When dining out, people usually select the restaurant they will attend based upon the price and the food that is served. Sometimes the restaurant’s reputation plays a role, sometimes convenience is a factor. For the most part; however, it’s the menu and quality of the food that weighs most in the decision making.
In this day and age, the art of ‘upmanship’ and creating ‘experiences’ has caused many restaurants around the world to push the boundaries in order to create something so very unique that the experience is every bit as important as the menu. These are the restaurants we endeavor to focus on when reviewing an establishment for the dining section of the website, as we are fully aware that travelers deliberately seek out the ‘uncommon and unusual’ so they can share interesting photos on social media and bring home stories to family and friends.
A small sampling of some of the unique restaurants we have reviewed over the years include Ninja – a Japanese-inspired restaurant in New York City, set in a darkened cave-like atmosphere lit only with lanterns, where nimble Ninja Warriors make up the wait staff and serve meals with their swords.
We’ve visited O’Noir which is dedicated to the sightless and Signs dedicated to the hearing impaired, both of which exist in Toronto. At O’Noir, Braille menus are used and patrons eat in complete darkness, while at Signs, patrons order meals using sign language with help from graphic prompts on the walls.
Figures restaurant, also in Toronto, is included among our dining section given that the entire menu and decor are based on comic strips, cartoons, and hero figures, and our take on SafeHouse, located in Chicago, was inspired because of its intense 1920s spy theme. Our review of The Black Ant in New York City was inevitable given the use of insects in several of the dishes and drinks, and the revolving restaurant in The Skylon intrigued us for its position high above scenic Niagara Falls.
Our distinctive eatery experiences continues with the Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, Florida – an upscale, Polynesian-themed restaurant/nightclub complete with a thatched roof, tropical garden and tiki heads, drinks served in hollowed coconuts and pineapples, and a floor show of Hawaiian and Tahitian dancers; as well as the authentic Western theme of Saddle Ranch Chop House in West Hollywood, California, featuring a life-size covered wagon and ladies of the evening on the exterior balconies, along with heavy, red velvet drapery as entranceways, western memorabilia throughout, and a mechanical bull in the midst of the dining section.
Yet, as interesting and unique as all of these restaurants are, they are tame in comparison to some that exist in more exotic locales around the world. So, in no particular order, we bring you the Top 10 Most Unusual Restaurants, some of which take the word ‘unusual’ and ratchet it up to just plain bizarre.
The Rock – Zanzibar
Located on the south-east end of Zanzibar Island in Tanzania, in front of the Michamwi Peninsula, tourists will find The Rock (as shown in the lead photo). Appropriately named considering the compact restaurant is quite literally on top of a rock, patrons can access this unique eatery on foot if the tide is out, or by the restaurant-owned boat during high tide. The menu offers seafood from nearby reefs, beef from regional farms, and locally sourced fruits, veggies, and spices. The interior of the restaurant is extremely small so reservations are highly recommended in order to avoid disappointment. And a quaint terrace overlooking the vast ocean is available for drinks and outdoor dining if desired.
Kayabukiya Tavern – Japan
This restaurant is considered to be a traditional sake house, located in Utsunomiya in the northern end of Tokyo. It wasn’t particularly popular until 2008 when it gained attention via Western media and a series of videos that were uploaded to YouTube. The reason for the sudden intrigue can be attributed to the macaque monkeys that work at the tavern as part of the wait staff. The monkeys, which are pets of the owner, Kaoru Otsuka, attended the restaurant and watched as Otsuka worked every day, one day surprising him when the eldest monkey, named Yat-chan, suddenly delivered a hot towel to a customer as he had seen Otsuka do. The younger of the two macaques, named Fuku-chan, followed suit. These days, the monkeys dress as their owner does, and help to deliver drink orders to the tables, as well as hand out hot towels at the end of a meal. They also happily pose for photos with patrons and will work for tips in the form of boiled soya beans.
Fangweng Restaurant – Yichang, China
Located in China’s Hubei province, the Fangweng Restaurant is carved into a naturally-occurring cave on the face of a cliff, with stunning views of the Xiling Gorge and Yangtze River below. A large portion of the dining area is contained within the cave; however, a segment of it extends past the hollow, essentially causing this part of the restaurant to hang above the river.
Decorated with dark wood furnishings and dimly-lit Chinese lanterns, indeed this small but charming restaurant provides exquisite views of the longest river in Asia. However, before reaching the dining area, patrons must enter through a nondescript gray building and then traverse a narrow, 30-meter bridge that runs alongside the scenic cliff and is also suspended above the rocky gorge.
Tree Pod at Soneva Kiri Resort – Koh Kood, Thailand
The tree pod dining experience found at Soneva Kiri Resort on Koh Kood Island, Thailand is one you’ll never, ever forget. That said, it’s not for travelers on a budget.
Diners climb into a compact but comfortable bamboo pod on the ground level, and then the pod is hoisted high into the trees of the ancient Koh Kood rainforest. Views include the lush green jungle, as well as the rocky shore and turquoise ocean some 35 feet below. Acrobatic waiters access the pod to take orders and deliver food and drinks via a speedy zip line that runs through the trees and arrives at a small landing area next to the pod. Meals are served in bamboo baskets and, magically, nothing is ever spilled.
Sky Dining in the Singapore Flyer – Singapore
At a height of 165 meters, the Singapore Flyer is currently among the tallest observation wheels in the world, capable of holding up to 28 passengers per capsule, with The High Roller in Las Vegas a mere 2 meters taller. Of course, the new Ain Dubai will outdo all existing wheels with a height of 210 meters; however, at the time of this publication, it has not been completed.
Whereas The High Roller allows for tourists to use the enclosed capsules mainly to observe the Las Vegas strip during rotation, or to rent privately for parties, The Singapore Flyer takes it to the next level with extraordinary dining experiences that boast breathtaking views of Marina Bay and the beautifully lit skyline. On a clear night, it’s even possible to see neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia. The Full Butler Sky Dining experience comes complete with a private, air-conditioned capsule, a 4-course menu, wine, and, of course, personalized butler service.
El Diablo – Canary Island, Spain
How about dining atop a volcano, with a gourmet meal cooked over the 500-degree geothermal heat emanating from that very volcano? Sound extreme? Yes, perhaps, but it exists at El Diablo in the Canary Islands.
Located in Timanfaya National Park, the volcano has not erupted since 1824. But the extreme heat it continues to generate has made this unusual dining experience possible, with outstanding views of the lava fields below. Tourists from far and wide venture to El Diablo on a daily basis to dine on sumptuous dishes created by volcanic barbecues. Diners can witness the unique cooking spectacle before being seated inside the circular restaurant with quaint, red and white check tablecloths and floor to ceiling windows for viewing the national park.
Sky Dining – Limited Engagements in Various Locations
If you truly have been paying attention to many of the restaurants listed in this article, you might have noted that people yearn to be somewhere up high, overseeing a skyline or a beautiful landscape. And they seem to like to combine such views with a dining experience. Restauranteurs have tapped into this phenomenon. Thus, the revolving restaurant at The Skylon, the hanging Fangweng Restaurant in China, Tree Pod Dining at Soneva Kiri Resort, The Singapore Flyer, and El Diablo. With all of these and more in mind, Dinner in the Sky was born.
This is an unusual experience that began in Belgium with the help of a company that specializes in amusement park installations. The concept is to utilize a crane to hoist the table and chairs, several diners, plus a chef and the wait staff into the air at heights of 150 feet, thereby giving everyone a thrilling and unforgettable experience while they dine. The all-in-one apparatus includes an overhead cover with lighting, a floor in the middle for the chef and wait staff to stand upon while they cook and serve, and seat belts so diners can safely buckle up before the hoist begins.
Over the years, the venture has seen limited engagements of a few weeks at a time in various cities around the world, including Canada and the US, Australia, Dubai, and select cities in Europe. Usually, an area is chosen will provide an amazing aerial view. Because engagements are limited and so is the seating, reservations are required well in advance. Meals are prepared by some of the world’s best chefs and are paired with wine and cocktails. We understand the appeal of such an exclusive experience, we’re just not sure what happens if guests require the restroom.
Ithaa Restaurant – Maldives
There are several restaurants throughout the world that provide stunning underwater views with the use of massive aquariums. The Maldives takes it a step further with a few underwater restaurants, however, the most exclusive is Ithaa, meaning Mother of Pearl.
The restaurant is part of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort with a blend of Asian and European cuisine. Minimally decorated, the dining space is essentially an acrylic tunnel with a 14-person capacity, located 5 meters (16 feet) below sea level. Patrons can watch an array of colorful, tropical fish as they swim above and around the tunnel, providing a calming and unique dining experience.
Snow Castle Restaurant – Kemi, Finland
Kemi, Finland annually features the biggest snow castle in the world, a structure that was originally built in 1996 and is now rebuilt each and every winter. The castle, which is featured in the Guinness World Records, plays the role of a hotel, surprisingly boasting all the same amenities as a regular hotel but at temperatures of minus 5°.
The twist is that it is not identical each time it is rebuilt. The architecture changes each year; however, the Snow Restaurant is a recurring segment due to its popularity. If you don’t mind bundling up to eat and being seated on fur-covered footstools, this might be the restaurant for you. And be sure to heed the etiquette of no elbows on the table, otherwise, you just might stick to the ice.
Labassin Waterfall Restaurant – Philippines
The menu includes authentic local cuisine served at long bamboo benches resembling skinny picnic tables. However, these are not the kind found in a park. Instead, they are located at the base of the all-natural waterfall, where the water pools and washes over the feet of diners. The mist from the falls also cools patrons, which is welcomed considering the humidity of the region. Guests that are still hot after consuming a buffet-style lunch can afterward submerge themselves in the soothing waterfall if the mood strikes.