Giving the game away

Boulder’s best kept secret menu items and how to score them

Chef's Choice Burger at Blackbelly. Credit: Colin Wrenn

Ah, to relish in the illicit. There’s something so delightfully indulgent about treats enjoyed on the sly. Luckily, plenty of Boulder restaurants have items that are meant especially for those in the know. Here’s a treasure map of those clandestine goodies intended to be ordered in hushed tones and only when the coast is clear.   

Chef’s Choice Burger @ Blackbelly

1606 Conestoga St., #3

There’s no wrong time of day to visit Blackbelly. The marketplace and restaurant from Chef Hosea Rosenberg has continued to establish itself as one of the Front Range’s truly great sources for all things meat.

And while it’s no secret the breakfast burritos served on the market side are one of the pillars of any properly started morning, the Chef’s Choice burger has remained a more closely guarded treasure.

The burger, available only at dinner time, takes the typical brioche-bound model and tops it with a fried egg and a healthy helping of red pepper jelly. It’s an expectedly messy affair, with plenty of yolk pleasantly oozing from atop the burger’s standard issue of Tillamook cheddar. A substantial helping of bacon seals the deal, making the plate a covert detour into decadence amid the more decidedly refined offerings like the braised Buckner lamb shank or the saffron bucatini.

“It’s the best treat ever, and the chefs always make that for themselves,” says Lauren Feder Rosenberg, Blackbelly’s director of marketing.

Yuca Fritters. Credit: Colin Wrenn

Yuca Fritters @ Pollo Tico
1401 Pearl St.

Chef Byron Gomez worked at Eleven Madison Park, competed on season 18 of Top Chef and most recently graced Avanti Boulder with a Costa Rican chicken joint by the name of Pollo Tico. Gomez grew up in Costa Rica before relocating to New York where he had a meteoric rise across the city’s Michelin scene.

While Pollo Tico’s bread and butter is chicken — be it a half-bird or the phenomenal chicken sandwich — Gomez and company are offering yuca fritters, but only during happy hour Monday through Friday between 2 and 6 p.m.

“This is a fried delight. It’s crispy on the outside due to the organic starch in the Costa Rican root vegetable of yuca,” Gomez says. “It is made by folding sofrito vegetables and is served with our sweet and tangy salsa de tamarindo. Think of it as a hush puppy with the benefits of being gluten free, dairy free and vegan,” says Gomez.

The fritters are downright addictive and segue nicely into either the arroz con pollo or the Tico tacos.

The Shottino. Credit: Colin Wrenn

The Shottino @ Amante Uptown

4580 Broadway

For close to two decades, Amante Coffee has been guilty of putting many peps in many steps. It exclusively sources its coffee from a third-generation coffee roaster in Northern Italy and maintains an aura of the Old World, particularly at its standalone location in north Boulder. 

All the classics, including lattes, mochas, Americanos and cappuccinos, are done with particular panache. But sometimes, when folks are in need of something a little more high octane, they can call upon the Shottino. 

Arriving as what may be the most elegant single sip in all of town, the Shottino layers equal parts Amaretto, espresso and heavy cream. It’s a good uplift for the afternoon, with a few acting as a solid launchpad for a happy hour well spent. 

Word to the wise: The Shottino is only available at the uptown location. When the Walnut location joined the Galvanize workspace, it was only licensed to sell wine and beer, though it’s still worth visiting, boasting specials like a cold brew with tiramisu foam. 

Super Taco. Credit: Colin Wrenn

Super Taco @ Illegal Pete’s

1447 Pearl St.

1124 13th St. 

It would almost be inappropriate if the rabble rousing Illegal Pete’s didn’t have an item based on the presumption that customers “know a guy.” 

The super taco is just such an item. Taking the Crunch Wrap approach, it fuses a soft and hard taco shell with a choice of either guacamole or queso. From there guests are invited to go wild with toppings that include Mexican Coke carnitas, grilled chicken, shredded cheese, black olives, diced onions, tomatillo verde and green chile. 

It’s a robust affair and is best enjoyed with any one of the margaritas, all of which also pack thorough punch.

Chez Cheese and Scott’s Tots @ Ruthie’s Boardwalk Social

1397 Pearl St.

Chez Cheese. Credit: Colin Wrenn

Directly in front of the Boulder County Historic Court House sits one on the town’s great windows into nostalgia. Ruthie’s Boardwalk Social serves an array of grilled cheese sandwiches, the kind your mom used to make, straight from a walk-up window.

There’s The Classic, with American white cheese and mayo, and there’s The Mahalo, with smoked gouda, white cheddar, ham and grilled pineapple. Even at its most far out, the restaurant knows keeping it simple works. The grilled cheese sandwich might be the culinary world’s most quintessential “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

So even the secret items don’t stray too far from the classic mold. The Chez Cheese comes with ham and Swiss, and the Scott’s Tots arrives with American and cheddar cheeses, smashed tater tots and a choice of dipping sauce, the latter being one of the best things the house serves.

With no seating, this is probably the best spot on the list for whispering an order to the secluded ears of whoever will shortly thereafter pass you the goods. 

Cinnamon Roll Pancake @ Snooze

1617 Pearl St.

Of all the items on this list, this one may be the least under wraps. All it takes is a quick scan of any packed brunch at Snooze and guests are sure to find a table with the Cinnamon Roll Pancake sitting proudly as its centerpiece.

Cinnamon Roll Pancake. Credit: Colin Wrenn

While the dish — a stack of the fluffiest white chocolate chip-laced buttermilk pancakes topped with vanilla crème, caramel, cinnamon butter and candied pecan — isn’t listed on the menu, servers have been known to openly offer the information, unabashedly admitting that the mammoth dessert-for-breakfast is one of the eatery’s true triumphs. 

First opened in 2006 by brothers Jon and Adam Schlegel, Snooze has since grown to boast nearly 60 stores across the country. Its success should come as no surprise, seeing as the brothers seem to have distilled the great things about brunch down to their absolute essence. There are pancake flights, kimchi-laced bloody Marys, a seemingly endless array of benedicts and myriad mimosas with house bubbles.

Snooze has done a good job of building a menu that has something for everyone. But anyone with good sense should make this part of a balanced breakfast, if only just to have one, or maybe two, shared bites.

Philly Cheese Steak and Pork Belly Tacos  @ T/aco

1117 Walnut St.

Philly Cheese Steak. Courtesy: T/aco

At most places, simply uttering the code words to an attentive server will likely get folks the secret dish they so desire. T/aco has opted for a slightly more discrete approach.

“At T/aco we have a secret menu that is accessible through QR codes hidden throughout the restaurant,” says managing partner Peter Waters. Even without the secret items, there’s plenty to love at the bustling downtown joint. But the Philly cheese steak taco, with sautéed white onion, grilled skirt steak, melted cheese, tomatoes, chipotle mayo and cilantro, and the Korean pork belly taco, with Korean pepper sauce, apple cider vinegar cabbage, pickled red onions, honey and cilantro, currently both sit near the top of the totem pole for not only best tacos in the place, but some of the best morsels in town.

Waters says the secret menu often evolves, keeping seekers on their toes. And while there’s plenty of joy to be found in the novelty of stealth, the tacos at T/aco are always sure to please, with or without the wide-eyed discovery never found too far from the exclusive stuff.