“Weird” is, of course, a matter of taste — as one man’s sheep’s penis is another’s Korean hot pot served in a toilet. Regardless, there’s no denying that travelers won’t soon forget eating at a restaurant devoted to a single ingredient (apples) or one that employs tiny monkey waiters. Read on to learn about nine of the world’s most unusual restaurants — happy perusing, and bon appetit!
Kayabukiya Tavern: Utsunomiya, Japan
At first glance, there’s nothing particularly striking about Kayabukiya Tavern, a seemingly run-of-the-jungle Japanese sake house. Food is of the Asian comfort variety — barbecue chicken, fried dumplings and rice dishes, all washed down with a no-frills selection of beer and sake. “What’s so odd about this place?” you wonder — until a fleet-footed monkey server politely hands you a pre-meal hot towel.
In lieu of human servers, who are costly and sometimes prove impossible to train, the owner’s pair of macaque monkeys efficiently work the gig. Dressed in open shirts and short pants, they scamper about, delivering bottles of beer and collecting tips of edamame (steamed soy beans) for their efforts. Animal rights regulations dictate that the simians can only work a total of two hours a day (the monkeys are fighting this rule), so make sure you call ahead to avoid homo sapiens servers.
Cereality: Various Locations, U.S.A.
The Cereality concept is simple — and either outside-the-box brilliance or utter absurdity, depending on how much you enjoy cereal. Customers create a breakfast concoction by choosing from dozens of popular hot and cold brand-name choices, 40 toppings (candy, syrup, nuts, fruit) and various types of milk (soy, lactose-free, whole). Then the pajama-dressed “cereologist” goes to work. In addition to the create-your-own option, there’s a ready-made menu: the “Health Kick” option features Cheerios, Special K, dried cranberries and walnuts, while “PB & B Crunch,” more a dessert than a breakfast, has Reese’s Puffs, Cap’n Crunch, bananas and chocolate syrup.
Although cereal addicts — mostly small children and college students not typically known for rational decision making — initially flocked to the concept, the $3.99-per-bowl price tag wasn’t as much of hit. Price-conscious consumers argued that you can buy an entire box of cereal, the good stuff no less, for $4. A number of the chains have shut down over the past few years, but seven still remain, six of which are now found inside Cold Stone Cremery properties. The seventh is at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Modern Toilet: Taipei, Taiwan
In a culinary landscape where “toilet” as restaurant theme has become au courant, Taiwan-based Modern Toilet is the biggest name in doo-doo related dining. Blending two of life’s most popular pursuits — using the bathroom and eating — Modern Toilet’s more than a dozen locations serve up curries, hot pots and spaghetti in commode-shaped dishes, drinks in keepsake urinal glasses, and desserts (“bloody poop” is strawberry) that lie like animal droppings atop old-style squat toilets. Restaurant seating is comprised of johns decorated with flowers and seashells, and food is dispensed on tables fashioned out of wash basins. Prices are reasonable, and the places are often packed, so reservations are a must.
Spirite Lounge: Montreal, Canada
Small and nondescript from the outside, Montreal’s Spirite Lounge is a vegetarian restaurant that plays up the waste-not guerilla mentality stereotype of non-meat eaters. The rules are simple and strictly enforced. There’s one menu per night featuring a soup, main course (typically a crepe) and dessert. You select a portion — small, medium, large — and are required to finish everything that’s put in front of you. If you don’t finish your main meal, dessert is out of the question and you’re asked for a $2 donation to account for your squandering ways (you fritterer). Mess up and fail to finish dessert, and that’s it for you — you’re no longer welcome in the Spirite Lounge.
Complementing the hardcore policies is a whimsical decor that’s an ever-changing mishmash of art project inspiration. Various reviews have described gold-plated walls, grandfather clocks, light-covered foliage, zebra print and velvet.
Guo-Li-Zhuang: Beijing, China
Guo-Li-Zhuang, an exclusive restaurant frequented by communist government officials, is aimed at the curious, the connoisseur and the health conscious — all looking to feast on the phalluses of dogs, yaks, horses, bulls and ducks. If those choices won’t suffice, there are numerous rare specimens on the impressive menu, with the Canadian seal’s saber costing diners well into the $100’s (advance order required). If it’s not penis-related (don’t forget about the deer penis juice!), an assortment of testicles rounds out the options.
The sliced and diced, skinned, shaved thin, crispy-fried, boiled and braised dishes are intricately presented, with specimens snaking around dragon statues on big beds of lettuce. Many diners compare the typical texture to calamari, with the flesh taking on the taste of the staple chili or soy dipping sauces. So why eat there? Some claim that eating penis (but not testicles) has benefits on virility, but we just think it makes for a good travel story.
Heart Attack Grill: Chandler, Arizona
Arizona’s Heart Attack Grill is a burger, fry, booze and cigarette joint founded in 2005 by Dr. Jon, a modest-sized man who flips massive burgers with stethoscope dangling from the collar of his white lab coat. The signature dish is the “Quadruple Bypass Burger,” an artery-clogging feast of four half-pound patties plopped on lard smothered buns, covered in cheese, tomato and onion, and accompanied by all-you-can-consume “Flatliner Fries” (cooked in lard, of course). It’s a diet soda-free zone, so diners wash down their lunch with high-octane Jolt Cola. The burger alone provides 8,000 calories of much-needed energy.
For something to do between bites, swallows and bouts of cardiac arrest, Lucky Strike filterless cigarettes are sold, alongside hard liquor and beer. The hospital theme is in full effect here, as scantily clad “nurses” serve “patients” their “prescriptions” — and the nurses will even wheel post-surgery patients back to their cars at no extra cost.
Weigh over 350 pounds? It’s all you can eat for free.
Typhoon: Santa Monica, California
For Westerners, the image of a sea of moist yellow larvae wriggling about triggers nausea rather than chops licking. Eating insects as food isn’t all that unusual in Africa and Asia (see Bangkok’s popular fried bug peddlers, for one), but here in the United States, entomophagy (insect eating) is often met with automatic repulsion (“blaach”).
To accommodate such picky Western tongues, Santa Monica Airport’s Typhoon devotes just one portion of its menu to insect-based dishes. Next to the pan-Asian meats, rice bowls and noodle soups are scorpion on shrimp toast, stir-fried cricket (high in calcium, we’ve read) and silkworm larvae in a sweet and spicy sauce. Adding to the experience, daring eaters enjoying a meal of slurpy sea worms can watch private jets take off into the night sky.
Pomze: Paris, France
Do you like apples? They’re pretty good, aren’t they — and the equivalent of garlic and crosses to doctors? If you answered yes to both questions, then Paris’s Pomze is definitely the place for you (how about them apples?). Some 120 varieties of the greatest fruit on earth ripen up the menu, with seasonal offerings like mussel chowder with apple cider, gazpacho with Granny Smith ice cubes, beef cheeks in a cider stew, apple and chocolate fondant, and blue cheese and apple salad. For the doctor-loathing, apple beverage fiend, there are 40+ ciders available.
Hobbit House: Manila, Philippines
“The smallest waiters in the world.” So goes the tagline for Hobbit House, a Manila institution founded in 1973 and run entirely by Filipino little people. Jim Turner, a former college professor and Peace Corps volunteer, opened the restaurant to express his love for all things “Lord of the Rings.” The interior is partially lit by candles, and scenes from Tolkien’s books adorn the walls.
The menu (who cares, really?) is “international,” featuring pizza pies and Mexican dishes, all delivered hot by amiable little people who are more than happy to mug for the camera. Concerns about exploitation aside, diners rave about the nightly live blues, rock and Filipino music, as well as the 100+ beer selections. For those people — small, medium or large — looking to stay connected, there’s also free Wi-Fi.
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–written by Dan Askin