In a world where virtually any old bar or restaurant feels confident enough to declare itself a "hidden gem" in its respective city, it can be difficult discerning what's really worth your time (and money). But at the end of the day, we all love being let in on a legitimately good secret.
With that in mind, we're rounding up the best under-the-radar restaurants scattered across the globe. From password-protected spots to (literal) underground joints, there's a little something for everyone.
So lean in, take notes, but whatever you do, let's keep this between us.
(New York City, New York)
Concealed behind your seemingly typical Manhattan butcher shop is one of the city's best restaurants, featuring a sophisticated but playful mix of Japanese, American and French cuisines. The modern, white-walled space is housed in Andy Warhol's former digs and seats just 25 guests. But to score a reservation, you have to know someone who's already been who will give you its phone number (or you can try pleading your case via email on its website).
Photo: Le Jardin
Francophiles are most likely already familiar with Grand Coeur, a beloved brasserie that shines in the City of Light, but the spot's newest endeavor is captivating the attention of in-the-know epicures. Open just last in December, Le Jardin is the team's intimate restaurant-within-a-restaurant concept disguised as a secret garden. The rotating menu incorporates seasonal highlights and long-standing staples, such as wine and cheese pairings, panfried sole, and pigeon served with bulgur wheat pilaf and persimmon. Mother Nature is reflected in the restaurant's earthy design, with oak wood floors, flooding natural light and verdant benches that resemble towering hedges.
(Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Roughly a decade ago, Buenos Aires witnessed the rise of puertas cerradas, a collection of closed-door restaurants and supper clubs shrouded in mystery. Treintasillas was one of the first on the scene and remains one of the movement's longest-standing institutions. Tucked away in a nondescript building, the address can't be found online—instead, email chef Ezequiel Gallardo to score a table in the romantic indoor or outdoor space from Thursday to Saturday, or inquire about the cooking classes offered Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
Curious gastronomes who are into the eclectic and experimental need to pay special attention. This one's so guarded that a private driver actually delivers each guest to an unmarked location buried in an old Shanghai neighborhood. Here, chef Paul Pairet creates a multisensory journey that uses technology and special effects to inspire various emotional, physical and sensory responses to complement each dish. The ultra-secretive, single-table restaurant seats just 10 guests and features an avant-garde, 20-course tasting menu, which just earned it a spot on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list.
When you think of snacking on tapas in Miami, there are probably a few favorites that spring to mind—a gas station is likely not one of those locations. Unless a local has already tipped you off. Hiding out inside your run-of-the-mill highway convenience stores is El Carajo, the secretive spot that offers an impressive wine list and authentic small plates, such as pulpo al ajillo (sautéed octopus), croquettes, paella, ceviche and more. It's so good you'll completely forget you're eating at a BP gas station.
Photo: Evans & Peel
If you're a sucker for expertly crafted cocktails and delicious gastropub fare, then Evans & Peel is right up your alley. Fronting as a detective agency, it's actually a 1920s-themed bar and restaurant that feels straight out of The Maltese Falcon. Submit a "case" online to confirm an appointment. Upon arrival, the doorman will ask you questions pertaining to your case. If satisfied, he'll pull a lever, which opens the adjacent bookcase and reveals the candlelit space masked in plain sight.
Photo: La Gruta
The ancient city of Teotihuacán is a UNESCO World Heritage site less than an hour's drive from Mexico City, best known for its Mesoamerican pyramids. But what most visitors don't know about is La Gruta, the subterranean restaurant buried beneath the shadow of the Pyramid of the Sun. Nestled in a natural cave roughly three stories deep, the space was once used by the Mayans to safeguard their gold. Today, it's a sprawling resto with some of the best homemade tortillas in all of Mexico.
(Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
What began as a cheeky pop-up in 2015 quickly took Dubai's culinary and social media scene by storm. Parker's photogenic plates began exploding online, but not without a catch: To gain access, diners had to find one of the coveted golden keys regularly hidden throughout the city by a mysterious Mr. Parker . . . very Willy Wonka. The concept was simple but viral. The place has since officially moved into The Dubai Mall, but hungry patrons still need a golden key to enter. Snag yours by following @byparkers for daily clues.
Ian Centrone is a native New Yorker and freelance writer currently exploring South America. Follow his adventures at @iancentrone.
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