What's the hottest restaurant in New York City? Le Coucou? Balthazar? Estella? Nope, not this week. Right now, the hardest-to-get reservation in NYC is the Spotted Cheetah. And the main ingredient is Cheetos.
Not like you can get in, though — the three-day pop up (running Aug. 16–18) already has a 1,000-person waiting list. Luckily, The Daily Meal was able to score a seat at an exclusive media preview on Aug. 15 to mingle with Chester Cheetah, drink orange cocktails, and sample selections from the three-course menu.
The décor was dangerously cheesy, both literally and figuratively. Absolutely every single thing in the restaurant space was orange, spotted, and covered in Cheetos. Chester Cheetah himself was present via an LCD screen, interacting with guests and making dish recommendations. (He told me to eat the chicken tacos and sugar cookies.)
Even the toilet paper was orange with cheetah paw prints. So those who are not fans of kitsch, heavy theming, or Cheetos need not come to the Spotted Cheetah.
Beyond the decoration and celebrity mascot appearance, one big question remains: How was the food?
The answer is: actually really tasty.
But there’s no reason to be surprised by the quality of the flaming hot food coming out of the kitchen. The Spotted Cheetah is led by celebrity chef Anne Burrell, who worked together with PepsiCo to craft a Cheetos-inspired menu that would appeal to the high-class stoner in all of us.
Highlights of the very, very cheesy menu include the Cheetos Meatballs, the Purrfectly Fried Green Tomatoes, and the Flamin’ Hot and White Cheddar Mac N’ Cheetos.
It should have gone without saying that the fried appetizers are stars. Cover anything in Cheetos — be it a tomato, pickle, or meatball — fry it, and serve it alongside a bed of wilted greens, homemade ranch dressing, or marinara sauce, and you’re going to have a winner by default. But these dishes transcended that default deliciousness. The meatballs (a blend of beef, pork, and veal) are sizable, plump, and moist, and the crunchy Cheetos breading added just the right amount of salt and cheese flavor to the dish. The fried green tomatoes benefitted from a similar breading, but the subtle flavors of the White Cheddar Cheetos did not overpower the rest of the plate. Instead, it helped to bring harmony to all of the Southern-inspired flavors.
And it should come as no surprise that a macaroni and cheese based on Cheetos was a winner. The combination is just so natural (despite the unnatural bright red color of the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto), that this dish begs to be made. And in fact, the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos added a great textural component to the white cheddar macaroni.
The only real bummers of the menu are the desserts. The White Cheddar Cheetos and Cheetos Sweetos Apple Crepe was unfortunately bland, and the Cheetos products’ integration felt forced. The Cheetos Sweetos Sweet and Salty Cookies were better, but who could ever really hate on a cinnamon sugar cookie? It’s just an inherently good treat.
So is The Spotted Cheetah worth waiting behind 999 people just for the chance to get in and then pay $22 for four chicken tacos? Actually, yes, it is. The savory dishes — which is what everyone is coming to a Cheetos pop-up for anyway — are really, truly delicious. Burrell managed to take a concept that could easily become a punchline and create craveworthy dishes that you absolutely do not have to be inebriated to enjoy. Sure, the menu is actually pretty pricey, but knowing that you’re one of the few who gets to dine at spotted tables, talk with Chester Cheetah, and sip on frozen orange cocktails is worth the price alone. It’s not only a dinner; it’s an experience.
And for those who couldn’t snag a reservation? Don’t worry. You can plan your own Spotted Cheetah menu at home. The entire recipe book is available online. And if that isn't enough for you, relive the Cheetos museum by clicking here.