What’s in a name?
Well, kind of a lot.
As your restaurant’s calling card, the name needs to be unique enough that it won’t be confused with a competitor across town. It needs to be memorable, so guests won’t find themselves at a loss when trying to describe the wonderful meal they had there.
And it needs to be representative. If you try to serve $200 prix fixe menus from a restaurant called Steve’s Diner, you’ll have a lot of confused and irritated customers.
But since restaurants are in hospitality instead of a more conservative field like finance or law, they have a lot of leeway with selecting names. Choices can range from the commonplace (Joe’s Cafe) to the downright bizarre (Cabbages & Condoms in Thailand and the UK!).
The more interesting the name, the more likely it is to be memorable and grab the attention of bloggers, and local food media. That’s free marketing, baby.
There are thousands of great examples, but I pulled together 11 creative restaurant names that I find interesting or unusual.
Warning — be prepared for puns.
The Stinking Rose — LA & San Francisco
At first glance, this name doesn’t sound terribly appetizing. But then you realize that the titular “stinking rose” is that fragrant bulb, that aromatic clove that makes everything better. I’m talking, of course, about garlic.
Garlic is a major flavor present in just about everything served at this restaurant. As someone who doubles or even triples the amount of garlic in every recipe I make, a visit here is on my bucket list.
Website: The Stinking Rose
Dirt Candy — New York City
NYC’s Dirt Candy highlights the beauty of veggies but eschews the holier-than-though attitude of some vegetarian restaurants.
Instead of talking up the benefits of a plant-based diet, they tell you flat out: “We don’t care about your health.” They just want to make good food using the treats that grow out of the dirt — hence the name.
That kind of honesty is damn refreshing. But the food is also top-notch, and James Beard-nominated chef/owner Amanda Cohen is a pioneer in vegetarian cooking.
Website: Dirt Candy
Bread Zeppelin — Texas Chain
This name works on multiple levels. Not only do we get the great name pun, but a long loaf of bread actually resembles a zeppelin!
This Texas chain pulls out all the innards of baguettes and stuffs them full of salad. That way you can take your salad-tube with you about town. I’m wondering what they do with all that doughy goodness that they pull out of the bread. But it sounds good!
Website: Bread Zeppelin
Juan in a Million — Austin
Come up with a better name for a taco spot. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Owners Juan and Myrna Meza have been making some of the best tacos in Austin since 1980. Forty years later, they still have a line around the block just about every weekend.
The name isn’t the reason for their success, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
Website: Juan in a Million
Sconehenge — Berkeley CA
I can never think of Stonehenge without thinking of this:
I love the idea of taking a place full of mystery like Stonehenge and “rebranding” it in the image of baked goods. It just makes me chuckle.
This bakery and cafe serves breakfast, lunch, and some lovely looking pastries.
Mustard’s Last Stand — Chicago
As an ode to Chicago’s favorite condiment, Mustard’s Last Stand is a hot dog-lover’s delight. After a few years without a name in the early 1970s, the owners finally turned to the public for help. The winning entry was Mustard’s Last Stand.
The winner took home $100, but perhaps they should have won a lifetime’s supply of tasty dogs instead.
Website: Mustard’s Last Stand
Burgatory — Pittsburgh & Surrounding Area
In Catholicism, purgatory is an in-between place — not heaven and not hell, but a place where the “imperfectly purified” hang out for a while until they’re holy enough for the pearly gates.
But if people get to eat tasty burgers while they wait, that doesn’t sound so bad.
I love this name — one simple letter change, and they created a whole burger concept.
Bacchanalia — Atlanta
There are no puns here, and no clever wordplay. Just a great word used to great effect.
The “Bacchanalia” was a Roman festival dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine, fertility, and ecstasy. The term is now used to refer to general drunken revelry. And while this nice restaurant is probably not the place to get smashed and start dancing on bar tops, I still love the hedonism that the name implies.
Linger — Denver
On its own, Linger doesn’t seem that clever — although I do like the welcoming vibe of the word.
What’s great about this name is the way it ties the past to the present. The restaurant’s location used to house a mortuary called Olinger. The restaurant dropped the O to become Linger. They still have a huge outdoor sign that says Olinger Mortuaries — but by night, the lights make the sign read Linger Eatuaries instead. CLEVER.
Website: Linger Denver
Pig & A Jelly Jar — Salt Lake City
Doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?
It sounds like something your Southern great aunt would say: “Well that’s as nice as a pig & a jelly jar!” And it’s true, right? A thick-cut slab of salty bacon alongside a biscuit slathered in jelly is pretty much my ideal meal.
This creative restaurant name was inspired by two menu staples — pork and jellies. So while the name sounds whimsical, it’s really a practical choice.
Website: Pig & A Jelly Jar
How to Cook a Wolf — Seattle
I LOVE this one. Seattle’s How to Cook a Wolf is a small plate restaurant with both American and Italian influences. So far, so good.
But about that interesting name — How to Cook a Wolf is a 1942 book by American food writer M.F.K. Fisher. Written at the height of WWII food shortages, the book offers advice on stretching ingredients, coping with sorrow, and making the most of the cards we are dealt. Chapter names include “How to Rise Up Like New Bread” and “How Not to Be an Earthworm.”
I’m putting this one on my “to read” list.
She also wrote a book called Consider the Oyster, in case there are any raw bars out there in search of inspiration…
Website: How to Cook a Wolf
I hope this foray into creative restaurant names has been inspiring — or at least entertaining.
When writing your own restaurant name, take your time and come up with lots of choices. Write them down, say them out loud, and get plenty of feedback.
Better to go nameless during the build-out stage than to pick a bad name!