30 of America's Strangest Restaurants You Need to Try

By Adrienne McIlvaine
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Photo Courtesy: @Tongaroom/Twitter

Going out to eat doesn’t have to mean getting boring fast food or a trip to the neighborhood spot where everybody knows your name. From elaborate and immersive dinner theater shows to wildly decorated themed restaurants, dining out can be as fun and exciting as a trip to the club.

Next time you’re feeling like you’re stuck in a restaurant rut, grab some friends and make a reservation at one of these totally wild restaurants for a dining experience you’ll never forget.

Heart Attack Grill

Located in downtown Las Vegas, the hospital-themed Heart Attack Grill isn’t (ahem) for the faint of heart. The waitresses wear nurse uniforms and the famous menu features items like the Double Bypass Burger, Flatliner Fries and even a Coronary Dog. It’s a gut-busting ode to the pleasures (and pain) of the unhealthiest foods imaginable.

Once inside the kitschy, red-and-white dining room, guests don hospital gowns and “nurses” dole out “prescriptions” that can run into the tens of thousands of calories. Making a stop here is something you definitely won’t want to tell your doctor about. “Patients” who are unable to finish their order receive a spanking from the nurse, while those who manage to polish off a Triple or Quadruple Bypass Burger are taken to their car in a wheelchair.

Ninja New York

Be prepared for anything at Ninja New York, which transforms a Tribeca basement into a ninja playground. The entire restaurant is designed to look like a traditional Japanese village. Each table is set back into its own little pagoda, plus there are hidden doors and windows everywhere from which the ninja staff stealthily appear to deliver food and drinks.

Ninja NY
Photo Courtesy: DionHinchcliffe/Flickr

Diners can either order from the à la carte menu, which features traditional Japanese dishes like edamame and miso soup. They can also choose from several prix fixe menus for a more elaborate meal. Some items even come with their own special presentation and each table enjoys a special performance of ninja tricks and surprises.

The Yurt at Solitude

Utah’s Solitude Mountain Resort isn’t just a haven for winter sports enthusiasts — it also features one of the most unique dining experiences in the country. Diners who book a meal at The Yurt don’t simply take the elevator or walk down to the restaurant. Instead, they bundle up, strap on a pair of snowshoes and follow a guide on a half-mile hike through the forest for an unforgettable meal.

The Yurt can accommodate up to 26 guests for an intimate four-course meal that combines the best of local ingredients and fine dining techniques. There’s a full selection of beer and wine on hand. Guests can also bring their own wine for a nominal corkage fee. And don’t worry if you’ve never snowshoed before; there’s a quick tutorial beforehand!

The Catacombs

Located in the cellar basement of Bubes Brewery in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, The Catacombs pay homage to its 19th-century roots with their menu which offers classic German beer hall fare with an upscale twist. Diners can take a tour of the brewery — which was founded in 1876 by a German immigrant named Alois Bube — before descending several stories into the cellar, which was once used to age lager.

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Photo Courtesy: Bube's Brewery/Twitter

The massive stone cellar is the perfect backdrop for a meal of grilled lamb chop or New York strip steak paired with a beer from the brewery above. Seafood, duck and a variety of pasta dishes are also available. The Catacombs also regularly host banquet dinners with a cast of professional actors, public feasts with musicians and medieval-themed performances. 

Rattlesnake Saloon

Whether you’re a guest at Seven Springs Lodge in Tuscumbia, Alabama, or simply passing through, you’ll love the rustic atmosphere and gorgeous natural beauty of Rattlesnake Saloon. The main bar is located in a cave formed by a massive cliff overhang and a natural waterfall right in the middle — the ideal backdrop for kicking back and enjoying a drink or two.

There’s plenty of seating for families and large groups to settle in and enjoy an afternoon of music, food and fun. The menu is filled with crowd-pleasing favorites like onion rings, nachos and a selection of burgers with meat sourced from local cattle ranchers. The bar starts serving alcohol at five o’clock sharp!

Fife & Drum at Northeast Correctional Center

Fife & Drum has created an exciting, modern take on New American cuisine in a New England atmosphere. But surprisingly, the restaurant is located inside the Northeast Correctional Center in West Concord, Massachusetts. It’s the centerpiece of a 22-year-old program that trains soon-to-be-released inmates in the culinary arts and is the country’s sole prison restaurant.

Fife & Drum
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Eating at Fife & Drum requires a little planning. The restaurant is only open from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and guests are required to show ID and surrender their cellphones upon entering. Each meal runs about $3.50 and the chefs, who rotate jobs every few weeks, grow much of their own herbs and produce in a nearby garden.

The SafeHouse

If you’ve ever dreamed of being the next James Bond, but Hollywood never came calling, don’t despair. A meal at this spy-themed restaurant is guaranteed to scratch that 007 itch. A refuge for the hungry spies of Milwaukee and Chicago, SafeHouse delivers an unforgettable dining experience inside a top-secret location accessible only to those who know the password.

There are two kinds of visits to SafeHouse — daytime and nighttime “missions.” Daytime missions are family-friendly affairs that encourage young kids to explore the corridors, secret tunnels and other hidden, interactive exhibits that give SafeHouse its unique flare. Nighttime missions are for “agents” seeking to “debrief” over an award-winning menu of spy-themed cocktails and light bites.

The Airplane Restaurant

The Airplane Restaurant of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a full-service restaurant that seats 42 diners inside a 1950s Boeing fuel tanker. The aircraft was retired in the 1970s, but in 2002, it was reopened as an aviation-themed restaurant for special occasions, parties or spicing up a weeknight outing.

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Photo Courtesy: @Modaeronet/Twitter

Diners can enjoy either lunch or dinner in the airplane, which also houses a full bar and main dining room along with a narrow dining area guaranteed to bring back memories of past flights. There’s tons of flight memorabilia inside. The menu features information about the history of the plane (a KC-97) and the Wright Brothers.

Twins Creek Cafe at Frank Kent Honda

If you’ve ever spent an afternoon at a car dealership and thought to yourself, “I could really go for a coriander-chicken salad right now,” you’ll love Twin Creeks Cafe in Fort Worth, Texas. The restaurant is located inside (yes... inside) a Honda dealership. Buy a new car, get a great meal. What’s not to love?

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Photo Courtesy: Twins Creek Cafe

Twin Creeks is run by local restaurateur David Rotman, who ran the popular downtown spot, Cafe Aspen, until its closure in 2010. He opened Twin Creeks a year later...inside the dealership. The menu covers breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a gourmet diner’s dream. The cafe is open until 6:00 p.m. on weekdays. 

Ichiran

When this Japanese ramen chain opened up in New York City in 2018, lines wrapped around the block. Hungry diners anxiously waited to try the rich tonkotsu broth the chain is known for. But even more intriguing was Ichiran’s unique take on the dining experience itself. Every seat in the restaurant is its own cubicle-like booth. The set-up requires almost no human interaction, thereby allowing the diner to eat and contemplate in solitude.

A typical meal at Ichiran involves sitting in what the restaurant calls a “Ramen Focus Booth” and filling out an order form. Diners can customize their tonkotsu ramen with everything from noodle thickness to extra spice. Diners press a button to have an unseen server pick up the form. The noodles are served through a curtain window for maximum privacy. 

Auto Spa Bistro

It’s no secret that Americans lead busy lives. Most people would probably say washing their cars is pretty low on their priority list. Luckily, Atlanta’s Auto Spa Bistro offers a delicious multitasking concept: You drop your car off for a wash, have lunch and boom! You’re on your way in your spotless ride.

At this one-of-a-kind local landmark, customers can get their cars or trucks washed and/or detailed while enjoying a delicious meal at the full-service bar on site. The extensive menu offers breakfast, lunch and dinner options, so no matter when you come, there’s always something good cooking.

Lumberjack Feud

If you ever find yourself in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, don’t miss this one-of-a-kind restaurant that combines a lumberjack competition (featuring professional lumberjacks) with a variety of fast-casual restaurants from Food Network star Paula Deen for a night of fun the whole family will enjoy. Because who knew watching men chop wood while eating barbecue went together like PB&J?

Grown ups can indulge in a craft beer (or two) at the Smoky Mountain Brewery while watching the log rolling or speed climbing events. Kids will love the interactive halftime show that lets them meet the lumberjacks up close. And don’t worry if it starts to rain — there’s a covered amphitheater that lets you see all the action without getting wet.

Opaque

One of the hottest trends in the European dining scene over the last few years has been the concept of “dining in the dark,” which is...well, exactly what it sounds like. Diners eat their entire meal sans illumination (which is harder than it sounds) for a one-of-a-kind, sensory experience. This dark restaurant, located in chic Santa Monica, California, delivers a fine-dining adventure that will completely change your view of the act of eating.

Because so much of how we perceive taste is actually influenced by what we see, dining in the dark offers a wild new avenue of experimentation for restaurants. At Opaque, diners are blindfolded and lead to their seats, where they are served a prix fixe menu by waitstaff specially trained to navigate their darkened environment. Just a note: Be sure to alert the restaurant to any dietary restrictions or allergies beforehand.

Casa Bonita

Casa Bonita has been serving up authentic Mexican fare alongside one of the wildest dinner shows in the country for over 40 years. Located just outside Denver, this Colorado landmark makes a statement with its 85-foot-tall castle tower facade and massive water fountain that was imported from Mexico. The interior is even more extravagant, and features a three-story high waterfall that empties out into a 14-foot deep pool.

The menu includes all the greatest hits of Mexican cuisine, from fajitas and tacos, to burritos swimming in Colorado’s famous green chile sauce. There’s a full beer and wine section, too. There are daily shows in the afternoons and evenings which feature a variety of family-friendly entertainment, including a dive show, a gunfight and puppet shows for the little ones.

The Tonga Room

Mid-century Tiki culture is alive and well at Tonga Room, located in the basement of the iconic Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. This kitschy haven was right on-trend when it opened in the mid-1950s, but now its vintage tropical decor and menu of Polynesian-fusion cuisine is a welcome throwback for locals and visitors alike.

Sit at one of the cozy tables that line the intimate “lagoon,” which features a small stage for the in-house band who entertain during happy hour and beyond. The thatched roofs provide shelter from the occasional tropical thunderstorms (yes, you read that correctly!). The food is served family-style, so grab a couple of friends, order up a Tiki bowl and sit back and enjoy the restaurant’s vacation vibe.

The Varsity

Approach the register at The Varsity, and you'll be greeted by a friendly "What’ll ya have?" A family-owned fixture in downtown Atlanta since it opened in 1928, The Varsity once touted itself as the world’s largest drive-in restaurant. It has been visited by two U.S. presidents: George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 

In addition to its simple, yet delicious menu of fresh-made burgers, fries, shakes and more, The Varsity also pays homage to its storied history by keeping up the carhop lingo that once flew thick and fast.

Want a burger with ketchup, mustard and pickles? That’s a “Naked Steak.” Enjoy it with a side of “Strings” (French fries) or “Ring One” (onion rings) and their signature drink, the Varsity Orange inside the vintage-themed restaurant or under a red-and-white umbrella on the patio.

Dollar Bill Bar

Located within a luxury resort in the Florida Keys, this seafood-focused bar and restaurant has been serving guests for over 60 years. The tropical, open-air restaurant provides stunning waterfront views and is swimming in money...literally. Known to the locals as “Dollar Bill Bar,” every square inch of the interior is covered in $1 bills, each one scrawled with a patron’s name for posterity.

No one really remembers how it all got started, which is how all good bar stories begin. Sidle up to the bar and order a drink, then hit the covered porch out front to take in a gorgeous Keys sunset. After you finish your meal, ask your server for a black marker and add your own bill to the legendary collection.

Mad Rex

Experience the future from the safety of now at Mad Rex — a theatrical, post-apocalyptic-themed restaurant in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. The ambitious venture opened in 2017 and boasts a full restaurant and bar, an event stage and a virtual reality room that lets guests explore how they’d fare at the end of the world.

The decor is inspired by post-apocalyptic movies and TV shows like Mad Max and The Walking Dead...and looks like a survivor’s outpost. Local ingredients highlight the menu, which features several items that are cooked on pre-heated lava rock for extra flair. And for those who will need a smoke at the end of days, Mad Rex also has a selection of cigars. 

The Duce

About a hundred years ago, this Phoenix warehouse was where locals bought their produce. Now, it’s a restaurant, coffee bar and gym. Oh, there’s also a retro vintage shop where owners Steve and Andi Rosenstein sell antiques, clothes and other items they’ve collected on their travels around the world. The complex takes up an entire city block and is so packed with things to do and eat, you’ll never have the same experience twice.

The massive warehouse, now known as The Duce, holds many surprises. But the biggest one has to be the Art Deco bar the couple salvaged from The Black Orchid, whose decade-long reign as Chicago’s hottest nightclub ended in 1959. The Duce outfitted the gym in vintage equipment and regularly hosts sock hops and other retro-themed events. 

Teatro ZinZanni

This San Francisco fixture may have temporarily moved to Seattle (while it works to find a new home in the Bay Area), but that hasn’t stopped the dinner-circus show from finding new ways to thrill and impress diners. It’s an interesting combination of a comedy show, acrobatic performance and cabaret event which draws inspiration from around the world and leaves audiences gasping.

The three-hour show features a gourmet, multi-course meal served at cabaret-style tables that let the performers get up close and personal with the audience. And because Teatro ZinZanni debuts several new shows a year, there’s always something new to experience, making it a perfect night out for a birthday or other special occasion. 

Bubble Room

A colorful, chaotic fixture since the 1970s, the Bubble Room is known for its eclectic decor and sprawling menu which features dishes you can’t find anywhere else. Located on the scenic Captiva Island on Florida’s eastern shore, the restaurant is known for its over-the-top, year-round Christmas decor that inspired the longtime catchphrase, “It’s always Christmas at the Bubble Room.”

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Photo Courtesy: The Bubble Room/TripAdvisor

There’s so much to see at this local landmark that you might have to make several trips to see even a fraction of it. The friendly servers, almost all of whom are decked out in “bubble scout” gear, can walk you through the menu. Bonus: Everything comes with the restaurant’s famous “bubble bread” ( jazzed-up garlic bread). Don’t forget to grab a souvenir on your way out!

Charlie Russell Chew Choo

It’s full steam ahead for a night of adventure aboard this Montana dinner-train experience, which offers diners stunning views of Big Sky Country. Riders are encouraged to pre-book for the ride, which lasts three and a half hours and snakes through hills, farmland and wide open areas filled with wildlife like antelope, eagles, hawks and coyotes. The train tracks date back to 1912, making a ride on the Charlie Russel Chew Choo a real trip back in time.

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Photo Courtesy: iStock

Diners can choose from two different rides – the Montana Dinner Train and the North Pole Adventure – which are offered in the company’s climate-controlled, non-smoking trains. The meal and entertainment are as grand as the views: A full prime rib dinner with dessert, accompanied by a performance from local musicians. For a special occasion, go with the VIP package that includes a complimentary drink with dinner (there’s a cash bar, as well) and priority boarding. All aboard!

Cuchi Cuchi

With over 100 colleges and universities in the area, Cambridge can feel... well, a little young. Next time you’re in the mood for something a little more daring than a sports bar, hop on the Red Line to Central Square and settle in for the night at the retro, 1940s-themed Cuchi Cuchi.

This elegant bar and small plates restaurant has been drawing crowds since it opened in 2001. Owners Tamara Bourso and Fernanda da Silva decided Cambridge needed a place that celebrated Old Hollywood glamour. Servers are dressed to the nines, and the decor is full of cheeky retro touches perfect for a special night out.

Tommy Gun’s Garage

If the phrase “audience interactive speakeasy” doesn’t make you want to crawl under a table and hide, then a night at Tommy Gun’s Garage is for you. This Chicago theater-restaurant embraces the city’s legendary (and lethal) legacy of crime with a 1920s Prohibition theme that will take you back in time.

The menu leans heavily on classics like lasagna, prime rib and other hearty entrees — all of which are named after legendary Chicago figures like “Big Jim” Colosimo and “Big Bill” Thompson. Sip on a Clara Bow’s Cosmo or Gloria Swanson’s Sunset Boulevard while you take in the show of flappers performing old-timey dances and gangsters evading law enforcement. 

Pirate’s Dinner Adventure

So, you know about medieval dinner theater, gangster dinner shows and even traditional Tiki dinner shows. But did you know there’s a pirate-themed dinner show anchored in Orlando, Florida? Pirate’s Dinner Adventure’s interactive performance is perfect for families and parties looking for something novel — so get ready to set sail for a night of dastardly adventure!

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Photo Courtesy: @Piratestown/Twitter

You can’t be a pirate without a pirate ship, and this one is pretty good. It’s a replica of 18th-century Spanish galleons moored in an enormous lagoon and flanked by six separate ships where diners can take in the performance. You can cheer on your own personal mascot or focus on the dancing, singing and pirate-y exploits as you feast and make merry. 

Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe

When you say you want a restaurant with a view, you probably think of someplace with a bird’s-eye view of a twinkling city below. But that’s not what you’ll get at Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe — a no-frills seafood shack deep in the Florida Everglades. What you will see, however, is alligators...and lots of them.

Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

It’s paper plates only at this down-home shack that serves fried shrimp, fried crab, crab cakes. Their claim to fame? A meal simply called “the Swamp Combo” which includes frog legs, gator nuggets, crab cakes and fried bread. So pull up a chair on the patio outside, crack a beer and spend a couple hours making friends with the locals. 

Magic Time Machine

It’s a little hard to describe this offbeat Texas mini-chain that has locations in both Dallas and San Antonio. The funky decor could be described as “pop culture fantasy gone wild,” with no two tables alike. The friendly servers wear costumes and interact with the diners and — oh yeah! — there’s a 1952 Roadster that’s been converted to a soup and salad bar.

Magic Time Machine started back in 1973 when owner Jim Hosslacher pursued his idea of a fun, interactive restaurant the whole family could enjoy. The menu features steaks, seafood and other comfort-food favorites.The costumed servers engage each table as a themed character and provide plenty of entertainment throughout the night. Be on the lookout for a caricature artist, roving pirates and more!

Harvey Washbangers

What if doing laundry was...fun? That’s the concept behind Texas’ Harvey Washbangers, which combines a state-of-art laundromat with a full-service restaurant for a night of adulting that feels like anything but. Here’s how it works: Load your laundry into one of the self-service machines, then walk on over to the restaurant and grab a bite to eat while you wait.

Guests can keep track of their laundry on a giant screen that scans each machine and lets them know when it’s time to switch over to the dryer. And befitting for a laundromat/restaurant in College Station, Texas, the menu is college-kid approved featuring things like craft beer, fresh-cut fries and burgers made with local Angus beef. 

Mai-Kai

Any true Tiki fan needs to pay a visit to Mai-Kai, which opened outside Fort Lauderdale in 1956 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Mai-Kai was the lifelong dream of brothers Bob and Jack Thornton, who were so enamored with a childhood visit to the legendary Chicago Tiki bar Don the Beachcomber that they decided to open up their own grand Polynesian bar.

Mai-Kai
Photo Courtesy: Ed Schipul/Flickr

Mai-Kai now encompasses over half a dozen dining rooms and an awe-inspiring main stage for the nightly floor show, which can be viewed from almost every table. The menu is full of familiar Polynesian-American favorites, and the drink menu is a goldmine of authentic Tiki classics prepared just as they were at Don the Beachcomber over half a century ago. 

Beetle House

Sure, you’ve seen the movie more times than you can count and consider Lydia Deetz a personal style icon. But you haven’t lived until you’ve had a drink with the bio-exorcist himself at Beetle House, a New York City bar dedicated to all things Beetlejuice. Don’t worry West Coast fans – there’s a Beetle House L.A., too.

The cozy bar and restaurant celebrates all things spooky and dark with a themed menu and costumed servers who evoke the whimsical, gothic atmosphere of the cult classic film. Diners can choose from one of two prix fixe options (there are vegan and vegetarian specials as well), and the drinks’ name give a nod to other Tim Burton films, like Ed Wood, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands.