The Ultimate Guide For America's Best Themed Restaurants

The idea of a themed restaurant isn't a novel one. One can conjure images of a Roman Bacchanal or a Medieval meal served in the home of a nobleman with a court jester roaming about entertaining guests. However, in modern society, the notion has been elevated to something more complex. From underwater restaurants to nudist restaurants where everyone is in the buff while eating their meal (yes you read that correctly and we are not sure how we feel about it), the potential for novelty is only limited by the creativity of those involved in developing it.

One organization that has expertly capitalized on the popularity of themed restaurants is Disney, per CNBC. While it has always understood the value of theming food as part of its amusement park model, it has really elevated the concept with recent additions like the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser Experience. The two-day experience hones in on what makes a themed restaurant so desirable — the opportunity to dine on delicious food that is fun and helps to transport patrons to another time and place.

But themed restaurants don't have to be limited to an amusement park to be every bit as great. There are many themed restaurants that successfully navigate the balance of dinner and a show. Some are chains that are recognizable for their longevity. Others are one-off venues that have managed to cleverly incorporate thoughtful recipes with ambiance and entertainment. These are the places that we think should be on your bucket list.


If you are an Italian food lover, there are few greater Italian-themed experiences than going to Eataly. With locations all over the world — including several in Italy — there is no shortage of opportunities to sample what we can only describe as Disneyland for foodies. Per Classic New York History, the concept is a triumph both from a culinary and cultural perspective, fusing the two into an adventure that is both educational and satiating. Entering an Eataly is like an assault on every one of your senses in the best possible way. The smells alone are sure to whet your appetite.

Speaking of appetite — every Eataly has a distinct collection of different restaurants and counters ranging from the pizza and pasta restaurant (our personal favorite) to the gelato counter offering a seemingly endless array of flavors. You can opt to stick to just one restaurant or literally eat your way around the building — which is a joyful gluttonous adventure. As MHBSoDak notes on TripAdvisor, "Vibrant experience for all the senses. Great venues to eat. Waiting for your table, no worries, fill your time shopping or get a drink from the wine bar! It's easy to spend several hours here."

And let's not forget the show aspect of what makes a themed restaurant so unique. From watching someone make fresh mozzarella to seeing the prowess with which they butcher meat to order to people watching — there's no shortage of visual stimulation. 

Miracle of Science Bar and Grill

Even if chemistry wasn't your jam in school, the Miracle of Science bar and grill is a science-themed restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that will appeal to geeks and non-geeks alike. As Only In Your State notes, the eatery is conveniently located next door to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — a school known for its contributions to science and technology. Every aspect of the decor is science-inspired — including the tables and stools — which are like those seen in school science labs across the U.S.

But perhaps the most entertaining aspect of this clever establishment — at least from our perspective — is the menu. It is designed to look like the Periodic Table of Elements and is prominently displayed on the wall behind the bar. S is for Sulfur — but it's also for shrimp. C is for Carbon — but it's also for chips and salsa. And AC may be for Actinium — but here it is for the grilled chicken avocado bowl. Many reviewers on TripAdvisor agree that they love the quirky menu, and several specifically note that it's got great hamburgers.

Medieval Times

Medieval Times may epitomize the definition of dinner and a show. Set in an 11th-century Medieval Spanish castle, patrons are served a four-course feast, a show complete with jousting, and an equine spectacular featuring Andalusian (P.R.E) horses bred at the company-owned Chapel Creek Ranch. It even offers school field trips with downloadable educational materials provided by Medieval Times for teachers to educate their students about Medieval culture and history.

As Food & Wine states, one of the remarkable features of this franchise is its longevity. It has been around since 1983 and has outlived many of its competitors. It notes that while you might find better food, a better show, and a more complete history of Medieval life elsewhere, the fact that you can enjoy all three in two hours at a relatively affordable price is what makes this a great experience for adults and children alike. TripAdvisor reviews agree, with many citing that it is great fun for the whole family and commenting on the novelty of eating with your hands. Huzzah!

The Airplane Restaurant

Located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, The Airplane Restaurant is an aviation fanatic's greatest dream come true. The restaurant features a Boeing KC-97 tanker built in 1953. This tanker was operational — refueling planes across the globe — until 2002 when it was retired and converted into a 275-seat restaurant. While the tanker itself only seats 42 diners, the restaurant houses an impressive collection of aviation-themed memorabilia for patrons to enjoy.

The clever menu stays consistent with the theme, naming several items after aviation terms. We also appreciated the "In Flight Beverages" and "Dinner Preflight" titles for its drink menu and appetizer menu, respectively. Debora W notes in a five-bubble review on TripAdvisor that "This was such a cool restaurant. We enjoyed it so much. I had a cheeseburger and my husband had a humongous fish sandwich. This restaurant is inside of a real airplane and the servers are all dressed like airline attendants." Don't forget to fasten your seatbelts and place your seats in the upright position while dining here!

The Magic Castle

The Magic Castle in Los Angeles California, is the home of The Academy of Magical Arts — an exclusive, private, membership-only organization for qualified magicians. The castle offers shows, tours, magic classes, a Houdini Seance, and — the pièce de résistance — private members-only dining. We were fortunate enough to attend a function here thanks to a family member who was one of their esteemed magicians, and we can attest that it is a remarkably unique experience.

If you don't know anyone who is a member, TimeOut notes, there are other ways of scoring a reservation at the exclusive club. One way is to book a reservation at the adjacent Magic Castle Hotel. Another is to follow a magician performing there on social media and politely ask if they would be willing to host you. And lastly, apply to be a member of the Academy — a feat only recommended for truly accomplished prestidigitators.

If you do get in, be prepared to adhere to its fairly stringent dress code. Additionally, be aware that its menu is done in an old supper-club style where everything is á la carte — meaning it can get pricey if you order a multi-course meal with drinks. And finally — in addition to the cost of food and beverages — there is a Castle Fee and a Valet Fee associated with entering the building and enjoying the entertainment. These fees vary depending upon the time of day and day of the week you are in attendance.

The Stinking Rose

The Stinking Rose is a garlic-themed restaurant in San Francisco, California. Its signature catchphrase? "We season our garlic with food." According to SFGATE, the restaurant — aptly named after the Roman moniker for garlic — uses 1.5 tons of garlic per month, and is home to the world's largest garlic braid. Recently relocated to a building down the block from its original home, this restaurant has quite a reputation, as is evidenced by the lengthy list of articles and accolades on the website's "The Buzz” page.

The food is not for the faint of heart, vampires, or those on a romantic first date. Its menu — which changes daily — is rife with garlic-soaked and seasoned items, including Gilroy's Famous Garlic Ice Cream and the Gartini Garlic Martini with pickled garlic. TripAdvisor reviews of this establishment were amusing to read, with clever titles like: "The best place to stink and love it!," "One Man's Stink is Another Man's Cologne," and "Nothing stinks at the Stinking Rose." If you love garlic, this is definitely the place for you.

Rainforest Café

Rainforest Café is one of the most recognizable themed restaurant empires still in operation. The chain — now owned by Landry's, Inc. — has locations all over the globe. It got its start in Bloomington's Mall of America on February 3, 1994, according to Atlas Obscura. While the current iteration of the restaurant reliably features "Safari Guides" (waiters and waitresses), a thunderstorm every 17 minutes, animal mascots Cha! Cha! the red-eyed tree frog and Bamba the Gorilla, and jungle-inspired menu items like Rasta Pasta, this wasn't always the vision for the restaurant.

When Steven Schussler originally conceived of the "eatertainment" spectacle, he did so with the presence of live animals in mind. Indeed, the original location boasted "Forty tropical birds, two 150-pound tortoises, a baboon, an iguana, and a bevy of tropical fish housed in 10 300-gallon fish tanks." The sheer scope and cost of maintaining these eateries became too much to maintain and the real animals were replaced with more animatronic ones. Reviews on TripAdvisor consistently note how family-friendly the properties are and how much fun the ambiance is — and we concur. Even though we are adults, visiting this bit of nostalgia makes our animal-loving hearts pitter-patter.

MAUHAUS Cat Café and Lounge

MAUHAUS Cat Café and Lounge in Maplewood, Missouri, is an establishment designed for the cat lover in all of us. Patrons can enjoy a delicious snack or beverage and then spend time playing with one of its many adoptable felines. The facility has partnered with Stray Haven Rescue to provide an enriching environment for these lovable, furry babies to spend their time while they await being adopted by their furr-ever family.

While walk-ins are welcome — per several reviews on TripAdvisor and the website itself — reservations are suggested. Patrons note that the quality of the food is excellent even if the stars of the show are the kitties. Having spent an hour here ourselves, we can attest to the fine food and adorable felines. We were also impressed with how clean the facility was and how well-cared for the cats were. Supervision is constant in the cat petting area so that the cats are never mishandled and everyone is safe. We'd give this cat café a five-meow rating.

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is a Polynesian-themed tiki bar located in the basement of the famed Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Opened in 1945, the central lagoon was adapted from what was once an indoor swimming pool called the "Fairmont Plunge." Metro Goldwyn Mayer's lead set director, Mel Melvin, was the creative genius behind the decor of this legendary haunt once proclaimed by Anthony Bourdain to be "...the greatest place in the history of the world".

SFGATE agrees, stating that while the venue is somewhat reminiscent of an adult-themed Rainforest Café complete with a thunderstorm that erupts every 30 minutes, the ambiance and extremely potent beverages are worth the visit. The house band — known as The Island Groove — plays music while floating on a thatch-roof boat around the lagoon. And, for those who get a bit too rowdy after consuming too many Mai-Tai's, there is a $1,000 fine for jumping into the lagoon — a fact that piques our interest as to what necessitated this penalty to be instituted in the first place.

While the menu is small, it does offer some classic island fare including the Tonga Pupu Platter and a number of variations on Ahi Poké. Reviews on TripAdvisor are mixed — predominantly because of the high-priced beverages — but overall people love the corny, over-the-top atmosphere laden with Tiki nostalgia.

T-Rex Café

T-Rex Café, located in the heart of Downtown Disney in Orlando, Florida, is a dinosaur-theme restaurant experience brought to you by the same company as the Rainforest Café — Landry's Inc. The family-friendly eatery boasts animatronic dinosaurs, a meteor shower, a Paleo Zone where children can dig for fossils, and an expansive souvenir shop featuring the Build-A-Dino by Build-A-Bear Workshop where children can craft their very own Friend-a-saur. Let's be honest — we adults want to build one too.

The Jurassic-inspired menu is fairly mainstream, but clever — with names like Caesar-Saurus Salad, Prehistoric Pasta, and Boneyard Buffet. 841sdf says on TripAdvisor, "This is a great place for kids and adults. The menu has many selections. There is a huge octopus hanging from the ceiling, an ice age room, dinos everywhere. I didn't count the in-between time but the dinos come to life, and the ice room lights up in all shades of blue. It's great entertainment for the kids. I've been there several times, the kids love it for the entertainment and menu."

For those wanting a more in-depth educational experience, the restaurant offers Educational Tours to private groups by reservation only. The 30-minute experience led by a Creature Keeper will teach kids about the unique features of each dinosaur and how fossils can teach us about the history of dinosaurs, and includes up-close interaction with the marine life and aquarium exhibits.

Space 220 Restaurant

Space 220 Restaurant is an interstellar dining experience in Orlando, Florida, that is part of EPCOT's Mission: SPACE Pavilion. Patrons begin by boarding a space elevator that will take them 220 miles above the earth. From there, space tourists will debark, walking through a Grow Zone into the main dining room fashioned after the Centauri Space Station, according to Travel+Leisure. While dining, guests can enjoy looking through the panoramic windows depicting the Earth, stars, and astronauts in real time.

The menu is a prix-fixe sampling offering a 2-course lunch meal or a 3-course dinner option with planetary themes like Big Bang Burrata, Starry Calamari, and Blue Moon Cauliflower. There are also specialty beverages like Celestial Cosmopolitan and Planetary Punch to whet your whistle. Reservations are required and only available to those with a park reservation and valid admission to the same park on that same date. To quote a number of the reviews on TripAdvisor, the experience is — "out of this world."


Marrakech is a Moroccan-inspired theme restaurant established in 1979, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The restaurant — set in what looks like a tent in Marrakech — is a feast for all of the senses. Nightly entertainment includes belly dancing and exotic music, which is woven throughout the service of a six-course prix-fixe Mediterranean fusion menu.

Speaking of the menu — guests are in for a treat. Every delectable meal is served with its legendary home-baked bread at an extremely affordable price. The meal begins with a spicy Mediterranean Shrimp Scampi, followed by a Moroccan classic — Harira Soup. Its Mediterranean Sampler of Hummus, Baba Ghannouj, Moroccan-style olives, and pickled vegetables are ideal for dipping that bread. The main course is a dynamic duo of Beef Kebabs and a traditional Moroccan Couscous with a Chicken Platter. For dessert, a twist on B'stilla — a Moroccan pastry similar to phyllo dough that is filled with fruit and sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon. And don't forget to partake in the amazing Moroccan Mint tea.

This place has outstanding ratings and reviews on TripAdvisor, including this one from EvanG734, "Probably one of the best restaurants I've ever been to. We came here after a wedding. So much in Las Vegas is disappointing, but not this place. Outstanding, authentic atmosphere. Food was delicious. Hospitality was wonderful."

The Chocolatier

The Chocolatier Restaurant, Bar + Patio is located inside Hersheypark, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Built as part of its expansion, the eatery was developed as an homage to founder Milton S. Hershey, according to Attractions Magazine. The restaurant is open to the general public — not just patrons of the park — something that makes it unique among restaurants that are part of an amusement park. The decor is filled with tributes to the park, with seating utilizing Tilt-A-Whirl booths and Comet car booths. And the central Carousel Bar is designed to look like the oldest attraction in the park. The patio is inspired by incredible views of the park's roller coasters and features more memorabilia — including bumper cars, antique cars, and a tub from the former Giant Wheel.

Nostalgia may be fun, but the star of the show here is the chocolate-inspired menu. From signature cocktails to savory menu items to desserts, chocolate takes center stage. We were particularly intrigued by items like the Reese's Peanut Butter Hummus and the Reese's Peanut Butter Crunch Burger, which both straddle the delicate balance between sweet and savory.

While reviews on TripAdvisor are inconsistent, CarlaFoxRN says, "High energy, fun, and delicious place for dinner (they have lunch too, but save this place for dinner). Lucious entrees and unique funky and wonderful desserts. Excellent servers and service. Well managed. Pricey but worth the special treat. Make reservations far in advance. Do NOT miss this very special culinary opportunity. Highly recommend."

Aquarium Restaurant

Located in the Opry Mills Mall —across from the Grand Ole Opry and Opryland Hotel — in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, the Aquarium Restaurant is an underwater-themed dining experience sure to please grown ups and children alike. The dining room is situated surrounding a 200,000-gallon aquarium populated with over 100 species of sea creatures from all across the globe. Divers feed the sea life twice per day, making this a truly interactive and educational opportunity. And don't miss the Mystic Mermaids show, where live mermaids swim about in the tanks performing a choreographed 10-minute water ballet. For an even more immersive experience, consider one of its educational offerings, like Marine Biologist for a Day and a Behind the Scenes Tour.

The menu features a diverse offering of seafood-inspired creations ranging from fish tacos to surf-and-turf. As 861risap says on TripAdvisor, "Found this place walking around the mall. The wait was shorter than expected. Our server was so nice and the food was terrific. The main attraction was having dinner with the fish swimming around you. Portions were nice size, very family-friendly, enjoyed the gift shop, but the ultimate was the chocolate cake. It could have fed 4 people! Definitely worth checking out!!!" If you are searching for a special place to celebrate a birthday or host a special event, check out its catering and banquet facility options. A thalassophile's ultimate dining fantasy.