21 Best-Kept-Secret Restaurants Slideshow
March 29, 2013
Knife & Fork, Spruce Pine, NC
To be closer to the land, Knife & Fork is intentionally off the beaten path. Co-owners Nate Allen and Wendy Gardner returned to North Carolina from Lucques in West Hollywood, Calif., to open this small-town paragon. Their style of "New Southern Appalachian" cuisine is epitomized in their daily changing menu featuring dishes like rabbit loin over quinoa with fennel and nasturtiums.
Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s, and Fox Liquor Bar, Raleigh, NC
Given the shared address (and shared deliciousness), Fox Liquor Bar’s covert location qualifies all three spots as being "secret." Owner Ashley Christensen insists that the sub-restaurant bar is not another speakeasy, but its unmarked entrance is still obscure; to get in, consult the solo doorman around the corner.
Selma Cafe, Ann Arbor, MI
Although the breakfast-only Selma Café isn’t intentionally clandestine, the menu largely is thanks to their restaurant model: they employ a new guest chef and team of volunteers in a private home every week. The menu is seasonal and guests pay via donations that help build hoop houses for supplier farmers. It’s packed at 6:30 a.m., so you better wake up early for a meal at this spot.
Little Serow, Washington DC
Hardly unsung, Little Serow is all the hidden restaurant rage. With no reservations, no phone, and with hardly any space, this set-menu joint serves authentic (or sometimes not) Thai cuisine to parties of four or less. Like its peers, it’s intentionally unmarked; you’ll know its location by the line waiting outside, though…
Burger Joint, NYC
Pay attention to the fry cook behind the curtain. In a stroke of incongruous genius, the management of the stately and sometimes staid Le Parker Meridien hotel in midtown Manhattan allowed this neon-lit cheap-eats Burger Joint to operate on their premises, sectioned off from the lobby with red velvet drapery. They keep a short menu that follows the “if you don’t see it, we don’t have it” rule.
The Little Door, Los Angeles, CA
This long-standing locale for keeping a low profile in LA maintains an unassuming and unmarked exterior out of discretion, not trendiness. Through entryway of The Little Door is a Moroccan deep blue and burnt orange color palate, a French fusion menu featuring dishes like a duo of duck breast and leg confit with blood orange marmalade, and the setting for celebrity rendezvous, earnest romance, and illicit affairs.
The Pink Door, Seattle, WA
Guess how you identify this otherwise unmarked Pink Door on one of the jumbled alleyways surrounding Seattle’s Pike Place Market? Rose-colored inside and out, the self-described "Italian-American Restaurant and Cabaret Lounge" has served old-school meals (dishes include house lasagna and veal osso bucco) made with locally sourced ingredients for 30 years. Did we mention the trapeze artist?
Jasmin Rae Bakery, San Francisco, CA
In a city where everyone’s a food lover and rogue restaurateurs are staying one step ahead of the health inspectors, you can’t keep a secret restaurant in one place for long. One quasi-legal indulgence that remains stationary in San Francisco is this custom cupcakery. Stop by on "Secret Wednesdays," the only time the spot is open to the public, to sample confections such as lemon-vodka-vanilla bean cupcakes.
El Carajo International Tapas & Wine, Miami, FL
No, you’re not crazy, just lost in a convenience store of a gas station asking where you are. But be patient, walk through the front bakery, pass the voluminous wine section, and you will find the Spanish restaurant in the back. At El Carajo, go for the Galician soup, lobster empanadas, and assorted meat or seafood plate. Along with a vast selection of beer and kindly priced wine, you will soon be in tapas ecstasy.
Blanca, Brooklyn, NY
This year-old spot is tucked in behind its sister pizza restaurant, Roberta’s, on Moore Street in Bushwick. Blanca seats only 12 diners bar-style (or as a constant audience) in front of the chefs, and the kitchen fills half the space. If you can score a reservation, you'll be treated to a $180 tasting menu that sometimes includes up to 22 courses! With a turntable set up at the entrance, guests are invited to select albums from the house collection that range from Serge Gainsbourg to Kraftwerk.
Sidecar, Washington DC
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."
‘e by José Andrés, Las Vegas, NV
‘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 23-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."
Safe House, Milwaukee, WI
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." If you manage to make it to Safe House, word on this street is that they make a mean martini.
Manducatis, Queens, NY
Amid 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 Manducatis needs no advertisement.
Club 33 Anaheim, CA
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.
Hudson Clearwater, NYC
Hudson Clearwater doesn’t hide their phone number or address, but if you don’t know to look for it, you probably won'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 (including dishes like pan-roasted quail and gnocchi with butter clams) would appeal to anyone fortunate enough to stumble upon it.
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. A VIP lounge in the back of the restaurant with its own password (perks include car service and kitchen access) adds another level of exclusivity to the already discreet dining room.
Chef Vola's, Atlantic City, NJ
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."
Says representative 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)."
Kalachandji’s, Dallas, TX
Though not deliberately secretive, its easy to miss Kalachandjis 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 doesnt seem to affect business, though. 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." The restaurant is buffet style and posts a daily menu on their website.