Sometimes a restaurant is just as much a feast for the eyes as the stomach — especially when it comes to spaces with a history of something other than a kitchen. From a former police headquarters to an erstwhile church with soaring ceilings, here are top restaurants in converted spaces.
Moshulu, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The only restaurant on a Tall Ship in the world, Moshulu (pronounced Mo-shu’-lu) has a storied role as a Chilean and Australian cargo ship re-named by Mrs. Woodrow Wilson to honor the native American Seneca tribe (the word means “one who fears nothing”). It makes a lot of sense for a vessel that also played a role in macho movies like Rocky and The Godfather Part II, both filmed along Philadelphia’s scenic waterfront. Today, chef Anthony Bonett makes seafood the superstar on his menu featuring sushi, shrimp, crab cakes, and salmon. Make a reservation at Moshulu.
Grace, Portland, Maine
Push aside the stale communion wafers and unremarkable wine — Portland’s Grace, housed in a former church, is worthy of worship for its creative bar program, dishes spotlighting local specialties like Gulf of Maine halibut and Maine farm rib-eye with truffled breadcrumbs, and a design that pays homage to the space’s original life with stained-glass windows, pews, and a pulpit transformed into a hostess stand. But unlike church, reservations are a must here, and they go fast. Make a reservation at Grace.
The Mill at Simon Pearce, Windsor, Vermont
It may be housed in an old mill, but the food here is anything but run-of-the-mill. Simon Pearce — home to the famed glass-blowing studio — has made another art form out of Vermont’s farm-to-table cuisine featuring dishes like Green Mountain cheddar soup, spiced lamb short rib, and roast duckling with mango chutney. Get there early for lunch or dinner and perhaps you’ll get one of the best views over the rushing current that used to power the mill and savor the scene of the Ottauquechee River waterfall and its covered bridge. Make a reservation at The Mill at Simon Pearce.
Hillside Farmacy, Austin, Texas
If home-style gravy and biscuits or Texas steak and fries are the cure for what ails you, then Hillside Farmacy is your place. Featuring a menu of fresh local favorites sourced from Austin-area farms, the only thing preserved here is the building: the team behind it was honored with a Preservation Austin Award for their efforts. A 2012 spruce-up kept the vibe of the original spot with throwback lighting, funky bottles, and an old-fashioned soda counter offering alcohol- and ice cream-optional liquid elixirs. Make a reservation at Hillside Farmacy.
The Old School, Nashville, Tennessee
Forget the tater tots and chicken fingers served up en masse in fifth grade. At The Old School, chef Kirstie Bidwell uses locally sourced ingredients for a European-inspired menu that changes by micro season depending on what fruits and vegetables are available at Nashville farms. And that space that used to be a playground? Yeah, that’s now a beer garden. The brick 1936 school house features indoor and outside dining, an event barn, and speakeasy-style music room. Make a reservation at The Old School.
Il Casale, Belmont, Massachusetts
It may be the site of a former firehouse, but chef Dante de Magistris strays far from the five-alarm chili with 100-year-old recipes from his Italian nonna. Squid-ink pasta, gorgonzola ravioli with roasted peaches and pistachio pesto, and burrata with roasted plums and speck are all superstars here, but also worth savoring are views of exposed brick, towering ceilings, reclaimed wood, and the original fire pole. Make a reservation at Il Casale.
Puesto at the Headquarters, San Diego, California
Push the donuts aside! Puesto has replaced the what may have been a favorite indulgence of the former San Diego Police Headquarters’ occupants with upscale Mexican food including handmade tortillas, made-from-scratch salsas, sustainable, local, and organic seafood, greens, and more. A $40 million adaptive re-use and renovation in 2013 transformed the complex into a 100,000-square-foot retail, entertainment, and dining destination in the Seaport District of San Diego, mixing Spanish and Pueblo styles (just right for the menu) with Mediterranean and Classical Revival architecture. Guests who visit The Headquarters are able to explore eight restored jail cells with historic photos and police memorabilia. Make a reservation at Puesto at the Headquarters.
Lockbox at 21c Hotel, Lexington, Kentucky
The former bank vault at Lockbox makes for a uniquely intimate private dining space lovingly called “The Safe” at this Louisville hot spot. Featuring original marble floors, intricate plaster details, and large arched windows, the contemporary brasserie pays homage to the past while updating it with modern art installations for a bit of revived flavor. Dishes like a house cracker plate with pimento cheese, cornmeal gnocchi, and Woodland Farm Cast Iron Hog Chop and Kentucky Silver Carp give Southern cooking a sense of refinement without breaking the bank. Make a reservation at Lockbox at 21c Hotel.
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Carley Thornell is a travel writer whose experiences eating street food in Japan, English peas in the UK, free-range steak in Argentina, and Brussels sprouts at Estragon tapas in her hometown of Boston have provided unforgettable culinary inspiration. Shout out at firstname.lastname@example.org.