Space Aliens Grill & Bar
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22 Unusual Theme Restaurants Across America

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Unusual Theme Restaurants
Mad Hatter Bistro/Bar/Tea Room/Facebook

Dinner With a Twist

You've probably heard of big theme chains like Medieval Times and Rainforest Cafe, but the country is replete with lesser-known theme restaurants — and you don't even have to head to an amusement park to find them. These aren't full-fledged dinner theaters, but you can certainly expect a little entertainment to be part of the experience. Here are some places to go for a meal that's out of the ordinary — including a quirky Colorado landmark that was just saved from bankruptcy by some rather famous buyers.


Related: Old-School Restaurant Chains We Miss

Pirate's Landing Elkin, North Carolina
Bill W./Yelp

Pirate's Landing

Elkin, North Carolina

It's hard to miss Pirate's Landing, which is indeed styled after a massive pirate ship complete with skull-and-crossbones flags, masts, weathered boards, and rope-lined walkways. Don't miss the koi pond as you enter. Inside, there is plenty more to look at, including pirate murals, weapons, cannons, and treasure chests, plus occasional tableside magic shows. Seafood, of course, is the main culinary draw, and visitors with the heartiest appetites can dig into the Buccaneer's Fried Seafood Feast of baby founder, crab cakes, clam strips, oysters, popcorn shrimp and scallops.


Related: The Best Seafood Restaurant in Every State


Casa Bonita Lakewood, Colorado
Rae L./Yelp

Casa Bonita

Lakewood, Colorado

Casa Bonita is more than a Mexican restaurant — it's been the self-proclaimed "greatest show in Denver" since it opened in 1974. That is, until last year, when it closed and filed for bankruptcy. But, after dealing with a little legal pushback, Matt Stone and Trey Parker — the duo behind the animated series "South Park" — purchased the restaurant for $3.1 million. It's a relief to those who love Casa Bonita's 30 attractions, which include a cave, an arcade, a 30-foot waterfall, and constant entertainment including "gunfights" and visits from pirates and gorillas. The restaurant even boasts its own dive team. More than 1,000 diners at a time can take in the spectacle, scarfing down 52,000 pounds of chips and 1.3 million sopaipillas a year while they do it, according to Roadside America. Parker and Stone have said they plan to improve the restaurant's food, which was never the main attraction. Latest plans call for Casa Bonita to reopen in late 2022, possibly December.

The Magic Castle
©TripAdvisor

The Magic Castle

Los Angeles

First, the bad news — you can't just book dinner at The Magic Castle, which is the clubhouse of the Academy of Magical Arts. The good news? Invitations aren't difficult to get, even if you aren't best friends with David Copperfield. Inside the Victorian mansion, "miracles are rampant," as are magic shows both scheduled and impromptu, and there's plenty of memorabilia to gawk at. You can even try out a seance to raise Houdini's ghost for an additional fee (and reservation). Strict dress code applies.

The Airplane Restaurant
Bill B./Yelp

The Airplane Restaurant

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Frequent travelers might argue that it's hard to get a decent meal on a plane, but The Airplane Restaurant would beg to differ. Some lucky patrons get to eat inside the restaurant's centerpiece, a real Boeing KC-97 tanker that mainly refueled other planes, and there are different kinds of aviation memorabilia and plane models throughout the attached "terminal." Enjoy steak, sandwiches, and seafood while quenching your thirst with "in-flight beverages" (soda or tea) or themed cocktails.

Fritz's Railroad Restaurant
©TripAdvisor

Fritz's Railroad Restaurant

Kansas City area

If you've got a train-obsessed toddler, Fritz's Railroad Restaurant may be the only place you're ever allowed to eat again. Not only will you find railroad memorabilia and engineer hats for the kids, but the food is delivered via a "Skat Kat" — essentially, a little train that chugs along the ceiling of the charming restaurant, which has three Kansas City-area locations. The menu is pure diner glory, filled with favorites like burgers, a BLT, and a pork tenderloin sandwich.

The Tonga Room San Francisco
Kailin H./Yelp

The Tonga Room

San Francisco

No one has ever accused the Tonga Room of subtlety. Housed in the landmark Fairmont San Francisco hotel, it's an explosion of delightfully tacky tiki everything, from bamboo light fixtures to thatched huts and palm fronds. There's even a pool in the middle of the restaurant, home to a boat where the house band plays; patrons should even expect an occasional indoor rainstorm. Of course, there are plenty of umbrella-ready cocktails, and the food menu includes choices such as a pupu platter, tuna poke salad, and miso salmon. 

Mad Hatter Bistro Birmingham, Michigan
Sabra M./Yelp

Mad Hatter Bistro

Birmingham, Michigan

Fall down the rabbit hole into elegant Mad Hatter Bistro, which takes its inspiration from "Alice and Wonderland." Families can make reservations for an elaborate, whimsical afternoon tea, and there are plenty of nods to Lewis Caroll's classic tale throughout the restaurant, from walls sporting lush greenery and checkered patterns to elegant mirrors and a garden-gate mural. Try the Mad Queen's Chicken served with roasted potatoes, green beans, and lemon caper sauce.

Big Nose Kate's Saloon Tombstone, Arizona
Rachel P./Yelp

Big Nose Kate's Saloon

Tombstone, Arizona

Any true Wild West enthusiast should make a pilgrimage to Tombstone at least once in their life, and Big Nose Kate's is ready to feed and water visitors during their explorations. The reportedly haunted saloon includes an underground level where a worker spent years tunneling a secret entrance into a nearby silver mine, and visitors are welcome to dress up in western wear and snap pictures on the bar or draped across the piano. There is nightly live music, and the thoroughly themed menu includes burgers, brisket, and homemade chili.

Heart Attack Grill
Ron N./Yelp

Heart Attack Grill

Las Vegas

Heart Attack Grill relishes controversy, and if you want to come to Vegas for the spectacle — well, this is it. Diners over 350 pounds eat free at this brash burger joint (they have to weigh in on an electronic cattle scale) and waitresses dressed as scantily clad nurses "prescribe" a diet of cholesterol-packed meals. You'll even have to suit up in a hospital gown before being served. We can't in good conscience recommend it, but the craziest menu item is the 4-pound Octuple Bypass Burger. You can also wash down your Flatliner Fries, cooked in lard, with a Butterfat Milkshake. 


Looking for more over-the-top dining option in Sin City? Be sure to check out the 20 Bucket List Restaurants in Las Vegas.

Safe House Milwaukee
James F./Yelp

Safe House

Milwaukee

Safe House takes its "clandestine" shtick in stride. Would-be secret agents must look for the plaque for "International Exports Ltd." in a dingy Milwaukee alley; otherwise, good luck finding this secret spot. You'll be asked for the password (and likely forced to do a silly dance when you don't have it) before being ushered past a door doubling as a bookcase. Inside, the spy-themed decor includes two-way mirrors and James Bond movie posters, and the family-friendly menu has an "Inside Agent" burger,  "Licensed to Kill Macaroni," and "Goldfingers" (chicken tenders) on the kids menu, among other choices.  


Bors Hede Inne Carnation, Washington
Bryan K./Yelp

Bors Hede Inne

Carnation, Washington

This medieval marvel is something to behold indeed. A replica of a 14th century English village lodge, Bors Hede Inne is in the middle of Camlann Medieval Village, a living history museum. Fully costumed servers bring dishes including fenberry pye (pork, chicken and cranberries) or blamanger (rice, fava beans, sugar and spices) and regale you with the history of the spot, never breaking character. Lute-playing minstrels are also on hand to entertain with stories and songs. Cameras and cellphones are prohibited.


The Magic Time Machine
Chris C./Yelp

The Magic Time Machine

Dallas and San Antonio

It's hard to pin down the theme of the kitschy Magic Time Machine restaurants, because you get a little bit of everything. Both locations allow patrons to fill up on soup and salad served from a converted MG-TD roadster, and depending on where you eat, you may chow down inside a carousel, bus, rocket ship, library, teepee, or thatched hut. But the experience doesn't stop there: All servers dress as "pop culture icons from the past, present, and future" and have included pirates, princesses, and superheroes.

Clifton's Republic in Los Angeles
Hanna H./Yelp

Clifton's Republic

Los Angeles

The latest iteration of a theme restaurant dating back to the '30s, Clifton's Republic is an amalgamation of thoroughly decked-out venues surrounding a center atrium with a fake 40-foot redwood tree. They include the Tiki-themed Pacific Seas area with art deco maps and bamboo everywhere, the Brookdale Ballroom, which seeks to recreate the nightlife of the 1930s and '40s, and a faux forest lodge called The Monarch with taxidermy galore. The menu is as eclectic as the venues, featuring choices such as a natural honeycomb from a queen bee served with fresh fruit and biscuits and an El Camino Platter that “celebrates California’s legendary meats, fruit, cheeses, and history.”



Jekyll and Hyde Club
Rob W./Yelp

Jekyll and Hyde Club

New York

Billing itself as "New York's only haunted restaurant and bar," Jekyll and Hyde Club is the place for anyone who lives for Halloween. Inside the dark, moody space, special effects and interactive decor are a given — in fact, "Something unusual happens every 10 minutes," the restaurant warns — and there are plenty of characters to enhance the experience, including a gargoyle, werewolf, vampire, and mummy. The crowd-pleasing menu is probably the only thing that isn't particularly spooky, packed with favorites like pasta, pizza, steak, and burgers.


Trailer Park After Dark
Nader M./Yelp

Trailer Park After Dark

San Diego

This unique RV-themed spot is a family-friendly restaurant that transforms into a kitschy bar after 9 p.m. Diners and revelers can kick back amid exposed brick, palms, plastic flamingos, and crazy floral outdoor furniture, or really splurge and rent a vintage trailer or lounge (choose from the '60s, '70s, or '80s). Food is good ol' Americana, like burgers and hot dogs, or opt for the "Nightly TV Dinner Special" — that's meatloaf or chicken served with mashed potatoes and mixed veggies in a throwback tray, perfect for nostalgia seekers.

Space Aliens Grill & Bar
Dan R./Yelp

Space Aliens Grill & Bar

Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota; Albertville, Minnesota

If you're tired of waiting for those long-awaited alien overlords to conquer Earth, head to Space Aliens for a friendly encounter with some little green men. This thoroughly space-themed spot includes a 30-foot dome with a "view" of outer space, whimsical alien sculptures, hanging planets, and plenty of retro neon and chrome. Nosh on Space Dust Pickle Spears or Martian Munchie Pizza from the family-friendly menu while the kids enjoy an impressive arcade with plenty of "out of this world" games.


The Stinking Rose San Francisco and Los Angeles
Fanny H./Yelp

The Stinking Rose

San Francisco and Los Angeles

Most restaurants stay true to one type of cuisine, but at The Stinking Rose, the theme revolves around a single ingredient: garlic. The restaurant says it serves more than 3,000 pounds of the stuff in any given month, and as you might expect, the menu is packed with garlic-heavy dishes, including 40 Clove Garlic Chicken, Garlic Crab Alfredo Fondue Fettuccine, and even the Gartini Martini, made with vodka and pickled garlic). Cartoonish garlic bulbs frolic throughout the restaurant, and the world's largest garlic braid winds its way around the ceiling.

Marrakech in Las Vegas
©TripAdvisor

Marrakech

Las Vegas

Dinner at Marrakech is the type of immersive experience Vegas is known for. Venture off-Strip to dine in a Moroccan-style tent, surrounded by intricate lanterns and tapestries, while belly dancers in glittering outfits entertain you during your feast. They may even encourage you to join them for an impromptu lesson. The traditional Moroccan fare is served as part of a six-course, prix fixe menu. Highlights include the beef kabobs, harira soup, and homemade bread and hummus.

The Hobbit Cafe in Houston
Yoshi S./Yelp

The Hobbit Cafe

Houston

This homey little spot lacks the scale of many theme restaurants, but it's still a must-stop for any Tolkein fan who happens to be in the area. From Gollum crouching in the corner of the front room to "Lord of the Rings" posters galore, there's plenty to see, and the leafy patio is a great respite from the hot Texas sun, especially with plenty of local beers on tap. Lunch options include the Frodo sandwich (mesquite-smoked turkey, roasted bell peppers, tomato, and cheese), a juicy double-patty Balrog burger, and a Great Goblins appetizer sampler.


Gordon Ramsay Hell's Kitchen
©TripAdvisor

Gordon Ramsay Hell's Kitchen

Las Vegas

Gordon Ramsay Hell's Kitchen at Caesars Palace aims to make patrons feel like they're on the set of the abrasive celebrity chef's hit reality show. Outside, a flaming pitchfork alerts would-be diners that this is no ordinary restaurant. Inside, it's a cavernous place with screens of Ramsay flinging his signature insults and teams of red and blue chefs "competing" to serve you their best efforts. Fortunately, it seems like they've got it on lock: The Beef Wellington, served with potato puree, glazed root veggies, and red wine sauce, is "the pinnacle of what that dish can be: tender, deeply flavorful and simple," according to Food and Wine.


Related: 31 Restaurants and Bars Owned by Celebrities

Ellen's Stardust Diner
©TripAdvisor

Ellen's Stardust Diner

New York

Calling all Broadway babies: Before you catch your next show, head to Ellen's Stardust Diner for an equally showy experience. Styled after a classic '50s diner, Ellen's is also home to a famous singing waitstaff. Many of the servers love nothing more than to hop up on top of the red leather booths and croon show tunes under a spinning disco ball. Some dishes get a flamboyant twist (for instance, the Homer Simpson burger is served between glazed donuts), and the milkshakes are a can't-miss. Open every day 7 a.m. to midnight.


Related: Charming Retro Diners in Every State

Beetlehouse in New York
Amber H./Yelp

Beetlehouse

New York and Los Angeles

Beetlehouse gives the Jekyll and Hyde Club some friendly competition when it comes to spooky themes, but this time, there's a decidedly Tim Burton twist. Expect plenty of "Beetlejuice" nods, like purple and black everything, plus costumed performers dressed up like Willy Wonka, Edward Scissorhands, and a motley array of "sword swallowers, fire eaters, magicians, psychics, mentalists, side-show acts, contortionists, impersonators, and many more" — whew! The food doesn't let up on the theme, with choices that include Frites & Frights, Edward Burger Hands, and Sweeney Beef.


Related: 19 American Restaurants That Revolutionized the Way We Eat