drops and you’ll find Japonessa’s raindrops. Wild Alaskan snow crab is wrapped in seared king salmon, then drizzled with coconut-mango sauce, teriyaki soy glaze,= and raspberry soy glaze. Then it’s sprinkled with a sweet and savory combo of toasted coconut flakes, scallions and tobiko.
3. Specials Menu at Rainier Restaurant
Don’t walk into this Vietnamese restaurant expecting to pick up the menu you’re handed and order like Anthony Bourdain did on his recent visit. That’s on a whole ‘nother menu, and you’ll have to know to ask for it. But once you do, there’s a world of cobra, alligator, deer and raw duck blood waiting for you.
4. Bone Soup at Phnom Penh
Despite a lengthy menu of Cambodian specialties, you won’t find this International District spot’s best-loved dish anywhere on the menu. You will find it on many tables: a wide bowl of broth, so rich it’s sticky, brimming with the intricate structure of a pork neck bone, complete with long-stewed meat still clinging.
5. Hot Oil at Delancey’s and Dino’s
Brandon Pettit’s Seattle area pizzerias pack in the crowds for pies loaded with all things house-made and high-quality. If you want to add a little spice, there’s the red peppers on the table and the occasional pickled pepper special. But those who really know what they’re doing will ask for the hot oil: a fiery orange sauce that livens up pizza, burns tongues and makes for a perfect dip for the crust.
6. Ultra Burger at Quinn’s
The lily has not only been guilded, but also encrusted with diamonds. The already hefty burger at Quinn’s can be ordered with the “ultra” off-menu upgrade, adding a three-ounce slab of seared foie gras, glazed oxtail, red onion marmalade and a fried egg to the usual brioche bun, eight-ounce patty, bacon and cheddar.
7. Pie Milkshakes at Luna Park Cafe
Yes, that’s an entire piece of pie that just went into the blender. Someone in the know at this quirky spot tucked almost under the West Seattle Bridge just ordered one of the pie milkshakes, made, literally, by putting a piece of pie in the blender. In the words of the general manager, they are “amazing and dangerous.” (If you ask nicely, they’ll also make ice cream beer stout floats, too.)
Naomi Tomky is The Gastrognome, a Seattle-based food and travel writer and the world’s most enthusiastic eater of everything.