Recommendations from a staff member reveal what they really like to eat behind the scenes. 

After years of visiting restaurants and taste-testing different dishes, we’ve discovered that if you really want to find out what the best options on the menu are, you should ask the staff what they would order.

This tactic has given us some surprising insights into how best to eat a beef bowl at Yoshinoya and the secrets behind makanai food, and now we’re taking ourselves over to American-born family restaurant chain Denny’s to find out what they recommend we eat there.

This first instalment in our “Clerk’s Own-Pocket Recommendation” series, as we’re calling this investigative project, seeks to discover hidden secrets on the menu at a number of joints — the options so good that staff would happily pay out of their own pocket to eat them.

▼ Personally, we’d go for the steak, like a lot of other customers, but is that what staff would order on their own dime?

As we slid into a booth at Denny’s we were happy to find that the clerk serving us knew his stuff, because when we asked him, “Please tell us three recommended items that you would eat at your own expense“, he responded with a smile and replied without hesitation.

In fact, it was almost as if he’d been waiting his whole working life for someone to ask him this type of probing question, so let’s take a look at his recommendations, starting with the…

Chicken Jambalaya (1,390 yen [US$10.40])

It’s part of the Fair Menu, but it’s really delicious,” were the words of our waiter when he made this recommendation. The Fair Menu is a limited-time menu that changes throughout the year, with the current “fair” celebrating Golden Week, a string of annual public holidays that runs from the end of April to early May.

According to the official website, the Chicken Jambalaya made its first appearance on the menu back in 1983, and has been returning intermittently for special occasions.

Our waiter warned us that this dish might be a little spicy for some palates, but it wasn’t too spicy for our well-seasoned taste buds. The combination of spicy jambalaya and freshly fried chicken was delicious when eaten off the iron plate, and now we’re hoping it’ll get a permanent spot on the menu someday.

▼ Next up, we have the Sichuan-style Dandan Noodles (990 yen)

We’d always known Denny’s had dandan noodles on the menu but we’d never thought to try them. After all, with so many great noodle joints in Japan, why would we think to get our noodle fix at an American diner? However, after trying this dish, we were blown away by the taste and quality — it was so perfect that it was kind of scary, as it turned everything we thought we knew about noodles — and Denny’s — on its head.

The broth had a very rich sesame aroma, and the flavour of the sansho pepper throughout the dish was surprisingly delicious. If you’re ever stuck for what to try at Denny’s, we highly recommend giving this a try.

▼ Finally, we have the American Clubhouse Sandwich (1,040 yen)

According to the waiter, the American Clubhouse Sandwich “is popular with people of all ages”, and after trying it, we understood the reason for its widespread appeal. Easy to eat, with familiar fillings like roast chicken, bacon, eggs, and tomatoes, this was a tasty way to fill up on a variety of ingredients, making for a very satisfying meal.

▼ Denny’s knows how to do a good Clubhouse.

For us, though, the dish of the day was the Sichuan-style Dandan Noodles. Our waiter told us he often eats it himself, and if we worked at Denny’s we’d be eating it at every opportunity. It’s a dish we never would’ve tried otherwise, which just goes to show how easily secret gems can be hiding on the menu.

▼ The staff selection at Denny’s.

This meal delivered everything we’d hoped for in a Clerk’s Own-Pocket Recommendation, giving us bagfuls of flavour and a few surprises to boot.

It’s great insider knowledge to have in the back pocket, and now we can’t wait to find out what hidden gems we’ll unearth in the rest of our investigative series!

Related: Denny’s Japan
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