Maybe you have a friend who thinks that they’ve been everywhere and done everything, or maybe you’re planning a night out with someone you’ve been dating for five-plus years, and you want to try something new. Here are some places that are unlike any others. A few have entertainment, some are hidden, and at least one of them has a room where you can retrieve your own cider from a barrel the size of a young elephant. All of these restaurants are as much about the experience as they are about the food, and each one of them will make you want to start a Tumblr about your new and interesting lifestyle.
This restaurant really belongs on a guide to unique dining experiences across the world - because it’s the first place ever to offer a shabushabu omakase. Instead of you dipping your own thinly-sliced meat and vegetables into a hotpot, the chef here will do it for you and the seven other people at your seating. Aside from the broth-cooked dishes, the $128 tasting menu includes things like hot sake paired with sea urchin and homemade cold tofu. It’s a pretty intimate dining experience, so we’d recommend you come here when you’re celebrating with one other person you’d enjoy spending a night with while pop music from 2015 plays quietly in the background.
Even if you’ve been to Roberta’s 50 times (which, if you’ve lived here for a while, is definitely possible), you still might not know about Blanca. It’s a 12-seat tasting-menu spot in a semi-hidden room in the back of the restaurant, and you’re here for an $198, 19-course dinner. Between the perfect wine pairing option, vinyl playing in the corner, and outstanding dishes ranging from steak and pork collar to a single, thin piece of pancetta, Blanca is one of the most memorable dinner experiences you can have in NYC.
A meal at Tokyo Record Bar is only partially about the food. Mostly, you come for the experience. There are several seatings here every night, and the first thing you do when you sit down is help pick the playlist. Everything is on vinyl, and you’ll get to choose a song that you want to hear. Then, a seven-course tasting menu will begin, and you’ll eat some izakaya-type food while you (and roughly 20 other people) listen to a collaborative playlist in a small basement on Macdougal Street.
Astoria Seafood is part fish market, part Greek restaurant, and part plausible location for a non-terrible team-building activity. Here’s how it works: you fill plastic bags full of scallops, shrimp, octopus, and whatever else you want to eat from the fish counter, then hand your selections over to be cooked however you’d like (grilled, fried, etc.). Then you find a table (which might involve a wait), get your plates of excellent, simply prepared seafood, and open the wine you brought - it’s BYOB.
There are lots of Korean barbecue places in the city, but Cote is just a little bit different. It’s on the upscale side (but not prohibitively expensive), and they serve cuts of meat that you’d expect to find in a steakhouse. They also do a “Butcher’s Feast” that comes with banchan, soup, and dessert, and the cocktails are excellent. Plus, it looks sort of like a nightclub where the tables happen to have grills in the middle. So if you need a fun place to eat with a group, make a reservation here.
Niche Niche is from the same team as Tokyo Record Bar, but dinner here is a completely different experience - with a nightly-changing wine and food menu based around the guest sommelier’s specialty. We’ve been here on one night featuring Greek wines and lemon-oregano chicken, and another featuring American wines and a San Francisco-ish cioppino. You won’t know exactly what to expect theme-wise until you arrive - which makes the whole thing feels a little like a surprise party that’s actually fun.
If you go to the second floor of Freemans (a restaurant at the end of an alley on the LES), you’ll see an unmarked door. Open that door, and you’ll find yourself inside Banzarbar - a speakeasy bar with about ten seats and a menu that includes a whole tempura-fried octopus called “The Kraken.” They also have a five-course tasting menu involving food paired with low-ABV cocktails, which means you’ll be able to stand up when you leave.
The thing about Chefs Club is it changes constantly. Different restaurants from around the country hold residencies here, so you’ll want to check the schedule to see what’s currently going on. We can say, however, that we’ve had some very good food - and this is a great place to try something that usually requires a trip out of NYC. You’ll also be able to have your meal in a nice-looking space in Soho with high ceilings, a long bar, and an enormous chunk of pink salt hanging from some ropes.
Brooklyn Crab is kind of like an adult playground in the summer. This Red Hook spot has a few different levels where you can sit, eat steamed seafood, and drink cocktails - plus games like mini golf and cornhole. It feels like the kind of place you’d have lunch in the middle of the best beach day of the summer, and even though realistically you’re more likely to come here after a trip to IKEA, it still can’t hurt to pack some sunscreen.
Grand Central Oyster Bar is naturally a little touristy, because it’s in the basement of one of the biggest transportation hubs in the entire city. But it’s worth visiting even if you haven’t left NYC in 20 years. The giant space has low vaulted ceilings, a few different bar areas, and a lot of tables where we imagine business deals might have taken place in the 1930s. Come here (whether or not you have a train to catch) for a dozen oysters and a martini.
This is a Korean barbecue place in Gowanus, and it has karaoke rooms that you can rent out before or after your meal. It’s also got some huge tables (and a bar off to the side), so it’s great for groups or possibly your next birthday dinner. Share some Korean barbecue (or some à la carte things like bibimbap and bulgogi), then force all of your friends to sing to you as tribute.
To get to Sakagura, you walk through the lobby of a very normal office building in Midtown, pass a security guard, then head down a flight a stairs. This place is an izakaya from the same people behind a bunch of other Japanese spots like Sake Bar Decibel and Rai Rai Ken, and most of your friends will impressed that you know how to find it. The food here consists of stuff like sashimi, udon, soba, and small plates like Japanese fried chicken, and it’s all surprisingly affordable. This might be why it can be tough to get a reservation - so be sure to book in advance.
Not every restaurant gives you the option of closing yourself off from the world, but Ichiran does. In addition to a more straightforward dining room, this ramen spot in Bushwick has some one-person stations where you can eat your food in what is essentially a sit-down voting booth. You also write your order on a slip of paper and pass it to your server through a window in front of you, so you don’t actually have to interact with anyone while you eat.
Not long ago, the only foods you could get at a movie theater were hot dogs, candy, and popcorn covered in a warm liquid inspired by butter. Now there are a bunch of places around the city where you can eat a full meal while you watch something, and Syndicated is our favorite place to do so. It’s in a renovated warehouse space in East Williamsburg, and it has a dining room with a bar where can watch movies like Miss Congeniality or whatever recently-released indie film is being projected on the walls. (There’s also a small theater where you can continue to eat and drink.) Syndicated has several screenings every day, and tickets always cost around $7.
Wearing formalwear in a grocery store sounds a lot like something people would do in an ’80s movie, but it’s also the situation you’ll find yourself in before the 15-course tasting menu at Chef’s Table At Brooklyn Fare. Behind all the aisles full of cereal boxes and frozen pizza in a normal-looking supermarket in Hell’s Kitchen, you’ll find a small dining room full of people celebrating anniversaries or convincing each other to go into business together (or both). Dinner here costs $362.21 (without tax and tip), and most of the courses are seafood-focused. They’re also across-the-board fantastic. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on a meal in Manhattan, this is a great place to do it.
You probably don’t need us to tell you that Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a unique experience, but it is - and, seeing as how it’s the highest-rated restaurant on our NYC site, we couldn’t leave it off this list. The farm is roughly an hour north of the city, and they serve a tasting menu made mostly of what’s been grown (or raised) in the area. Arrive with plenty of time before your reservation so you can get a tour of the farm, and expect your meal to likely last several hours. Essentially, this is interactive farm-to-table theater, and there’s a good chance you and your dinner/farm companion will learn something and eat 20+ courses.