Travel & Leisure
updated 11/4/2011 5:46:31 PM ET 2011-11-04T21:46:31

When you’re dining at a revolving restaurant 250 feet above Cape Town, you expect the views to be fantastic. The real surprise is when the food appears—and it’s excellent.

What better way to savor a beautiful city than from this vantage point: a window seat at a revolving restaurant where the shifting views complement the gourmet courses. At Cape Town’s Top of the Ritz, that means pairings of just-caught mussels with a view of iconic Table Mountain, spicy curry-butternut soup with the sandstone Twelve Apostle peaks, rack of lamb with beaches, and dessert with the sunset dipping below the Atlantic.

Over the past 50 years, revolving restaurants have opened in more than 50 countries on six continents, from Colombia to Nepal to Canada. Along the way, the concept has gone from futuristic novelty to often-tacky tourist traps. But set aside that skepticism: we’ve pinpointed select revolving restaurants that are worth the price of admission.

The revolving restaurant trend took flight in 1961, when Seattle architect John Graham built one on top of a shopping center in Hawaii. A year later Graham was commissioned to design the Space Needle for the upcoming World’s Fair in his hometown, and brought the idea with him. The resulting ultramodern tower not only became an enduring icon of this Northwest city, it brought 20,000 awed visitors to the Space Needle restaurant each day of the World’s Fair, setting off a global craze for revolving restaurants.

Far too many successors get by on their looks alone, serving generic, overpriced dishes that typically invite the harsh review: “killer views, mediocre food.” Munich’s Restaurant 181 rises above that revolving restaurant reputation and has become one of the city’s most coveted dining spots. It even earned a Michelin star for chef Otto Koch’s concoctions, such as morel-crusted veal and langoustine tartare on a bed of caviar.

Koch introduced airplane-esque classes of dining, from the First (eight courses, including the caviar, for $209) to the Economy Sunset Menu, a three-course prix fixe at a down-to-earth $52. That’s about as frugal as you get at these revolving restaurants, which each deliver a once-in-a-lifetime meal that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. Give them a spin.

One of Europe’s most underexplored cities is a fascinating mash-up of Ottoman, Italian, Russian, and Balkan influences. It can all be seen from the peak of Tirana’s highest building, where slow-roasted lamb and savory byrek pastries are served along with views of the mosque and clock tower marking Tirana’s main square as well as colorful pink, green, and yellow high-rises and the distant hills.

Heads Up: The restaurant has outdoor seating, but only the top-floor bar/café section rotates. You can visit for a drink, a full meal, or just a walk around to take in the view.

Copyright © 2012 Amex


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