21 Unique Dining Experiences Across America
A wine bar in a Seattle butcher shop, Indigenous pop-ups, and more unique restaurants all over the country.
Just like there's a distinction between a fun-but-forgettable action flick and a film that becomes a cultural moment (looking at you, Everything Everywhere All at Once), there’s a difference between restaurants where you can get a great meal and places where you can have a full-blown dining experience. When you want the latter, look no further than these spots which feature everything from a tasting tour on an oyster farming boat off the Chesapeake Bay to a Nigerian prix-fixe spot in Brooklyn that doubles as a night of storytelling.
Whether you have to travel to dine at these places (which would 100% be worth it) or this list inspires you to try something new in your city, you'll probably be thinking about your meal from any of these restaurants for a while. Here are our 21 picks where you can have a unique dining experience across America.
photo credit: David A. Lee
Lots of restaurants pride themselves on making you feel like you’re at an awesome house party, but Brooklyn’s Dept. of Culture takes it one step further with its four-course West African prix-fixe inside a former barbershop, where your host comes out to describe your dish with anecdotes from his upbringing in Nigeria before each course. Nigerian records spin as you sit at a communal table and listen to the chef’s stories that feel like a stand-up set before each dish, and you’ll likely befriend your neighbors by the end of your meal as you share BYOB bottles. As an added bonus, the prix-fixe is just under $100 per person, making it one of the more affordable options on this list.
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photo credit: Nate Watters
You’ll have some of the best meat you’ve ever had at Beast and Cleaver in Seattle, but it’s by no means your average steakhouse. As the name implies, this spot is actually a butcher shop with a restaurant and wine bar in the back, where the glass deli display doubles as a visual aid of what’s to come with raw burgers, sausages, and chops inside. The steaks are cooked perfectly, but you should come with a few friends and try a bit of everything—even the vegetarian dishes like heirloom tomato salads and beer-battered squash blossoms. The food here is worthy of special occasions, but what makes Beast and Cleaver feel even more special is the incredible wine selection with options like Walla Walla carbonic syrah and South African stellenbosch.
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photo credit: John Troxel
In a world filled with natural wine bars serving small plates, the latest Nashville restaurant from the team behind Audrey goes in the complete opposite direction. The 20+ course tasting menu is developed in a literal lab with incubator rooms and an ultrasonic homogenizer. The dishes change twice every season to highlight ingredients from the American South, like deer and paw paw at their absolute peak, and riff on the chef’s connection to Appalachian foodways, which means you'll see things like caviar hickory nut handrolls. The space only has nine tables and seats up to 32 guests, so you’re sure to have an intimate experience here, and the open kitchen is also easy to see from the gorgeous dining room. They also offer zero-proof and alcoholic drink pairings, but they’ll cost you $100 and $180, respectively.
photo credit: PHOTO CREDIT: FOUR SEASONS
If you bring a date to Philadelphia’s Jean-Georges, it should probably be a very important anniversary or occasion, or else your partner will be expecting a ring by the end of the meal. Even if you’re used to luxury, it’s hard to top the views from the 59th floor of the Four Seasons, especially when paired with courses like egg toast piled high with caviar. Before you’re even seated, the glass elevator ride up to the dining room builds anticipation and shows off those views, although you might want to look away if you’re afraid of heights. You’ll find dishes like bacon-wrapped venison and cured sea trout and butternut-lime infusion on the land and sea menu, and the $180 wine pairing and champagne cart go well with the swanky interiors.
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Kimball House in Decatur embodies all of the positive aspects of traveling back in time, like decadent oysters and steaks for dinner and transportation before car-centric infrastructure, but without the lead exposure. The building itself is an old train station, and the interiors are decorated with shelves filled with apothecary bottles and old books that add to the vintage feel of the space. The raw bar is stacked with lots of oysters from all the way up and down the east and west coasts, but if you’re less into seafood, there are also six different cuts of steaks. And while the Hawaiian Rolls might be a little ahistorical, it'll be easy to cut Kimball House some slack and enjoy them anyway with seasonal preserves.
Nonesuch not only has one of the best tasting menus in Okahoma City, but it also combines modern Nordic cooking with ingredients found in the Sooner state—think Noma, but in the Great Plains. Even the beautiful ceramics are made locally in OKC, and they stand out against the moody interior and 22-seat chef’s table in the space. The 10-course tasting menu spans dishes that honor Oklahoma’s unique food heritage, like comanche bison tenderloin and earthy, rich bites of sweet onion ice cream, kaluga caviar, and mushroom chips.
photo credit: Toshokan
Toshokan in Austin combines two of the country's hottest restaurant concepts—speakeasies and omakase counters—to create an immersive dining experience that begins before you even take your seat. You’ll have an aperitif in the hallway that neighbors a hostel and tattoo shop before opening up a bookcase door that reveals the dining room. The decor includes a mix of old whiskey bottles and Japanese toys, and they sometimes do themed music nights like “Sushi with Swifties.” The omakase typically includes 14 courses of mostly nigiri, but there are also a few dishes that switch things up like tiny tuna cubes served in a basket of crispy shredded potatoes or bone marrow atop wagyu tartare.
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photo credit: Nisha Mary Prasad and Candice Parsons
Native Root hosts pop-ups and supper clubs to highlight ingredients indigenous to the Southeast region of the United States. The chef’s fireweed dinners take place on an urban farm in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and use ingredients from the farm to make a meal that’s served at a communal table outside. Past menus have included butternut squash milk rolls with marigold butter, roasted guinea hen with sage and creamed sweet potatoes, and stuffed delicata squash.
photo credit: Anne Cruz
Pleasure House Oyster
If you routinely take down a dozen oysters by yourself, it’s worth traveling out of your way to experience this tasting tour in the Lynnhaven River. After boarding the boat, you’ll cruise past million-dollar homes as you learn about how oysters are grown and handle tiny baby oyster shells. This tasting tour is definitely on the adventurous side—you’ll walk along the sand banks in the river in water shoes or waders—but you’ll be rewarded with lots of incredibly fresh oysters served on a makeshift bar on the side of the boat. If you’re lucky, your host will also add some homemade mignonette, served straight out of a mason jar with a fishing knife.
photo credit: Illana Freddye
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. Dates are available throughout the United States for winter 2023 seatings in places like Nassau and the Yucatán, and you can even tack on glamping accommodations in certain cities to make an overnight out of it.
photo credit: Jessie Clapp
Anajak Thai is a family-run Valley institution, where the alleyway omakase draws from two generations of expertise. The resulting dishes combine classic flavors with sustainable, hyper-local ingredients that aren’t boxed in by what Thai food should be, and are paired with a well-curated biodynamic wine list. There’s also a choose-your-own-adventure element to Anajak Thai—if you can’t snag a reservation for the 14-course outdoor omakase, 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.
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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 handrolls 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.
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.
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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.
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.
photo credit: Gab Bonghi
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 21st century 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.