5 Museum Restaurants to Visit Now

Some of the best dining happens in the nation's lesser-known museums. Here are five culinary standouts that just might entice you to visit a museum you would have otherwise passed on.

These days it's de rigueur for art institutions to have a famous name behind their restaurants. The best-known example today may be The Modern, Danny Meyer's Michelin-starred modernist jewel inside New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where chef Gabriel Kreuther cooks up elegant French-American cuisine. Two weeks ago, the museum's smaller, hipper cousin, MoMA PS1, became home to M. Wells Dinette (pictured), the new incarnation of M. Wells—an avant-garde diner that attracted flocks of devoted foodies before it closed in 2011. Interested in some other, lesser-known culinary standouts? Consider this a current hot list.

M. Wells Dinette at MoMA PS1, Long Island City, New York

The Buzz: When Montreal native Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis opened the new M. Wells in Queens, it was an instant hit among hard-core foodies and restaurant critics. It serves wildly innovative cuisine in a cafeteria setting complete with a chalkboard, lunch trays, and cubbyholes, appropriate considering the contemporary-art museum's origins as a public elementary school.

The Food: Try the bibimbap, a traditional Korean dish Dufour tweaks by adding raw scallops, foie gras, avocado, and pepper sauce.

The Art: Check out the long-term exhibitions but plan to come back on October 21 for "Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980," a collection of more than 140 works that kicked off the careers of some of the nation's most prominent African-American artists.

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Ammo at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

The Buzz:M. Wells Dinette wasn't the only big museum-restaurant opening this fall. Ammo, a Hollywood favorite known for its farm-to-table California cuisine, opened an offshoot in the courtyard of the Hammer Museum, which specializes in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art.

The Food: When you're in California, vegetables are always a good bet. Here, the orecchiette pasta is served with summer squash, asparagus, squash blossoms, green garlic, and young onions.

The Art:Take in "A Strange Magic," the museum's love letter to a single painting, Gustave Moreau's Salome Dancing Before Herod. Expect more than 50 paintings, drawings, and preparatory studies related to the masterwork, which caused quite a stir when it debuted in Paris in 1876.

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Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie, New York City

The Buzz: Don't worry; the strong euro won't affect the price of your meal at this handsome Vienna-style cafe run by Kurt Gutenbrunner of the Michelin-starred Wallse. Eating here is the perfect way to end a day of wandering through a limestone mansion gawking at the largest collection of works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

The Food: A cup of coffee, served on a silver tray, followed by sachertorte, classic Viennese dark-chocolate cake served with a house-made apricot confiture.

The Art: If you're not familiar with the Swiss Symbolist painter Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), you owe it to yourself to visit "Ferdinand Hodler: View to Infinity," which includes beautiful depictions of the Swiss Alps and intimate portraits of Hodler's lover Valentine Gode-Darel.

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Mitsitam at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.

The Buzz: Mitsitam, which has garnered high marks from almost every local D.C. publication, is the rare museum restaurant that also serves as an educational tool. That's because its kitchen highlights ingredients native to the Western Hemisphere, such as wild rice, butternut squash, and fiddlehead ferns.

The Food: Take a trip to the Northeast with the maple-and-juniper-glazed salmon, cooked on a cedar plank, preferably with a side of black-currant-braised chicory.

The Art: Check out Geronimo's rifle, beautiful paintings, and an ornately decorated 19th-century Sioux teepee in A Song for the Horse Nation.

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Cafe Asia at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

The Buzz: When a casual museum cafe attracts diners who aren't even visiting the museum, you know it's doing something right. Still, the Asian Art Museum is worth visiting, especially knowing you can lounge on the restaurant's outdoor terrace afterward.

The Food: We're pretty sure you won't find gochujang pork shoulder (grilled and marinated in hot bean paste, ginger, and garlic) at any other museum in the country.

The Art: "Out of Character," which traces the history of Chinese calligraphy back to the 14th century.

—Keith Wagstaff is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him @kwagstaff.

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