The latest trend in restaurants is opening something completely different and unexpected inside the restaurant itself.

By Elyse Inamine
Updated June 27, 2017
Credit: Evan Sung

On the menu at Olmsted in New York City (one of our Restaurants of the Year), there’s one dish will make you scratch your head—and draw you to order it. Two words: Yakitori Olmsted.

“We call it restaurant inception,” says chef Greg Baxtrom.

Get the Yakitori Olmsted, and that original menu is taken away and you’re given laminated white ones with badly lit, yellowish photos of drinks and a check-off list featuring skewers of fat shiitake mushrooms, chicken hearts and dark meat threaded with scallions. It’s like cramming a completely different restaurant in one line item on the menu, and you’re starting to see it at restaurants across the country.

“I hate the word ‘experience’ in a restaurant, so what we’re trying to provide is an experience without providing an 'experience',” says Baxtrom. “We just want to exceed guests’ expectations.”

That means taking the simple task of filling in a chicken entrée to the next level. The idea for Yakitori Olmsted came up as Olmsted’s team was planning out the next menu when they all realized they spent all their off-days at their favorite yakitori joints in the city.

“We just try to keep things as playful as we can,” says Baxtrom.

Other restaurants are channeling that same whimsy by tinkering with the very idea of what makes a restaurant. Inspiration comes from something as simple as extra space in the restaurant to what chefs ate over the weekend. Here are three other restaurants in a restaurant to hit up:

Cold Storage
Credit: Courtesy of Cold Storage

Cold Storage at Swift & Sons

Before it was a steakhouse, the space that houses Swift & Sons was one of the largest freezer lockers in Chicago. So chef Chris Pandel nodded to the original with this seafood-focused, all-day mini restaurant.

Tapas Bar
Credit: Emil O. Florea

Tapas Bar at La Sirena Ristorante

Mario Batali tapped chef Anthony Sasso of Casa Mono in New York City to give his massive Italian restaurant a Spanish twist—and tons of tapas on a completely separate menu.

Honor Bar
Credit: Courtesy of Coquette

Honor Bar at Coquette

Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus, the chefs of Coquette in New Orleans, transformed their upstairs bar into an amaro- and sherry-focused haven (with snacks!) for others in the restaurant industry.