7 of the world's most offbeat and unusual restaurants
From crazed to cutesy to completely ridiculous, a meal at one of these eateries will stay with you long after you've digested it.
What deciding factors come into play when you're settling on a new restaurant to try out? Type of cuisine? Price? Location? Reputation of the chef? Online reviews? Whether or not appetizers are served in miniature plastic squat toilets?
In an ideal world, the food stands on its own as the heart and soul of an eatery. However, as many savvy restaurant owners have discovered, sometimes it's also necessary to have a gimmick, a singular quality that helps you stand out from the Applebees of the world and keep folks coming back hungry for more. It's more than a meal – it's an experience.
With these 10 wacky restaurants across the world, you'll get an experience, all right. They're by turns delightful, disgusting and unnerving, entertaining, amusing and – most important – memorable. These are meals you'll remember, for better or worse, long after you've digested them.
Alcatraz ER | Tokyo
Tokyo's Alcatraz ER: the finest in psych ward-themed dining. (Photo: Nicolas/Flickr)
For those special dining occasions when a prison-themed restaurant won’t just cut it, Tokyo has an eatery that evokes both "prison" and "creepy hospital."
The disturbing grand dame of Tokyo’s first wave of totally bonkers themed izakaya (after-work watering holes that serve food) restaurants, Alcatraz ER, located in the city’s bustling Shibuya district, has been freaking out patrons for more than a decade with its unsettling, blood-splattered atmospherics. We can say for certain that until Olive Garden hostesses start handcuffing diners and throwing them into cramped cells, Alcatraz ER has the market on sadistic-hospital restaurants pretty well cornered. Creative drinkware is a fixture at Alcatraz ER: specialty cocktails are served in oversized syringes, test tubes, milk bottles and disembodied heads while pitchers of beers are brought to your table in a bedpan by a sadistic nurse. Still have an appetite? Great, because there’s plenty of disgustingly named appetizers and entrees to munch on while an axe-wielding clown paces outside of your cell. Leave the kids at home, obviously.
Blackout Restaurant at Nalaga’at Center | Tel Aviv, Israel
Blackout Restaurant in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Erez Kaganovitz)
Be warned: You’ll probably want to find yourself a decent dry cleaner as a precautionary measure before dining at Tel Aviv’s Blackout Restaurant.
This unique eatery revolves around the theme of “dining in the dark” – guests consume/savor/struggle with their meals in complete and utter darkness. That’s right, it's a restaurant where the lights in the dining room are turned not just low but completely off. By eliminating sight, the other senses – smell, touch and, most crucially, taste – are enhanced.
Guests order before entering the darkened dining room from one of four prix-fixe set menus or a “mystery menu” selected by the chef. And if you’re worried not just about spilling stuffed mushrooms all over yourself but about your server tripping over a table leg in the pitch black and depositing a plate of pistachio gnocchi in your lap, that’s a non-issue: The wait staff employed at Blackout Restaurant aren’t just highly trained to maneuver in the darkness, but also legally blind. In fact, Nalaga’at Center, the world-renowned nonprofit “cultural, entertainment and training” center where Blackout Restaurant is located, is dedicated to fostering “interaction between deaf-blind, deaf and blind individuals and people able to hear and see, regardless of cultural or social distinctions.” The center is also home to a theater composed of a deaf-blind acting ensemble and Café Kapish, a coffee shop staffed by the deaf and hearing-impaired.
In America, Opaque offers a similar, sightless dining experience with locations in New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Dallas.
Kinderkookkafe | Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam's Kinderkookkafe is overrun by young Jamie Olivers-in-training. (Photo: xavier gallego morell/Shutterstock)
Amsterdam residents – and adventurous tourists – who prefer that their lunch be served with a hearty side of cuteness have longed flocked to Kinderkookkafe, a full-service restaurant near Vondelpark that doubles as both a crèche and a culinary school for the “Sesame Street” set.
With an emphasis on fresh, organic and locally sourced ingredients, the entire joint is run by a dedicated, pint-sized staff – wait staff, chefs, dishwashers, cashiers and baristas – of kids who aren't old enough to vote, yet are able to prepare one heck of a pepperoni pizza. Basically, it’s either your worst nightmare or the cutest thing ever. (To be clear, a staff of adults are on hand at all times to ensure that things don’t devolve into complete, unhygienic chaos). Founded in 1981, this education-minded nonprofit eatery is, understandably, a popular spot for kids’ birthday parties.
Modern Toilet | Various locations, Taiwan
Modern Toilet, an eatery where toilet humor reigns supreme. (Photo: riNux/Flickr)
> If the thought of scatological humor at the dinner table makes you cringe, you’ll probably want to steer clear of Modern Toilet, a wildly popular chain of bathroom-themed casual dining eateries out of Taiwan where ordering by number – as in, "I’ll have the number two, please" - takes on a whole new meaning.
At Modern Toilet, patrons perch on decorative (read: non-functional) acrylic commodes clustered around glass-topped bathtubs or sinks and order from a menu where allof the dishes – and drinks – are served from plastic tabletop replicas of bathroom fixtures: curries and other entrees are served from traditional Western flush toilets; pasta comes piping hot in a toilet lid; beverages are brought to the table in tiny urinals; and side dishes, along with swirled mounds of chocolate soft-serve ice cream and truly oddly named shaved ice desserts, are presented in squat toilets. The comically poo-shaped chocolate soft-serve, by the way, is Modern Toilet’s signature dish and comes complimentary with each meal. Napkins, naturally, hang from toilet paper dispensers, and the light fixtures in each of the restaurant’s outhouse-themed outposts match back to the heaping piles of soft-serve.
Ninja | New York City
Ninja in New York City: Expensive but memorable, for better or worse. (Photo: Dion Hinchcliffe/Flickr)
From the Jekyll & Hyde Club (cheesy creepy) to the American Girl Café (legit creepy), the Big Apple certainly isn’t short on oddball restaurants/tourist traps where the “experience” is, well, more memorable than the food.
Perhaps the most notorious – and spendy – of NYC’s theme restaurants would be Ninja, a massive, basement-level establishment that’s kind of like Medieval Times but with mediocre sushi and magic tricks instead of the chicken legs and jousting. (The New York location in Tribeca is a spinoff of the original Ninja in Tokyo, a city that loves its theme restaurants). This bit from Frank Bruni’s 2005 New York Times review of Ninja, a feudal Japan-themed restaurant that he believes to be best suited for a “toddler with a trust fund and a yen for udon and maki,” adequately sums up the overall dining experience: “Ninja acts like a Disney ride – Space Mountain under a hailstorm of run-of-the-mill or unappealing sushi – but charges like Le Bernardin. It has a stringy crab dish served on a grapefruit that belches smoke, a ridiculous dessert in the shape of a frog and a whole lot of nerve.”
Twinstars | Moscow
I'll take the double cheeseburger. (Video screenshot: BBC News)
Interested in partaking in a singular - or would it be doub-ular? - dining experience that can best be described as Red Robin-meets-Brighton Beach-meets-"The Shining"?
Say hello to Twinstars, a short-lived Russian burger joint where patrons couldn’t blame the crippling double vision on the vodka. Owner Alexei Khodorkovsky reportedly instituted a strict twins-only hiring policy at his clubby Moscow eatery in 2013 after viewing a Soviet sci-fi flick called "Kingdom of the Brooklyn Mirrors." And, interesting enough, Khodorkovsky was not the first restauranteur to explore twin-themed dining: In the mid-through late-1990s, New York City was home to Twins Restaurant, a twin-owned (actor Tom Berenger was, inexplicably, also a co-owner) eatery boasting an "American menu with a Mediterranean influence" and a staff entirely composed of 37 sets of identical twins.
Robot Restaurant | Tokyo
Because nothing says fine dining like a parade of fembots. (Photo: Cory Doctorow/Flickr)
We think just three words – “robot dinner theatre” – are sufficient for this hotspot in Tokyo’s Kabukicho red light district.
Have you visited an oddly themed restaurant we didn't mention? Tell us about it in the comments!
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