8 Restaurants Worth Going the Extra Mile (or 1000) for
Among those who consider each summer's World’s 50 Best Restaurants list a new vacation road map, some might head to Bangkok for the express purpose of eating at Gaggan, others might plan a weekend in Mexico City around a reservation at Pujol—and still others might decide dinner at Attica is reason enough to visit Melbourne.
Dedicated foodies, no question. But in the hierarchy of restaurant pilgrims, mere beginners.
Next-level gastronauts are going to ever greater extremes—and with crazy-remote eateries on the rise worldwide, keeping up with the ... jonesers has never been more challenging. Then again, trying to has never been more fun. Here, eight spots that would make you a serious contender.
Natura Vive Skylodge, Sacred Valley, Peru
The Skylodge Adventure Suites, a cluster of see-through polycarbonate capsules clinging to the side of a mountain, opened in 2013. And given their location—1,300 logic-defying feet above the road and rail line most travelers take to Machu Picchu—word got out fast, and rooms sold out even faster.
As an alternate experience for travelers who don't manage to score overnights (or who wouldn’t sleep dangling off a mountain for all the gold in El Dorado), a restaurant is now open for lunch on the site. The catch? To get there, you have to scale a via ferrata or hike up, then take a series of zip lines down—a journey that’s equal parts fun and terrifying. (Despite being hooked into one thing or another the entire time, you’ll feel you’re always a misstep away from becoming part of the local fossil record.)
The reward for a successful ascent? A four-course meal that’s shockingly good—especially given the jerry-rigged, solar-powered kitchen built into the rock face. Then again, no matter how delectable the alpaca gnocchi or crispy guinea pig (and yes, you’ll have plenty of vegetarian choices, too), nothing competes with the condor’s-eye view you’re getting of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Ithaa, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
If you’re up for dining in a transparent capsule but would rather do so submerged than suspended, spin the globe toward the Indian Ocean, where—among the islets that make up the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island—you’ll find the world’s first undersea restaurant 16 feet below the surface.
Though the name is local—Ithaa means mother of pearl in Maldivian Dhivehi—the menu inside this acrylic-enclosed, oxygen-infused space is conspicuously global. As you feast on the likes of reef lobster-stuffed pasta with burrata and lemongrass veloute or Bolivian cru sauvage chocolate and kaffir lime panna cotta with coconut sorbet, you’ll have an ever-shifting audience—not least, the occasional shark.
And if you find you’re particularly taken with the life aquatic, good news: The Conrad’s Muraka residence is slated to open late this year, not far from the restaurant. “The world’s first undersea residence encourages guests to explore the Maldives from an entirely new perspective below the surface of the sea,” says Ahmed Saleem, chief architect and designer of this two-level suite that accommodates nine, complete with gym, living room, kitchen, bar, dining area and butler’s quarters, among other features.
Hell’s Backbone Grill, Boulder, Utah
Back on terra firma—in what could totally pass for terra incognita—Hell’s Backbone Grill borders the famed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. One of the quickest ways to get a handle on the local vibe is to scan the Manners page of the restaurant’s new cookbook, where you’ll learn, for example, that “when approaching a cattle drive in your car,” you shouldn’t stop—but rather “push through slowly unless the ranchers direct you otherwise.”
In fact, all kinds of unusual driving conditions await you en route to the best farm-to-table restaurant in the West: white sandstone cliffs so impossibly glittery, you’ll find the occasional driver stopped mid-highway in disbelief; red rock formations so convincingly Seuss-ian, you’ll feel certain you’re winding through a set; and then, of course, there’s the Hogback.
By the time you reach the grill—four-ish hours after you set out from Salt Lake or five-ish from Vegas—you’re good and ravenous: ideal conditions for making your way through the award-winning and ever-shifting menu. If you find the pumpkin-apple soup with sizzled sage leaves, order it. Same goes for the shirred eggs, posole and pretty much any cocktail that contains farm-grown mint and fruit. And for the drive back, pick up some chocolate-chip cookies and granola by the register.
The Rock Restaurant, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Of course, the American Southwest doesn’t corner the market on remote, hallucinatory rock formations and their improbable local eateries. Off the coast of Tanzania sits an island perhaps best known to the outside world as Freddie Mercury’s birthplace. And off the coast of said island sits a restaurant that—in the immortal words of Queen—will rock you.
Zanzibar's The Rock—on the site of a former fisherman’s outpost—is now home to such specialties as fish carpaccio with chili-lime-coconut sauce and pineapple flambé with local vanilla ice cream. A lushly landscaped hut on a rock off Michamvi Pingwe Beach, the restaurant is accessible by foot during low tide—and by boat during high tide, when you’d be forgiven for thinking you were about to dine on a floating treehouse.
Treepod Dining, Soneva Kiri, Thailand
For dining in an actual treehouse—or at least a bamboo pod that’s been hoisted into a rain forest canopy—head to Soneva Kiri on one of Thailand’s easternmost and least populated islands: Koh Kood. You’ll need to take a private flight, then a speed boat, to get there—but the reward is the ravishing remoteness you’ll find at this confluence of jungle, sand and sea.
For the best perspective on that trio, have at least one meal in the treetops, where your waiter will deliver your order via (what else?) zip line. You'll be amazed at the trays full of delicacies that arrive intact, whether the banana leaf-baked fish with galangal (sometimes called Thai ginger), lime and house salsa verde; the eggplant with chili, peanut and mint; or the traditional Thai custard with sticky rice. And the list goes on ... and on: Each treepod meal lasts two hours, with the exception of the hourlong High Tea (emphasis on high).
A Night at Field of Light, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia
Not gonna lie: Any meal you eat within eyeshot of Uluru—the supersize sandstone stunner also known as Ayers Rock—is a meal worth traveling for. Even a backpack-smushed PB&J with wilted celery sticks. But the fact that you can have a multi-course alfresco feast here with live music, an intro to the Southern night sky and—through 2020—access to one of the most ethereal art installations on earth is the very definition of awesome.
Though you're in a remote region to begin with—i.e., the Outback—you'll be deposited in an extra-secluded corner of it, where you'll sip bubbly and snack on canapés as a didgeridoo plays and the setting sun flips Uluru's on-switch.
Then, as darkness falls and light artist Bruce Munro's 50,000 glowing orbs start to colorize the desert floor around you, you'll feast on a succession of local specialities. Note that if you don't want the likes of smoked kangaroo with native pepperberry yogurt—or braised crocodile salad with shaved veggies and fragrant herbs—there are plenty of non-bush meat options as well. After some star talk, a primer on the art installation and a serious dessert course (try the warm apple and local quandong crumble tart), you'll take the postprandial stroll to end all postprandial strolls through Munro's pulsating pathways.
The Three Chimneys, Skye, Scotland
Hiring a guide to get you to dinner generally isn't a thing. But Ian Byers, owner of Stravaigin Scotland, is repeatedly enlisted by those with coveted reservations for the Three Chimneys. "The restaurant is on the Isle of Skye's Duirinish peninsula, well off the beaten path," he explains. "You find yourself meandering along a single-track road through the mountains until you come across this lonely wee white cottage on the shore of Loch Dunvegan." The only characters you're likely to encounter en route? "The sheep grazing on the lush grass and staring arrogantly at you as you pass through their alfresco dining experience."
And while the dining experience that awaits you may not be alfresco, it indisputably rivals theirs. Think gin-cured, hand-reared Scottish salmon with beer-pickled fennel, Dunvegan crab, salt and vinegar puffed wild rice, buttered leeks and dashi. Or scorched local langoustine tails with fermented cucumber, tempura Loch Harport oysters and buttermilk. Or roast milk chocolate with smoked praline, malt and barley ice cream and—lest you forget you're in Scotland—whisky.
Poerava Restaurant, Rapa Nui, Chile
One of the planet's most remote inhabited islands, Rapa Nui—also known as Easter Island—is home to famously mysterious statues, raw nature and fabulous food. You'll find the first two items on that list around almost every corner of this Polynesian-Chilean outpost, but as for the third, head to what many consider the island's best restaurant: Poerava at the Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa.
Perhaps not surprisingly, fish and seafood have pride of place on the menu—especially the local mahi mahi, kana kana and rapé rapé (seems you can't go wrong with anything double-named). Try the Ceviche Rapa Nui, and look out for whatever the chef has decided to whip up from the latest haul of local sweet potato, taro, plantain, pineapple and honey. But whatever you're in the mood for, have it on the terrace for peak edge-of-the-world vibes.