From multi-sensory dinners to meals that come with a tour, these restaurants are worth planning a trip around.
In the right hands, food is much more than a combination of ingredients served on a plate. It tells a story, is a demonstration of culture, and in some exemplary cases, it's a full-blown adventure. All around the world you'll find chefs that go the extra mile to curate gastronomic experiences that create lasting memories. Some will channel all the senses, beyond just your tastebuds; others will take you through a journey of local goods; while a few even provide excursions to go along with your meal. For those who are in search of an unforgettable dinner while jet setting across the globe, these are 14 of the best meals in the world to plan your next trip around.
Mil, Cusco, Peru
Chef Virgilio Martínez may be most regarded for their award-winning Central restaurant in Lima with his wife Pía León, but it's at Martínez's Mil where diners will have a true adventure. Located in Cusco just steps from the Moray Archaeological Site, it's the epitome of destination dining. In addition to an incredible backdrop, guests are invited to partake in an immersion experience where you'll tour farms and meet with artisans, affording the opportunity to connect with the local community. Your time culminates with an eight-course meal that highlights ingredients found at various altitudes, exploring the different ecosystems in the immediate surrounding area.
Azurmendi, Larrabetzu, Spain
Located in Basque country just outside of Bilbao, Azurmendi, is a restaurant that's the epitome of sustainability. The restaurant's building was constructed in 2010 using a mix of local and recycled materials and the most cutting-edge renewable energy technology at the time, such as solar panels and climate control systems using geothermal energy. The venue also recycles rainwater, grows a portion of its own vegetables in the greenhouse, and composts all organic waste. Guests get a glimpse at these eco-friendly practices throughout their meal. The evening begins in the garden with a picnic-style set-up with a stop in the kitchen to meet chef Eneko Atxa and his team, followed by small bites in the greenhouse before being seated in the main dining room. Majority of the ingredients are local, with dishes changing seasonally, and Atxa's creations are a feast for both the eyes and mouth.
Vespertine, Los Angeles
Often lauded as the most revolutionary restaurant in Los Angeles, if not the world, Vespertine is a celebration of architecture, music, and food. Chef Jordan Kahn takes his guests through a literal journey, shuttling them across various spaces throughout the meal, and a figurative trip to the future through his avant-garde cooking. Expect bold flavor combinations, vibrant hues, fantastical presentation, and sculpture-worthy dinnerware, all served to a monastic score that drives home this wunderkind's forward-thinking approach to cooking.
Gaggan Anand Restaurant, Bangkok
Known for being a rule breaker, Gaggan Anand's namesake restaurant is possibly one of the most playful in the industry while delivering an exquisite gastronomic experience. Over the past few years, the Kolkata-born chef's reimagined menu comprised solely of emojis has been delivered in unique forms, such as a jigsaw puzzle, an exam, and a passport with emoji stickers. Dishes change frequently, but some of his greatest hits — like "Lick It Up," where diners bring the plates directly to their mouths and others that are paired with music — reoccur on select occasions. While Anand and his team are currently in Singapore for a residency at Mandala Club until the end of June, followed by a stint in Europe in a location that's yet to be disclosed the following month, the chef plans to return to his Bangkok home base in August to resume usual business.
"Outrageous" doesn't even begin to describe Rasmus Munk's Alchemist. Guests enter through an ominous, hand-sculpted door made from two tons of bronze. Diners move through a room covered in graffiti by Brooklyn-based artist Lady Aiko and a lounge that overlooks a 43-foot wine cellar before being seated in the domed dining room — lit by floating jellyfish and plastic bags, a comment on our lamentable damage to the oceans — for the main event. The evening is comprised of a whopping 50 courses inspired by cuisines from all around the world, each more fantastical as the night goes on. Afterward, guests move to a neon-lit room where a dancer awaits, followed by a dimly lit lounge for a digestif. The entire experience spans several hours, and you'll undoubtedly leave with a visceral reaction of both shock and awe.
Hiakai, New Zealand
Stymied by the lack of Māori cuisine in New Zealand, chef Monique Fiso set out to change that with a pop-up dinner series that highlighted Indigenous ingredients and traditional Māori cooking techniques. Following a successful run, the Kiwi chef went on to open her first brick-and-mortar restaurant, Hiakai. Committed to exploring the island country's native flavors, Fiso has forged close relationships with distributors to acquire hard-to-find, and some even forgotten, ingredients. Adding another layer to this devotion, each menu is centred around a local myth or legend, creating not just a dining experience for her guests, but a learning one, too.
Dining Out, Japan
Previously only available to Japanese customers, Dining Out is a pop-up dinner series that takes place throughout Japan showcasing various chefs. But in January 2020, the alfresco supper welcomed international guests for the first time thanks to a partnership with Halekulani Okinawa. The luxury hotel will continue to team up with Dining Out once the pandemic eases up, welcoming interested diners from all around the world. Guests will have the option to join a tour before the meal, highlighting one of Okinawa's beloved specialties like awamori, an alcoholic beverage made from rice that's native to the isle, before they're whisked away to an outdoor reception, followed by a meal in a spectacular outdoor setting. For example, in 2020 when they brought in chefs Gaggan Anand and Tsuyoshi Fukuyama, guests sipped on bubbly at Hamahiga Island, which included a walk to a nearby sacred site, before dining within the Katsurenjo Castle Ruins. Every occasion will be set in a different location with a new guest chef so that no two events are alike, making this an experience worth booking time and time again.
At chef Paul Pairet's Ultraviolet, "ordinary" is thrown out the window. Marrying multisensory technology with food, he creates an experience that can, in many ways, be defined as avant-garde and theatrical. Guests will enjoy 20 courses throughout the night, with influences from all around the world, and every dish is served in a different ambiance courtesy of projections, lighting, music, and scents. The restaurant only has one table that's limited to 10 seats, so you'll have to plan well in advance to score a reservation.
Chef Grant Achatz has long been a pioneer of innovating cooking, and it's at Alinea where he showcases his masterful creations. Here, visuals are a fundamental part of the experience, ranging from painterly plating to billows of smoke, and many of his creative dishes have reached the status of culinary icons. An edible helium-filled balloon, lamb cooked three ways served with 86 accompaniments, and an haute take on peanut butter and jelly are just a few that have gone viral. The restaurant offers three different seating options, but for the most indulgent and immersive evening, opt for either the Gallery or the Alinea Kitchen Table. The former engages multiple senses by way of music and lighting and is where all participating diners are served at the same time, adding a performative element to the dinner. The latter is even more extraordinary, offering a private supper for five to six guests and a front-row seat to the action as you watch the team prepare your meal.
Chef Nak Home Dining, Cambodia
Over the past several years chef Rotanak Ros has become a champion for Cambodian cuisine. Realizing that her home country's fare wasn't being properly showcased in Phnom Penh, Ros quit her job in 2017 to cook Khmer food, hosting dinners at her riverside home and later catching the attention of Rosewood Phnom Penh, where several of her recipes are served at the luxury hotel's Brasserie Louis restaurant. Currently, Ros is in the process of building her new home — slated to be ready later this year — that'll also serve as a culinary center and homestay. There will be two suites available for overnight stays in addition to venues for cooking classes and her prized group gatherings. While guests can certainly taxi to Ros's house, she also plans on offering a boat ride from the city center, allowing for a scenic kickoff to the meal.
Osteria Francescana, Italy
At Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana, every dish tells a story. His iconic "Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart," which has since been reinterpreted in many forms, is a comment on the fine-dining industry's endless strive for perfection while his signature "the Crunch Part of the Lasagna" is an homage to every Italian's child tendency to take the last bit of nonna's Sunday treat. In addition to visually stimulating plating, the restaurant-cum–art gallery is decked out with contemporary pieces that serve as an inspiration to the chef's boundary-pushing creations. For those who want to dive deeper into Bottura's world, the chef opened Casa Maria Luigia in 2019, a chic, 12-room boutique hotel just outside of Modena's city center. The property features even more artwork, each accommodation is uniquely decorated, and it even has its own Francescana dining experience if you're not able to score a reservation at his highly popular restaurant.
Pujol, Mexico City
When it comes to a high level of Mexican cuisine, there's no one that quite accomplishes the task like Enrique Olvera. At his Pujol restaurant in Mexico City, the seasonal tasting menu dives into Mexico's rich history as it relates to food, focusing on high-quality ingredients and cooking techniques from all around the country. His signature offering is "Mole Madre, Mole Nuevo," paying homage to the Oaxacan specialty and where the former is aged anywhere between over 1,500 to 2,500 days. You'll also find insects on the menu — which are not only a delicacy for the region, but also a more sustainable source of protein in contrast to land mammals — and nods to Baja Californian seafood.
El Celler de Can Roca, Spain
Stepping into El Celler de Can Roca is like entering the Roca brothers' home. At this fine-dining establishment in Girona, Spain, Joan acts as the chef, Josep as the sommelier, and Jordi as the pastry chef. They opened this family business in honor of their grandmother and it's a labor of love for the trio, having continuously evolved over the course of more than 30 years. Each brother has each earned high merits, with Joan often being recognized as a pioneer of sous-vide cooking and celebrated for his avant-garde twists on Catalonian fare; Josep managing a library of some 60,000 bottles of wine; and Jordi receiving awards for his sweet treats.
Humor and kaiseki cuisine don't typically coincide, but at chef Zaiyu Hasegawa's Den, the two have formed the perfect marriage. Approaching this traditional version of a seasonal Japanese tasting menu with a playful and innovative approach, Hasegawa creates a convivial atmosphere for his patrons. For starters, his signature "Dentucky Fried Chicken" features a stuffed chicken wing sitting in a take-out–style box, donning a photo of the chef in a toque hat grinning from ear-to-ear. Then there's the life-changing salad course, comprised of 20-plus ingredients prepared in different ways, topped with carrot slice with a smiley face carved into it. Diners can see Hasegawa and his brigade — many of whom are women, a rarity in Japan's fine-dining space — working in the kitchen, at the counter, or from one of the few tables in the intimate restaurant, and Hasegawa's pup is often there to greet diners with excitement.
Credit: Christina Liao