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Cuisine on Exhibit at These Museums

Many museums encourage visitors to learn through sight, sound and touch. But some go the extra mile with on-site restaurants that add to the learning experience by engaging smell and taste.

Whether they’re dining on indigenous cuisines to discover Native American culture or having lunch at a 1940s diner to connect with the past, groups can satisfy their culinary and educational curiosities at these museum restaurants.

Mitsitam Café

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.

Diners try a bite of fry bread for a delicious history lesson at the Mitsitam Café in the National Museum of the American Indian. On the National Mall in Washington, the restaurant offers a tour of the indigenous cuisines of the Americas.

The buffet-style cafe is divided into five regions: the Northern Woodlands, South America,  the Northwest Coast, Meso America and the Great Plains. Each station reveals that region’s cooking techniques, ingredients, and flavors of traditional and contemporary dishes, such as Meso American bean soup with green chiles.

Groups can expand the experience to include a talk with executive chef Freddie Bitsoie. Bitsoie tells the stories behind each dish in a four-course, family-style meal.

Inside the museum, groups can tour one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections on Native Americans. Exhibits and films on the culture, history and legends of the Native tribes of the Americas line the museum’s curvilinear structure.

American Sector Restaurant and Bar

National World War II Museum, New Orleans

Live 1940s-era swing and jazz music sets the mood at the American Sector Restaurant and Bar. The National World War II Museum restaurant creates dishes that mix Old World nostalgia with modern American food, for example, wartime pound cake with fresh berries.

After an extensive renovation, the restaurant debuted a new menu in 2018. The reworked dining room features retractable windows, a revamped bar and private dining areas for larger groups.

Diners can choose from regional favorites such as a fried chicken biscuit with pepper jelly or shrimp Louie Armstrong salad with shrimp remoulade.

The National World War II Museum focuses on the United States’ involvement in the war with immersive exhibits and personal stories. In 2021, the museum will open the Liberation Pavilion to explore the lasting impact of the war and the Holocaust.

Café Modern

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas

To accompany a Japanese art installation by Takashi Murakami, the Café Modern at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth offered an Asian-themed menu of dishes featuring wasabi, miso and yuzu. Café Modern changes its menu for special exhibitions, although the restaurant consistently focuses on fresh, local and sustainable ingredients.

The cafe’s chef, Dena Peterson, serves a globally inspired lunch and dinner, as well as a Texas-themed brunch complete with a rockabilly soundtrack. Groups can enjoy the upscale cuisine inside the serene concrete-and-glass museum.

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth collects post-World War II art. Daily docent-led tours highlight a rotating sample of up to 150 works of art from its 3,000-piece permanent collection. Notable artists include Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, among others.

Café St. Louis

Missouri History Museum, St. Louis

Guests can savor house-made gooey butter cake, toasted ravioli and other classic St. Louis dishes at the Missouri History Museum’s Café St. Louis. The restaurant features local products, such as Dubuque Coffee and Excel Soda, as well as other St. Louis specialties.

Formerly known as Bixby’s, Café St. Louis serves local fare in a fast-casual atmosphere with sweeping views of Forest Park. Common dishes include made-from-scratch soups, salads and wraps.

Groups can order plated or buffet lunches that complement guided exhibit tours. Black-and-white photographs and display cases with local artifacts inside the museum provide insight into St. Louis’ past.

The Missouri History Museum showcases the state’s history with artifacts from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis and the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.


Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art , Bentonville, Arkansas

To celebrate the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on November 11, 2011, officials named the on-site restaurant Eleven. The Bentonville, Arkansas, restaurant blends modern American comfort food with the regional history of the Ozarks.

“High South” menu options, such as local pork with Ozark root mash and mustard-cider sauce, connect the museum with the surrounding region. The restaurant opened a new counter and other additions on February 8.

Diners can overlook the museum’s spring-fed ponds and surrounding forests. Sculpture and walking trails link the museum’s 120-acre park to downtown Bentonville.

The museum’s collection spans five centuries of American art, with famed works that include Asher B. Durand’s “Kindred Spirits,” Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” and Andy Warhol’s “Coca-Cola.”

Eliza Myers

Eliza Myers has worked for The Group Travel Leader since 2007. She is the online editor and associate editor for Select Traveler.

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