Take your senses on a gastronomical journey with these 13 unique dining destinations.
A meal is far more than its starters, entrees, desserts, and drinks. In fact, the dining experience may start long before you even sit down at the table. Think back to the best meals of your life. It’s likely that what makes them memorable is a blend of location, atmosphere, the company you were keeping, a server’s jovial attitude, and what was happening in your life at that moment. A transcendent dining experience is about time, place and cuisine, and should set fire to all five of your senses. These thirteen exceptional meals, from food trucks with new friends in the Pacific Northwest to a vegan feast in Greenwich Village, each offer something truly unique…and none of them will break the bank.
Top Picks for You
WHERE: Lubbock, Texas
You’ll have already admired the mid-century architecture of Lubbock and learned about the tornado that tore through here a half-century ago. You now find yourself on the very edge of downtown, in the shadow of I-27 which runs from Amarillo to Midland and forms the spine of this dusty West Texas town. Just outside The Nicolett’s main restaurant sits a brick and glass greenhouse full of vines, succulents, and twinkle lights. It’s a natural and naturally inviting space, with room for just one long table for eight or a pair of four-tops. Take photos of your surroundings, inside and out, then settle in for one of the most unexpected transcendent dining experiences in the whole of the country. The menu pulls inspiration and ingredients from the region’s distinct flora and without a heavy hand, over the course of a perfectly paced three hours, manages to teach guests about the topography and history of West Texas. Chef Finn Walter deftly produces haute High Plains cuisine with expert techniques he picked up while working in kitchens from Paris to Napa Valley. Slather the heavenly fry bread with honey butter, savor every bite of the crab with sunchokes and lemon, and get ready to have your mind blown by the agnolotti with cauliflower.
Brave New Restaurant
WHERE: Little Rock, Arkansas
Owner Peter Brave has been running this Little Rock institution for over three decades and yet he still oozes energy and innovation in his restaurant curiously located inside a corporate park. You’ll be confused as you park and you’ll still be unclear what’s about to happen as you take the elevator to level one. While walking down a long hallway you may begin to wonder if you’ve made a mistake, but then you enter a brave new world, see the Arkansas River through the floor-to-ceiling windows, admire Brave’s own striking original art on the walls, and smell the flavors wafting from the open kitchen. Sit outside on the deck with views of colorful orioles, the muddy river, and the capital city’s humble skyline in the middle distance. Order the goat cheese mousse, the shrimp and avocado salad, and say yes to the walleye (that’s always a special but never on the actual menu). Finish with one of the 500 chocolate crème brûlées Brave New Restaurant sells every week—it could be the best dessert you’ll ever taste!
WHERE: Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas
This specialty dining destination on the biggest cruise ship in the world is an envelope-pushing, delightful assault on all five senses. Each breathtaking five-course prix-fixe meal in Wonderland is built around a handful of natural elements—sun, ice, fire, sea, and earth—and begins with you literally painting the menu to choose from dishes like shrimp kataifi with a scotch bonnet, halibut cooked in clear paper, crispy crab cones, and a deconstructed Caprese salad. Pair the innovative gastronomy with magical liquid elixirs and what will appear in front of you in this playfully elegant space will defy your expectations, take you on a journey down the rabbit hole, and make you feel like a child again…albeit a child who has just experienced one of the most incredible meals available on land or at sea.
The Mayfair Supper Club
WHERE: Las Vegas, Nevada
This stunning new supper club opened inside the Bellagio in 2020, and it may just be the prettiest room in the whole of Las Vegas. But the chic décor is only part of the story here. The Mayfair Supper Club manages to bring forward the heyday of old Vegas and the glamor of 1920s New York, and set it all against the Fountains of Bellagio which erupt outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. Feel free to dress up like a flapper or a well-suited gentleman because the tuxedo scallops will be decked out for the occasion, too. Dance and dine until the wee hours of the night, enjoying live music on the elevated stage in the center of the room. Cap things off with a chocolate cigar that is ready to be Instagram famous in the modern version of the roaring ’20s!
INSIDER TIPWhile the Mayfair evokes the spirit of a bygone era, the prices are very much of today. To keep your glitzy Vegas supper club experience under budget, stick to the raw bar, sushi, salads, starters, and desserts!
WHERE: Greenwich Village, New York City
In an art-filled shoebox of a restaurant located a half dozen steps underground in the Village near Washington Square Park and the NYU campus is a transcendent vegan and vegetarian dining experience waiting for you. The mind-bogglingly delicious plant-based food at Red Bamboo will simultaneously please herbivores and convince meat-eaters that vegan cuisine fashioned into familiar foods like butterflied pork chops with mashed potatoes, gravy and collard greens, chicken parmesan, and literally finger-licking great BBQ wings can be every bit as delicious, filling, and satisfying. If you want to have a perfect day in the Village in NYC, you must eat at Red Bamboo.
Bors Hede Inne
WHERE: Carnation, Washington
There are no forks on the tables at this eatery, the most old-fashioned of restaurants in America. Don’t expect to order a soda or a coffee either and forget about using your smartphone, because none of those creature comforts of our current world existed in the 14th-century. And the Bors Hede Inne is nothing if not an authentic dining experience! You will venture way back 700 years to taste the food of the day like sanc dragon or blamanger, and just as medieval people did, you too will use your fingers and listen to troubadours sing. This is no amusement park though. There are no horses or fake wizards, no battle arena, and absolutely no oversized turkey legs. What makes this extra special is the setting, inside a “real” medieval village, with demonstrations on show daily. Before or after you dig into a fenberry pie, interact with interpreters practicing everything from archery to weaving and learn about life in the 1300s.
Food Truck Pods
WHERE: Portland, Oregon
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that online communities cannot deliver on the promise of humanity like real people coming together in safe spaces to eat, play, and talk. This kind of social infrastructure exists in the food truck pods found all over Portland (no city in America has more food trucks) with food from around the world (from Korean BBQ to a curry, fresh artisanal donuts to homemade ice cream), beer gardens, picnic tables and shared community games like bean bag toss. Have a bite, play a game, and make friends—we need this more than we ever knew.
WHERE: Malibu, California
The freshest fish, the greatest views, no fuss at all, and at a price you can handle, this roadside institution in the ritziest address in America will never fail to deliver a transcendent, authentic SoCal dining experience. Located literally on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway, across from Corral State Beach, you can score a fish dinner for as low as $9.50 at . With all the money you’ll be saving you can shop for your next $15 million-dollar Malibu beachfront house alongside Hollywood celebs!
WHERE: New York City
When paired with an opera at Lincoln Center, a pre or post-theater dinner at this Italian staple of the Upper West Side dining scene can transport you across the Atlantic all the way to Rome! Much like Italy itself, Cafe Fiorello is sophisticated but not stuck-up, serving traditional crispy and thin Neapolitan style pizzas, antipasto, and an audacious whole lobster Caprese salad. The setting is warm and inviting, with a dark wood dining room outfitted with striking art by composer and artist Mark Kostabi, who you may just spot enjoying a meal himself!
Old Post Office Fish Boil
WHERE: Door County, Wisconsin
What makes this meal a transcendent one is the fact that a Door County fish boil is a shared experience, with locals and visitors alike gathering around the boiling water, potatoes, onions, and white fish. It’s the boil master holding court with stories of the land and its people. It’s the showstopper 30 feet flame. It’s an immigrant tradition and the friendly Scandinavian spirit flowing through these waters still today. It’s that tender fish doused in hot butter. You will feel transported to another time and place. And if that’s not enough, then the local cherry pie that traditionally finishes off this meal will bring you right back to The Old Post Office on this peninsula paradise.
A South Street Walking Trio
WHERE: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This meal experience takes place on foot, over the course of one city block, and involves three different Philadelphia foodie favorites along the one-time home of punk rockers. Start at Lorenzo and Sons Pizza close to the corner of 2nd and South Street. The slices are massive and plain cheese only, so don’t even ask for toppings, and there are no seats. Order one on a plate, exit with your slice, make a right and start nibbling. Your next stop is halfway down the block at Ishkabibbles. You are here for the crispy french fries. Order at the counter on the street, grab your cup of Philly’s best fries and keep heading toward 3rd Street for your 3rd and final cheap eat on this transcendent walking food tour. You arrive at Jim’s, the one and true king of cheesesteaks. Stand in line outside (there’s always a line, and it’s worth it) and eat your pizza and fries. Once inside, order your cheesesteak wit or witout (referring to onions, not cheese). Don’t forget a Pennsylvania Dutch birch beer to wash it all down! If there’s a band at the Theater of Living Arts, see a punk rock show to bring it all home!
Bob's Clam Hut
WHERE: Kittery, Maine
Just over the border from the charmingly British town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, sits this unassuming Mecca of fresh seafood. Since 1956, vacationers heading to and from Maine beaches, long weekends in Bar Harbor, and Acadia National Park holidays have been gobbling up lobster rolls and more from this delightful roadside hut on Route 1. The clam chowder here is creamy and succulent, and the clam strips are crispy and the best you’ll ever taste. The lobster rolls, of course, are to die for as well! Order a plate of the freshest seafood and an ice cold ice cream treat, and you’ll understand why many generations of New Englanders have been making pit stops at Bob’s Clam Hut.
Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous
WHERE: Memphis, Tennessee
The debate over the best BBQ will never be settled—Texas? North Carolina? Oklahoma? But for the most transcendent bar-b-cue experience in America, wander down the Memphis alley that’s home to . This basement joint has been serving up slabs of ribs and pulled pork, and baskets of dry rub dusted pickles and cheese since 1948. There are even meatless options now and as always, you are in control of the wetness of your BBQ here! Coated in nothing but their divine dry rub, Rendezvous puts the power of sauce in your hands with multiple options on the table to add a little or a lot to your ribs, brisket, and chicken. You will never again be satisfied with run-of-the-mill barbecue after a transcendent meal at .