As the city with the most Michelin rated restaurants in the world, Tokyo is an instant hit with most food lovers. But what if you’re looking for something a little more…unusual? The bustling Japanese metropolis doesn’t disappoint there either, with a plethora of themed restaurants perfect for the adventurous eater. At the following five places, it’s as much about the experience as the food itself, so it’s probably best not to show up expecting a gourmet feast (of course, if it’s top-notch ramen you’re after, that shouldn’t be too hard to find.)
1. Alice in Wonderland Cafe.
Fans of the Lewis Carroll story will love this quirky restaurant chain, which has several locations throughout Tokyo, and is popular with groups of young Japanese women. Servers come dressed in French maid-style Alice costumes, and the Wonderland-themed decor is unique to each restaurant (picture a Cheshire cat hovering over the doorway, or giant pages of Carroll’s novel plastered on the walls.) Meanwhile, as you sit there nibbling on pizza molded into the shape of the Cheshire cat’s tail, your Wonderland experience will be complete. Average Price: ¥3,500 (about $35.35)
2. Ninja Akasaka
In Akasaka, Tokyo’s business district, a nondescript black doorway leads you through a maze of corridors to a ninja, who in turn conveys the secret password needed to enter Ninja Akasaka. Designed after a 17th century village from the Japanese feudal area, the restaurant itself is pretty impressive – though the real show starts when the food arrives. Not only is the Japanese-French fusion food consistently rated as some of the tastiest in the city (at least, by themed restaurant standards), its presentation is dramatic. For example, the grapefruit and snow crab salad comes elegantly balanced on top of a knife, which your ninja server then yanks out to release a cascade of dry ice smoke. If you’re lucky, the illusionist might perform card tricks at your table. But don’t expect fun and flavor for nothing – with average prices around ¥6,500 (about $65.65), Ninja Akasaka doesn’t come cheap.
In Japanese elementary schools, students take turns serving each other school-provided food, which is where the kyuushokutoban (school lunch duty) concept originated. In this school cafeteria-themed restaurant, waiters are dressed as students, and they serve classic Japanese comfort foods like hamburger steaks and fried chicken on stainless steel lunch trays, complete with a carton of milk (for your daily dose of calcium). You’ll order from chalkboard menus and sit in little wooden chairs, but don’t worry, this place is still grown-up friendly (i.e., serves alcohol). Sample one of their character-themed cocktails, like Snow White’s Poison Apple – a cloying concoction of grape and apple liquors and club soda to indulge your inner child and adult at the same time. Average Price: ¥1,500 (about $15.15)
4. Robot Restaurant
Walking through Shinjuku’s Kabukicho in Central Tokyo, you might happen upon two larger-than-life robot replicas hanging out on the back of a truck. No, you’re not hallucinating. This is an advertisement for the Robot Restaurant, which famously cost $102 million to built, and which functions as more of a stage show than anything else. Yes, your entry fee gets you a bento box, and there are a few drinks available. But don’t come for the food. Come for the giant female cyborgs with pneumatic breasts, the bikini-clad showgirls who operate them and the neon tank. Hey, when in Rome, right? Admission: ¥4,000 (about $40.40)
5. Alcatraz ER
Modeled after a medical prison, Alcatraz ER was one of Tokyo’s first themed restaurants and remains popular decades later. Prisoners…er, customers enjoy their food from inside a cell, after they’ve been handcuffed and ‘injected’ by the staff, who are dressed like mental ward employees. The menu includes Breast Fried Rice, Dead Chicken, and various cocktails served in baby bottles and syringes. From fright shows to the occasional patron who ‘accidentally’ escapes and runs screaming around the restaurant, an evening at Alcatraz ER is sure to be memorable, but probably isn’t the best place for small children. Average Price: ¥4,500 (about $45.45)