It looked vacant. The windows were boarded up, and torn cardboard covered the inside of a derelict glass door. A water-stained sign written in fading black sharpie read: THIS IS NOT A JAPANESE RESTAURANT. SLAP THE PERSON WHO TOLD YOU IT WAS, AND GO EAT SOMEWHERE ELSE.
She checked her phone. One new message. “We’re inside.”
The door opened into a small dark room with four tables. Their friends were at the first one, and they sat down to join them.
Two guys walked over. “Here’s how it works,” said the big one. “Pick your price point, the chef cooks what he wants, you eat it.”
“No substitutions, no exceptions,” said the little one.
“We don’t even know what he’s making until we bring it out,” said the big one. “Sound good?”
She picked up a menu and realized it was a set of detailed instructions. “Is there an option for vegetarians?”
“There’s a lot of meat and fish.” She assumed that meant no.
“How about shrimp?”
The last time she’d taken a bite of a shrimp burrito, she hadn’t been able to swallow well for 6 hours. She wasn’t sure if that would happen again, but it probably wasn’t worth testing it.
“Need a minute to talk it over?” They nodded. The guys left.
“Are you allergic to shrimp?”
“I didn’t know that. Shit.”
“I’m not that hungry. You all eat, I’m sure it’s good. I’ll get a drink and eat after.”
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
The guys came back. They asked for three meals at the lowest price point.
“That’s not allowed.” The big one spoke as the little one shook his head. “Nobody sits out. You’re paying for a seat here, so four people at a table means four meals. Take it or leave it.”
They left it.