Eating out is almost always a great decision, but sometimes you want more than splitting some appetizers with friends and settling on a main. For those moments, you want a dining experience, whether it be in a restaurant that challenges you to reconsider familiar ingredients or a pop-up dinner where you eat with a bunch of strangers on a farm.
From tasting menu restaurants where your chef cosplays as a pirate captain to dinners highlighting hand-foraged Hawaiian ingredients, these unique dining experiences promise to deliver a memorable meal you’ll be talking about for a long time.
photo credit: Andrea D'Agosto
Anajak Thai is a family-run Valley institution with a choose-your-own-adventure element. There's the 14-course alleyway omakase that draws from two generations of expertise, with dishes that combine classic flavors with hyper-local ingredients. But there’s also a regular dinner menu and a more laid-back Taco Tuesdays, all of which promise some of the best Thai food you can find in Los Angeles. No matter which way you choose to dine at Anajak Thai, it’s definitely going to feel like a party.
The Filipino tasting menu restaurant exclusively uses ingredients from the Pacific Northwest and pays homage to the Filipino-American experience (and Seattle’s sizable Filipino population) through its courses. Pantry staple banana ketchup—an invention from University of Washington alum Maria Orosa—is reimagined with caramelized squash and the kinilaw is served atop rocks the chefs gathered on hikes. There’s also some creative wordplay with the halo halo, which is topped with “pineapple ice” made from pine and apples, since the tropical fruit doesn’t grow in the Pacific Northwest. When it comes to the space, the eight-person counter feels both homey and industrial, a perfect complement to the story the meal tells.
The scene at Schwa in Chicago is like entering the cooking montages of Chef. Once you find the nondescript entrance, you’ll be greeted by the kitchen staff who genuinely seem excited to party with you and showcase their culinary inventions like foie gras pancakes in a raisin-miso broth. Since the kitchen staff also serves you at your table, dining at Schwa embodies what it’d be like at a great chef’s house party, including the fact that it’s BYOB, which is pretty unheard of when it comes to tasting menus that cost more than $100. The ever-rotating dishes are definitely on the molecular gastronomy side of things, but it’s more fun than absurd, like a quail egg ravioli that is meant to be plopped whole into your mouth, or a dish called “Elk Sniped From a Helicopter.”
photo credit: Chad Fabrikant
When you first arrive at Hiden in Miami, you may think you’re in the wrong place. To get to the omakase counter, you must first walk through The Taco Stand, find a secret door, then type in a code that’s emailed to you a few hours before dinner. The secret sushi bar commits to the bit with the dining space itself, which feels like it was originally designed to be a billionaire’s bunker for riding out an apocalypse with life’s greatest pleasure: excellent raw fish. Wait staff will also squat down and whisper to you, and the high-tech Japanese toilet in the bathroom adds to the whole Designated Survivor feel. The meal will cost you upwards of $200, but it’s worth it for ultra-fresh pieces of tuna flown in same-day from Japan, fatty pieces of toro, and unbelievably tender cuts of A5 wagyu beef.
Sushi On Me
Sushi omakase restaurants and debaucherous nights out don’t always go hand in hand, unless you’re at Sushi On Me. An unmarked basement door in Queens leads you to the eight-person dining area, where $89 cash will get you 15 pieces of nigiri, some appetizers, and unlimited sake. And when we say unlimited sake, we mean that it's the staff's explicit mission to get you toasted as they match your drinks pour for pour like the best type of dinner party host. Expect excellent torched pieces of high-quality fish, nigiri, and hand rolls paired with sparkles, along with live jazz in the cozy space if you come Thursday-Sunday. We can’t promise you’ll remember everything about your night at Sushi On Me, but you won’t regret how much fun you had dancing in your seat and fawning over each delicious piece of sushi.
Outstanding in the Field
Outstanding in the Field’s signature long, field-side tablescapes often look like outtakes from Midsommar, minus the whole cult thing. They host dinners throughout the country with settings that span anywhere from the Huntington Beach Pier to a Brooklyn rooftop farm. As for the food itself, Outstanding in the Fields brings on guest chefs who design a hyper-seasonal custom menu for each dinner. You can buy tickets, which start at $365 and include beverages, hors d'oeuvres, a tour of the site, and a four-course meal, on their website. You can even tack on glamping accommodations in certain cities to make an overnight trip out of it.
Owamni by the Sioux Chef
A meal at Owamni in Minneapolis is a fully decolonized experience, meaning you won’t find ingredients like wheat, pork, cane sugar, or dairy that were introduced to North American diets by European colonizers. The result gives you plenty of insight into the significance of Native ingredients—the menu and staff describe their cultural and medicinal uses—and the meal is more educational than most American public schools. At the very least, you’ll leave with a better appreciation of Indigenous ingredients like hand-harvested wild rice, bison, and mustard seeds.
Tokyo Record Bar
When you first get to Tokyo Record Bar, you and other guests will be asked to select a song, and those choices will be curated into a vinyl jukebox playlist that serves as the soundtrack to your meal. That’s just the start of what makes the evening feel like a communal experience in a Greenwich Village basement. The $65, seven-course tasting menu features typical things you’d find at an izakaya, like sashimi and mushroom tempura, with the exception of the last course: a slice of pizza. Why the pizza? The chefs here realized that a lot of tasting menus leave you hungry at the end, and they wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.
Hawai'i's landscape lends itself to unique cooking traditions and challenges, but Na’au’s pop-up dinners present the unique opportunity for both locals and tourists to learn more about the way Indigenous cultures from Hawai'i ate and lived off the land. The chef personally forages ingredients like pohole, hā'uke'uke, and akule, many of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The menus change with the seasons, but past dinners have included dishes like abalone miso soup and venison heart pastrami sandwiches. Sign up for an email list to hear about future pop-ups, or schedule your own private dining event with Na’au.
photo credit: Imana
Hi Felicia in San Francisco got its start as a supper club pop-up—meaning the restaurant aims to emulate the best dinner party you’ve ever been to—but its brick and mortar is still in touch with its communal DIY spirit. The parklet out front acts as the parlor with couches and a coffee table to sip aperitifs and mingle before coming inside for dinner, while the meal itself leans Mexican: we’re big fans of the cashew-based queso and duck confit wet burritos. By the end of the 12-course meal, you’ll probably be on a first-name basis with your server, and we wouldn’t blame you if you pull out your phone to immediately reserve your next visit.
20, 000 Leagues Under the Sea
This 16-course meal from Lost Spirits Distillery is definitely one of the weirder (and most immersive) experiences on this list. But it’s a welcome departure from Las Vegas’s typical lineup of celebrity steakhouses and poolside clubs that are guaranteed to leave you with a four-figure bill and regret. You’ll start with a taster of Lost Spirit’s 122-proof rum before you “ride” a “submarine” that takes you to a lounge where decor sways about as if you’re underwater. It’s reminiscent of a Disneyland ride, minus the crying babies and smell of sunscreen. The dining room where you’ll actually eat your meal is dark and moody, as if you’re in the belly of an old-timey sailing vessel, and the chef cosplays as Captain Nemo, guiding you through the evening. The dinner will set you back almost $300, but the meal includes elaborate cocktail pairings that play well with dishes like braised octopus skewered on a small sword, or desserts that are unboxed like found treasure.
There are a lot of exclusive dining experiences in Philly, of which Palizzi Social Club is the blueprint. But unless you’re already friends with an existing member, you’re not getting in. Instead, we suggest Messina Social Club, which is still accepting new members and offers a similar "best-kept secret" feel, plus a great menu of Italian, Middle Eastern, and American dishes to boot. Applying for a membership simply requires sending them an email and paying a $25 fee, though you can choose to upgrade for a package that includes first dibs on reservations during special events. House rules for the club include “don’t be a dick” and limited phone usage, but you’re welcome to grab a cocktail and bask in the modern Godfather energy of the space.
The 16-course tasting menu at Atlanta’s Georgia Boy is driven by the restaurant’s zero-waste philosophy: what would normally be thrown away in food prep is repurposed to create syrups, ferments, and other elements of a dish, or is cooked into simple meals that are then donated to the local community. The kitchen also uses a tablet instead of a ticket printer, and invested in washable coasters and straws to cut down on single-use waste. You’ll eat things like sturgeon in pickle brine, fries and caviar, or duck breast with chestnuts, apples, and sunchokes, but the best way to experience a meal at Georgia Boy is to let yourself be surprised.