America's 10 Most Secret Restaurants Slideshow
January 12, 2012
10. Kalachandji’s (Dallas)
Though not deliberately secretive, it’s easy to miss Kalachandji’s vegetarian restaurant because of its location within a temple. Manager Danny Thomas explains, "We are hidden from those who are unaware — new customers often comment that they drove past us for years without knowing we existed." The low-key locale doesn’t seem to affect business. Thomas clarifies, "Although a high-visibility location is usually considered a top priority for a restaurant, word of mouth and the fact that vegetarians seek out vegetarian restaurants keeps us busy, often more so than we can handle."
9. Sidecar (Washington D.C.)
There is no signage indicating the presence of P.J. Clarkes’ Sidecar, and the restaurant pays homage to the days of smoking rooms and speakeasies. A manager from Sidecar paints a picture, "[Sidecar] is intriguing and appealing to Washingtonians and politicos who are looking for a more private meal, meeting, or party. The dimly lit room, bar service, and nostalgic photos that cover the walls also add to the 'old boys' club' feel of the restaurant."
8. ‘e by José Andrés (Las Vegas)
‘e by José Andrés is one of the latest experiments by the chef known for his feats of molecular gastronomy and theatrical dining. ‘e is a private room hidden within another restaurant, the tapas bar Jaleo at the Cosmopolitan Hotel of Las Vegas, and possesses no sign or phone number. Lucky attendees even receive a Willy Wonka-style golden ticket upon securing a reservation. Once there, you can expect a 15- to 18-course meal, each dish presented in a modern, avant-garde style that showcases both new and classic ingredients in fascinating and delicious ways.
Chef Andrés comments on the dining concept, "I want é by José Andrés to be a discovery, to be a journey. I want people to find it, and be astonished." His ThinkFoodGroup elaborates, "[Andrés’] intention is to share more and more about é by José Andrés over time, peel back the layers in some way, and grow its exposure organically, without losing its feeling of surprise and discovery."
7. Safe House (Milwaukee)
Safe House, a spy-themed Wisconsin restaurant, remains inconspicuous to the outside world. There is no sign marking its location, and only "secret agents" with the password are permitted. As one anonymous "agent" explained, "A safe house is a haven for spies. Spies need a little R&R, furtive feasting, and surreptitious sipping after missions." Its very lack of advertising has made it one of the hottest spots in Milwaukee. How hard is it to join the club? The agent elaborates, "There are at least 39 steps from wherever you are, maybe more. None are difficult and we're very accessible, especially if you find a friendly spy who will take you there. Just make sure you're not followed to our secret location."
6. Manducati’s (Queens, N.Y.)
Amidst the fast-growing neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens, behind an unassuming storefront, the Cerbone family has been serving old-school Italian food since 1977. There is barely any evidence from the busy street that a New York institution lies behind the door, but when you walk through and into the bar-vestibule and sit down for a meal at one of the tables in this labyrinthine classic, it won’t be hard to figure out why Manducati's needs no advertisement.
5. Club 33 (Anaheim, Calif.)
Club 33 is an exclusive club within the New Orleans section of Disneyland, and its exclusivity borders on the occult. Less than 500 members are permitted, and the time on the waiting list allegedly averages around 14 years (the unofficial web site said at the time of publication that the waiting list has been closed). Legend has it that Walt Disney began Club 33 as a way to wine and dine important guests and clients. Only those possessing a membership card have access past the discreet "33" mirror at the entryway within the park.
4. Hudson Clearwater (New York City)
Hudson Clearwater doesn’t hide their phone number or address, but if you didn’t know to look for it, you probably wouldn’t find it. The restaurant’s address looks like an abandoned storefront, and you have to enter through an unmarked green door on a cross street to discover the patio and dining room. It’s worth the hunt — chef Wes Long’s thoughtfully crafted, seasonal American fare would appeal to anyone fortunate enough to stumble upon it.
3. Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse (Albuquerque, N.M.)
This "high-class speakeasy" is located within the Village Shops at Los Ranchos. Formerly in the corner of a liquor store, Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse is hidden behind an outside door with no signage or marking. Diners must knock three times and give a secret password to enter. The password changes weekly, so even those aware of the location can’t gain easy access. According to general manager Jamie Monske, plans are underway to open a VIP lounge in the back of the restaurant with its own password, adding another level of exclusivity to the already discreet dining room.
1. Bohemian (New York City)
Says spokesperson Kimi Watanabe, "Bohemian New York is an invitation/referral only SECRET HIDE-OUT for our beloved NAKAMA (Japanese for 'a group of people who are feeling the same vibe'). Our phone number is kept confidential among our repeat customers and their friends and family. In order to gain access to a reservation, those interested must be referred by someone who has been to Bohemian. Or, send us a brief self-introduction through our web site (in time they may receive an invitation)."
2. Chef Vola’s (Atlantic City, N.J.)
You have to be in the family to get a seat at one of Chef Vola's 12 tables in Atlantic City, N.J. or at least that's the mystique surrounding the Italian eatery. The unmarked establishment is located in the basement of a house and welcomes only those with the right connections. The web site is no help — password-protected, revealing no phone number or address, it offers only a picture of the Esposito family and this elusive greeting: "In 2007, the Esposito family celebrated their 25th anniversary at Chef Vola's restaurant. Thank you and God bless."