Museum Restaurants Worth Your Palate

The quality of some eateries inside museums might surprise you

The Mondrian cake at the Blue Bottle Coffee Bar at the San Francisco Museum of Art is a work of art unto itself.

When you're at a museum and in need of an energy boost to get you through that next wing (or to help refuel your brainpower), you’ll most likely head for the in-house eatery. But after all that cultural enrichment it can be a bit of a let-down scooting a plastic tray past rubbery sandwiches and Jell-O squares. It's nice to know, however, that more and more museums these days are outfitting themselves with restaurants and cafés that are aptly themed — and even destinations unto themselves.

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The museum restaurant is increasingly becoming representative of the intended overall experience, and is no longer just a pit stop between galleries. If ethnic art is the focus of the museum, it's fun to sample the foods of the regions exemplified. If the theme is modern art, visitors can enjoy a meal in sleek, contemporary surroundings. Many of these restaurants have embraced the ideals of using local, organic food, so have often-changing menus that incorporate what's fresh and current. And because these eateries are tucked away inside their host buildings, they often give diners the sense that they've made a great little discovery. Some have even become favorites with the locals, who are always pleased to find a great brunch or a restaurant bar with good ambiance.

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The Museum Café, for example, in San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art, is as charming as any café in Europe, and Café Sabarsky in New York’s Neue Galerie has become a destination in its own right as the city’s best Austrian restaurant. Whether these cultural destinations provide a planned upscale splurge or a pleasantly surprising repast, museum-goers will find food that lends itself well to the atmosphere and is anything but institutional.