Sometimes heading out to a restaurant is not about the food. It might be about a popular celebrity chef, for example, or a destination for scenesters to be seen. A restaurant can also be about having a novelty experience, such as dining in complete darkness or having a robot as a server—a special something else that might draw curiosity seekers in. Here are 10 such spots around the world worth checking out, if only to say that you’ve “been there, done that.”
By Kathleen Squires
A serial traveler who often lets a country’s cuisine dictate her itineraries, New York City-based writer Kathleen Squires has visited all 7 continents and over 60 countries, with stints living in London, Tokyo, and Buenos Aires. Her work also appears in The Wall Street Journal, Saveur, Cooking Light, and National Geographic Traveler.
Dans Le Noir
WHERE: Paris, France
You’ve heard of dancing in the dark. How about dining in the dark? That’s what happens at Dans Le Noir, as guests enjoy a “surprise” gourmet menu in a pitch-black dining room. But diners aren’t the only ones who can’t see here—the servers are actually blind. Created in Paris, and with branches in London, St. Petersburg and Barcelona, the concept stems from the heightened senses of the visually impaired. The Paris location now features a spa “dans le noir” aspect, too.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Paris Guide
WHERE: Moscow, Russia
If you think you are seeing double while dining here, you are, as this Russian restaurant is staffed completely by twins. The pairs wear identical outfits even, as they tend the bar, serve simple fare such as burgers and pizza, and spin some tunes in the DJ booth. Though Twin Stars claims to be a “singular” experience, it does have a doppelganger in NYC, so to speak. The same concept exists in the Hell’s Kitchen pub, Twins, opened in 1994.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Moscow Guide
WHERE: Tel Aviv, Israel
On selected nights at NG restaurant, check your table manners at the door, don a horned helmet, grab a mug, and get ready to eat and drink, barbarian style. That means ditching the silverware and plates, and hacking at whole meats—from roasted duck to suckling pig—with a cleaver before eating with your hands and gnawing in primal delight.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Tel Aviv Guide
WHERE: New York City
Leave Tribeca behind for feudal Japan at this warrior-themed restaurant. But be careful—you never know who might be creeping up on you within the dark alleyways that lead to your table at Ninja. The décor is medieval Nippon Village, with a maze of passages lit by paper lanterns. While sampling the sushi or steak teriyaki, a ninja magician may even approach the table; but don’t worry, he will only be wielding card tricks, not weaponry.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New York City Guide
WHERE: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Like a training ground for Master Chef Junior, children do the cooking at this Dutch treat—no kidding. Since 1981, tots under 12 also serve and tally the bill at Kinderkookkafe, with a little help from adult advisors. The restaurant is actually attached to a daycare center, so the clientele tends to be their parents, though all are welcome to sample the traditional Dutch fare.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Amsterdam Guide
HomeWorld Maid Cafe
WHERE: Tokyo, Japan
With a bizarre theme that can only stem from Japanese “cosplay,” a subculture devoted to dressing up in costume, the @HomeWorld Maid Café staff are attired as adorable domestic servants throughout the four floors of this peculiar café. As strange as it sounds, the experience is awfully sweet: the maids aim to please, going beyond serving food and drink by playing games, such as rock-paper-scissors, with patrons.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Tokyo Guide
Pay As You Please
WHERE: Killarney, Ireland
Guests at Pay As You Please set the prices at this quirky Irish café, that serves up simple fare such as pizza, curries, soups, and salads. The name says it all, and the unique business model certainly brings people through the door—reservations are recommended. The concept has even been copied by the Panera chain, whose “pay what you can” promotion was so popular it now runs on a seasonal basis.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Ireland Guide
Hajime Robot Restaurant
WHERE: Bangkok, Thailand
No tipping necessary at this high-tech Japanese restaurant: your Hajime Robot Restaurant server doesn’t pay rent, doesn’t need to eat, and doesn’t need to be clothed. (Though it may need the occasional maintenance.) The intelligence of the staff robots may seem “artificial,” but somehow they manage to put out a menu of more than 100 dishes, bus tables, and take the time to entertain with a dance or two, too.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Bangkok Guide
WHERE: London, England
The greatest show on earth comes to a restaurant at this big top-themed eatery. While enjoying Pan Asian cuisine, Circus diners are treated to spontaneous performances, which are top-secret in order not to ruin the element of surprise for future guests. We suspect some acrobatics, juggling, and general clowning around might be involved…
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s London Guide
WHERE: Pittsburgh, PA
The notion may seem wacky at first: Conflict Kitchen serves food only from countries that the US is in conflict with. But on second thought, where else can an American eat such delicacies without being in the line of fire? The menu reflects the headlines of the day, so currently the kitchen is turning out North Korean food. What would Kim Jong Un eat? Perhaps some manduguk, a vegetable dumpling soup.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Pittsburgh Guide