10 Restaurants That Are Literally Underground

Dining tables in dimly lit volcano cave in Canary Islands
Jameos del Agua Restaurante in Spain's Canary Islands is set in collapsed volcanic tubes. Sylvia_Kania / Getty Images

Imagine savoring your pasta alla Gricia amid the ruins of Rome's Theatre of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was assassinated, or being served tagine in a 150,000-year-old coral cave in Kenya. Such surreal experiences are made possible by eateries built below your very feet—places that give the term "underground restaurant" a whole new, quite literal meaning. Contrary to the metaphoric definition, Italy's Da Pancrazio and Kenya's Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant, plus a multitude of others, are actually subterranean. They're tucked into the nooks and crannies of ancient vaults, seaside crags, and caverns, serving everything from tacos to lobster spaghetti in a unique and decidedly extraordinary setting.

Here are 10 incredible underground restaurants from around the world.

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Grand Canyon Caverns Grotto (Peach Springs, Arizona)

Multicolored lights and platform with dining tables inside cavern

Eric Kilby / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Cavern Grotto is located more than 200 feet below the earth's surface in the Grand Canyon. It's set on a wooden dining platform built into and overlooking a 345-million-year-old cavern system, and there's room enough for just a handful of tables and a little more than a dozen diners. Meals served here—including American classics like burgers, melts, chicken, and steak—come with time limits (90 minutes for lunch, two hours for dinner) to prevent groups from lingering too long in the fascinating setting.

A tour of the cavern system is included with the purchase of a meal at the Grotto. On it, visitors travel via elevator 21 stories from an inn to various underground attractions. And another selling point? The restaurant is located off historic Route 66.

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Alux Restaurant (Playa del Carmen, Mexico)

Restaurant sign and sofas in blue light in a cave

Curtis & Renee / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Alux Restaurant—located just outside of downtown Playa del Carmen, a 25-peso taxi ride from the center—can hold 250 people within its colorfully lit cavern walls, but the dining experience is much more intimate than it sounds. There's a cocktail lounge, a loop walking track that travels through the 10,000-year-old cave, and several private dining rooms for isolated underground hangs.

The food is pricey and the atmosphere is modern and sleek. The restaurant specializes in seafood, though it offers a wide-ranging menu with Mayan influences. Traditionally dressed Mayans greet you at the door and roam the place to pose for photos with tourists, but note that they expect to be tipped.

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Grotta Palazzese Restaurant (Polignano a Mare, Italy)

Server pouring olive oil for diner at Grotta Palazzese Restaurant
Marco Di Lauro / Getty Images

The Grotta Palazzese Hotel rests on a limestone sea cave of the same name in the historic center of Polignano a Mare, Italy. It's home to an Italian-Mediterranean restaurant that extends gracefully from the mouth of the cave, where diners can sit and eat while looking out onto the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea, its waves splashing shadows onto the walls.

The restaurant is widely known as one of the most romantic and exclusive eateries on the southern coast, so expect the wait list to be lengthy and the fare expensive. The Summer Cave, as its colloquial name suggests, is open only during the warmer (i.e., touristy) months, usually from May to October.

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Da Pancrazio (Rome, Italy)

Dining room full of people among ancient, underground ruins

Andy Montgomery / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Another underground haunt in Italy, but one that's vastly different from Polignano a Mare's seaside cave restaurant, is Da Pancrazio—a Roman favorite. It holds immense historical and cultural value, as it is built in a stunning vault just off one of the city's main squares, Campo di Fiori, over the first-century ruins of the Theatre of Pompey, allegedly where Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 B.C.E. It opened in 1922 and was more recently featured in the Julia Roberts film, "Eat Pray Love." Historical Roman decor, art, and furnishings can be found throughout.

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Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant (Mombasa, Kenya)

Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant in Kenya with candlelight and diners

Courtesy of Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant 

Ali Barbour's Cave on Kenya's tourist-popular Diani Beach is thought to be up to 180,000 years old. Since the '80s, a restaurant has occupied its depths, about 30 feet below ground level. Natural skylights within the cave give diners an unparalleled view of the constellations. The stars combined with flickering candles perched along the cave walls create an enchanting and romantic atmosphere. Outside, you might even hear the incoming tides of the Indian Ocean. Situated on the coast, the restaurant is known for its upscale surf and turf fare.

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The Caves Hotel (Negril, Jamaica)

Lights around a dining table in a cave

The Caves / Facebook

Romance seems to be a common theme among the underground restaurant set, but no other cavernous establishment is quite as idyllic as The Caves Hotel in Negril, Jamaica, whose limestone interior is strewn with pink bougainvillea petals and flickering candles. Its picturesque red tables are steps away from the sea.

The Caves Hotel is one of the last remaining hotels on the famous West End Road, a winding route that heads south of the city center into more remote territory popular for its snorkeling, diving, and cliff jumping. Naturally, seafood is the specialty at this "handcrafted utopia," which doubles as a hotel where guests (adults only, no children) can sleep in cozy cliffside cottages. Located on 7 miles of sandy beach, the cave resort is quintessentially Caribbean.

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Bientang's Cave (Hermanus, South Africa)

birds' eye view of oceanfront restaurant built into side of cave wall

Courtesy of Bientang's Cave

Bientang's Cave Restaurant & Wine Bar spills out from a natural cave and onto the rocky shore of Walker Bay in Hermanus, South Africa. Because the bay is a protected nature reserve, guests are likely to spot a whale or two swimming in the sea while indulging in traditional potjiekos. As the legend goes, the cave was once occupied by a woman named Bientang the Strandloper, who had a feisty temperament, supernatural powers, and a penchant for fresh seafood. Today, the two-story terraced eatery is a magnet for tourists.

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Jameos del Agua Restaurante (Punta Mujeres, Spain)

Tables and hanging plant at the mouth of a cave

Edmundo Sáez / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Located on the north end of Lanzarote in Spain's Canary Islands, Jameos del Agua is an "entertainment venue" consisting of caverns and partially collapsed volcanic tubes that visitors can walk through to reach a huge cave and transparent salt lake. From there, you can take the path that heads above ground past lush plant life toward a gorgeous pool, or another that leads into an underground auditorium seating 500-plus people. Also underground is a restaurant and bar where, three times a week, people are welcomed for dinner and dancing. The menu is a mix of relatively affordable Mediterranean and European dishes.

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Marsden Grotto (Tyne and Wear, England)

Restaurant built into a rock next to the sea

Andrew Curtis / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Dating back to the 1780s, Marsden Grotto—in the coastal town of South Shields, England—is one of the longest-operating underground restaurants. It was first home to Jack the Blaster, a quarry worker who reportedly used explosives to create an opening in the cliff face for living in. He and his wife, Jessie, would provide refreshments for a small fee to smugglers who would hide their wares in the dwellings.

Legend has it that one of those smugglers, nicknamed John the Jibber, ratted out his fellow smugglers to law enforcement, which resulted in him being lowered down an elevator shaft and left to starve. Now, Marsden Beach is a popular spot for dog walking and rock climbing. The view is stunning, and the Grotto provides a unique opportunity to enjoy traditional British pub food with a stunning view in a cave by the sea.

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Osteria del Tempo Perso (Ostuni, Italy)

Dining tables and decor set in a light-gray cave

fabulousfabs / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Osteria del Tempo Perso is exceedingly quirky, as part of its interior is clearly composed of medieval cave walls and the rest is just plain drywall. Nonetheless, the rustic, old-timey eatery is devastatingly classy, with its natural white stone walls and ivory decor that matches the surrounding "White City," a hilltop community of white buildings officially known as Ostuni. Unlike other underground restaurants around the world that can sometimes feel dark and eery, this one feels bright and airy—its all-white facade sets the tone for what's inside. Expect an abundance of pasta as well as a well-curated wine menu.