Museum cafés have long transcended their status as small stations serving coffee and refrigerated sandwiches, there simply for peckish tourists who get cranky from too much sightseeing. They have to walk a fine line between being very good and not stealing the show from the museums they occupy. The following 10 museum cafés perfectly match the ethos and quality of their respective museums; they neither steal the spotlight nor hide in the shadows. They add the sensory experience that paintings, sculptures, and other media cannot provide — taste.
For this list, we established a difference between museum cafés and museum restaurants. We identified cafés based on their casual atmosphere. These are the kinds of places you are most likely to go to if you are already at the museum, though the food is good enough that they could be destinations of their own. In most cases, the food at these places are café or cafeteria fare — sandwiches, salads, pastries, tea, and coffee. There is no fine dining at these restaurants. For these reasons, notable museum restaurants like Danny Meyer’s newly opened Untitled at The Whitney or the opulent Oleum restaurant at the National Art Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona did not make this list.
While food comes first, it was important to us that these museum cafés were in a picturesque or comfortable setting, because after walking around a museum and thinking deep thoughts about art, your brain needs some rest. Whether they provide breathtaking views of city landmarks, like Sydney’s MCA Café and Sculpture Terrace; are optimal for good weather, like AMMO at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; or have beautiful interior decoration, the cafés on this list enhance your experience with more than just taste.
At these cafes, the intellectually stimulating museum experience extends to your taste buds.
10. The Museum Restaurant at Tassenmuseum Hendrikje (Amsterdam)
The Restaurant at the Tassenmuseum Hendrikje, or Museum of Bags and Purses, in Amsterdam consists of two period rooms with original painted ceilings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The restaurant is open for lunch and high tea — most notably their “fashion high tea,” which features a cinnamon cake that looks like Bette Midler’s red shoes, a vanilla and marzipan cake that resembles a Chanel 2.55 bag, and a passion fruit-stuffed “Moschino bon bon.” The food celebrates the museum, and for that, it is an essential part of your visit.
9. Cafe Asia (San Francisco)
Cafe Asia makes the usual cold tuna sandwiches at museum cafés look rather sheepish, with items like yakiniku pork banh mi, chicken salad with crispy lotus root, market fish with a red miso glaze, and other mouth-watering options. Ever-changing daily specials showcase the creativity of chef Melinda Quirino.