The Best Themed Restaurants To Put On Your Travel Bucket List

For foodies, creating a list of destination restaurants on their next vacation ranks high on the list of pleasurable vacation-planning activities. Such planning lands second in rank only to actually eating in those restaurants. To that end, we've compiled a list of themed destination restaurants that make your food stops on your next road trip memorable, to say the least. Most people know about themed restaurants, like the Hard Rock Cafe. But, the US is filled with plenty of cool themed restaurants you may not have heard of. For example, how about visiting a restaurant that keeps the secrets of Houdini? Or maybe a restaurant where cold cereal is on the menu all day, every day? And finally, what about a restaurant whose cuisine is so naughty this noshery can really only exist in Sin City? Naturally, that's on our list, too.


But our list of bucket list goes even beyond that. While these restaurants count as destinations in their own right, many are in places that make for a pretty good vacation stop in general. Aside from Las Vegas, our bucket list stretches from Los Angeles to New Castle, with stops in between. So for the foodie that's up for a really long road trip with tasty stops from beginning to end, this bucket list of themed restaurants around the US is just for you!

The Magic Castle

Imagine food so good that you're convinced that sorcery itself made it. Those who've been fortunate enough to eat at The Magic Castle in Los Angeles know that only true culinary sorcery could conjure up such taste delights. Gaining access to the magical meal requires more than trickery, however. The Magic Castle, which was founded in 1963, is a part of The Academy of Magical Arts. It's a members-only club that caters to those who love all things magic. Those who are lucky enough to enjoy brunch, lunch, or dinner at the club do so because they either have a membership themselves, have been invited by a member, or they're staying at the Magic Castle Hotel. 


Guests dressed to the nines, as per the strict dress code requirements of the club, start arriving by about 5:00 p.m. Once inside, the words "Open Sesame" spoken to a magic owl reveal culinary and entertainment delights hidden behind a trick bookcase. Executive chef Jason Sperber conjures up yummies like Maryland crab cakes, roasted ora King Salmon, and braised short ribs. The waiting list for dinner is months long. Because it's associated with an academy of magic, the real magic begins after dinner. A main show, followed by other shows in the theaters throughout The Magic Castle, cap off this evening of magical arts. 

The Airplane Restaurant

Imagine you're an aspiring restauranteur, scoping out possible locations for your next restaurants. You've found your favorite, though inconveniently, before you can buy said restaurant space, the US government would like to know if you plan on selling it to a foreign entity any time soon. If you think that all this sounds like intrigue right out of the Atomic Age, you'd be right. The Airplane Restaurant in Colorado Springs started its life in 1953 as a fully functioning Boeing KC-97 tanker. After years of refueling planes in the air, it was grounded and eventually began refueling people in 2002.


Although it doesn't serve up the guinea hens and caviar that passengers enjoyed on airplanes during flight's early years, its fare is way more than pretzels and peanuts. Runway Chicken Wings and Air Tower Nachos count among the pre-flight offerings, while an in-flight meal includes a New York Steak or the BBQ Bomber Burger. In a cool stroke of aviation cosplay, serving staff dons flight attendant uniforms as they serve the restaurant's version of airplane food. For aviation buffs, it's not just eating in a real-life plane that engenders awe. The restaurant is filled with flight-related photos, old airplane hardware, and enough toy planes to fill a hobby shop. The sky's the limit when you eat here.


The Heart Attack Grill

Some foodie experiences are so naughty they could only happen in Las Vegas. The Heart Attack Grill counts among those experiences. Customers slip into a hospital gown before being led to their table by a server clad in a nurse's uniform. The dining experience guarantees food filled with tons of calories – up to 20,000 in the case of the Octuple Bypass Burger – lots of saturated fat and plenty of sodium to really kick up the blood pressure on its way to your ticker. If all of that doesn't give you a heart attack, the three swats with a paddle you'll get from your server will surely cause myocardial infarction. Granted, you'll only catch the three swats if you don't clean up your plate, but judging by the size of some of the portions, three swats are pretty much guaranteed.


Also, if you like a little lettuce on your burger, forget about it. That's way too healthy. A pat of butter tops the milkshakes. Wine comes in an IV bag. Burgers are stacked three, four, five, or more burgers high. People 350 pounds or overeat for free. Fittingly, the restaurant's motto is a "taste worth dying for."

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

One of Las Vegas's most memorable culinary experiences takes restaurant guests down into the bowels of Captain Nemo's Nautilus submarine for an immersive experience that includes a meal and decor inspired by Jules Verne's book "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Located in the Lost Spirits complex of AREA15, diners begin the experience by sipping on the house specialty rum, a 122-proof concoction that's reportedly strong enough to "ignite wet gunpowder," per The Thrillist


As in Verne's novel, dinner with the captain, Chef Taylor Persh, in this case, echoes the dishes that Verne's protagonist, Captain Nemo, and his prisoner guests ate in Verne's novel. Sea-inspired delights, infused with rum in every bite, fill each of the dinner's 16 courses. Innovative dishes, like gold oscietra caviar in quail eggs, hidden inside a replica of Fabergé Egg and fois gras on a potato pillow, enthrall the small dinner crowd. Only 12 guests dine with Chef Persh each night. But the rum-infused dinner only accounts for part of the immersive experience. Little side shows that include magic acts, contortionists, a jazz lounge, and more make up the evening's entertainment.

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

If, when you first step into the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar in San Fransisco, you feel like you've stepped onto a movie set, there's a reason. In 1945, MGM set designer, Mel Melvin, updated the bar's ocean theme to its current tiki bar incarnation. Thatched roofs, tropical rain, and rummy drinks infuse the Tonga Room with a Polynesian vibe that has impressed foodies for decades, including famous foodies like Anthony Bourdain.


Cozy tables flank the bar's "lagoon," a water fixture that the Fairmont Hotel once used as its main swimming pool. Nowadays, it's home to a floating musical stage where the band The Island Groove plays nightly. In true Hollywood movie set fashion, bursts of rain, lightning, and thunder fill the room as guests sip on drinks like the 1944 Mai Tai or The Expat. The menu has a decidedly Polynesian flare with a twist. Coconut Curry Seafood, Tonga Grilled Ribeye, and Spicy Basil Chicken count among the restaurant's dinner entrees, though savvy insiders know that you can enjoy a variety of nibbles if you're lucky enough to catch the Happy Hour buffet.

Fritz's Railroad Restaurant

In recent years, restaurant staff shortages have forced restauranteurs to replace servers with technologies like tabletop kiosks. These economize the ordering process, freeing up servers to take care of tasks that are harder to replace by technology, like food delivery. While the delivery train Fritz Kropf invented also replaces some server duties, namely, food delivery, it's way more magical than any tabletop kiosk ever thought of being. (Any kid who's ever gotten an electric train set for Christmas knows that sandwiches are perfectly good items to place on an electric train's dining car for delivery to the next room.)


And speaking of sandwiches, food at Fritz's is about what you'd expect from a drive-in or diner circa 1954. Old-fashioned hot dogs, burgers with Swiss cheese and jalapeños, orders of frings — that is, French fries plus onion rings — and Oreo sundaes all hit the spot when you're making a roadside food stop. When you're ready to set the steam engines rolling again, be sure to order a cherry limeade to whet your whistle once you're back on the road.

Three Broomsticks & the Hog's Head

As perhaps a tide-me-over for those of us who still await our letter from Hogwarts, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has graciously recreated a replica of the town of Hogsmeade, including two foodie fantasies come to life, The Three Broomsticks and the attached pub, The Hog's Head. (Can't forget to stop in for a hot butterbeer!)  The traditional English breakfast of breakfast potatoes, scrambled eggs, black pudding, English bacon, and more give us an up-close view of what wizards and witches eat for breakfast, while dishes like shepherd's pie, beef pasties, and fish and chips fill the tummies of the magical folk after a day of shopping at Diagon Alley and leisurely rides aboard the Hogwarts Express.


Although some of the recipes, like shepherd's pie, could be found almost anywhere, what sets this experience apart is, well, the experience. Short of J.K. Rowling inviting you to eat on the set of the Potter movies, you won't get a more Potter experience than you get here. Great care has been taken to replicate the look and feel of the locations made famous by the Potter movies, so much so that we wouldn't be surprised if you find your Hogwarts letter hiding underneath your seat.

Clifton's Republic

It was Los Angeles 1935. Six years into the Great Depression and people were understandably tired and usually hungry. In response, restauranteur Clifford Clinton created a local hangout that fed empty tummies in his community, not only during the remaining years of the Great Depression but also in the decades following. In its early days, Clifton's Republic offered free meals to those who couldn't afford to pay. But the restaurant didn't just feed the body. It fed the soul. Clifford Clinton filled his establishment's five floors with faux trees and plants, dioramas, and other nature-related trappings. The comfy atmosphere attracted everyone, from the down-and-out to the rich and famous. 


In its heyday, Clifton's served 15,000 people a day. While Clifton's doesn't give away free meals any longer, it does offer work programs that benefit sober-living communities and other at-risk groups in keeping with its community-forward tradition. And no restaurant that concerns itself with the comfort of the public can be without its own comfort food recipes. On replicas of the cafeteria's original trays, lunchtime visitors take for themselves servings of turkey and stuffing, the restaurant's specialty, because every day at Clifton's Republic is Thanksgiving, in a manner of speaking.

The Grey Restaurant

As a bus station-turned-restaurant, The Grey, located in downtown Savannah, Georgia, hearkens back to an earlier time. Built in 1938, the station was a hub for travelers heading to various destinations around the US. It was also a place where the rules of race segregation kept passengers apart. Nowadays, there isn't a colored entrance and a white entrance. Everyone enters The Grey via the same door.


And that's good. Savannah, as one of America's first settled cities, merges the cuisines of the immigrants who settled the city from places like Germany, Spain, Ireland, and the Caribbean, bringing all the cultural flavors together in single dishes. Mashama Bailey, partner and executive chef of The Grey, says she cooks "Southern ingredients in a European way," per Eater. The other part of The Grey's draw is its storied history, one that founder and co-partner of The Grey, John O. Morisano, is aware of. Through The Grey's food and via long conversations that it took to write their book, "Black, White, and The Grey," a history of The Grey, the two owners try to make peace with the challenges of The Grey's past. For them and visitors to the Art Deco-style eatery, food, including Bailey and Morisano sharing tips on how their own respective grandmothers liked to cook their pork shanks, offers an entry into the conversation about history and a viable way to explore the past while living in the present.


The Purple Cow

The Purple Cow's famous purple milkshake, made from Yarnell's ice cream, doesn't taste like grape, as you might imagine, but rather, it's good, old-fashioned vanilla that just so happens to look like it's been colored by a purple crayon. And while we don't know if it's for purely psychological reasons that this purple beauty tastes so great or if it's because Yarnell's Ice Cream makes the purple-hued ice cream only for The Purple Cow, we do know that USA Today touts it as the best milkshake in Arkansas, so it's probably pretty tasty.


But it's not just the purple milkshake that attracts customers. Since its inception in 1989, The Purple Cow's 1950s-style music, retro look, and roadside diner fare have been a local favorite. Though the Purple Cow is known for making some mean hamburgers, it also offers a range of delectable treats, like its homemade spicy cheese dip and nachos, Santa Fe salad, and a tuna salad platter, which anyone who has ever spent any time in diners knows is diner speak for "eating light." While we can't blame diner visitors for wanting to watch their waistlines, might we suggest they forego the platter and dive straight into a pile of nachos washed down with purple milkshake? When in Rome and all...

The Haunted House Restaurant

When you walk into The Haunted House Restaurant in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, don't be surprised if an otherworldly host, like Michael Myers from "Halloween" fame, plays restaurant host for your visit. As you're led to your seat, you'll pass by a brilliantly colored mural featuring Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice, a "Scary Movie" poster encased in an Old Hollywood-style lighted frame, and a life-sized statue of Pennywise clown from "IT." Those elements, plus the numerous giant TV screens blaring scenes from classic horror movies, tell you, for certain, that you ain't in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.


Instead, you've entered an eatery that only the Bride of Frankenstein (and a few die-hard horror fans) could love. In keeping with the horror movie/ haunted house theme, you'll find foodie fare with names like "Poultrygeist," "The Thriller Burger," "The Twilight," and "Children of the Street Corn." While not all menu items get scary names, all are purported to be scarily good. And be warned. This hall of horrors is closed on Monday, so plan ahead.

Jessop's Tavern

Originally built in 1674, the restaurant's namesake, Abraham Jessop, made this now three-hundred-plus-year-old building the home of his barrel-making shop. In its long history, the building that now houses Jessop's Tavern had many identities. Originally built as a home, this Delaware landmark had many incarnations, though its time as a restaurant proper didn't begin until the 1950s. In its time, it's been restaurants called Captain's Log, the Green Frog, and now, Jessop's, bringing it back to its roots.


Guests of Jessop's Tavern can warm up with a bowl of seafarer's catch chowder and a glass of Fess Parker Chardonnay before noshing on New Sweden meatloaf. Comfort food lovers won't want to miss Chimay lobster mac and cheese to eat alongside their Chimay 150 golden ale. Classic beer and lovers can sample some historic drink fare, like Jefferson's Golden Ale or Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Ale. And when dinner's all done, tavern guests can walk around New Castle's historic district, which is just a stone's throw away from Jessop's and the Delaware River.

The Java Break

For the uninspired or just plain tired, few foods hit the spot, like a bowl of cold cereal. Such a meal, no matter what time of the day it's served, hearkens back to the days of Saturday morning cartoons and cereal boxes with prizes inside. While it may be near impossible to replicate the first time you saw "Scooby Doo" on Saturday morning TV, replicating the cereal experience is a little easier, particularly with a visit to The Java Break cereal restaurant. 


Creating your perfect cereal meal starts with you picking up to three different kinds of cereals to go in your bowl, and we're not talking about the cheap puffed rice that comes in the economy-sized bag. No. Cereal-ly-inclined foodies like you choose from the likes of Cap'n Crunch, Life, and Fruit Loops, to name but a few. After that, choose toppings such as bananas, M&Ms, marshmallows, Oreo cookies, and more. While extra toppings cost a bit more, capturing some of the cereal days of your youth is pretty priceless.

Bors Hede Inne

If you thought a jaunt back in time was merely the stuff that SciFi fantasy movies were made of, you clearly haven't taken a visit to the Bors Hede Inne in Carnation, Washington. In this 14th-century-style village eatery, you'll sample recipes taken from the pages of ancient cookbooks. Recreated ancient recipes like fenberry pye, a concoction filled with cranberries, chicken, and pork, and sanc dragon, a chicken dish flavored with almond sauce and cinnamon, are all part of a night's feast.


The old-fashioned feasts and whole entertainments come to history-loving foodies via the Camlann Medieval Village. The Bors Hede Inne is part of a historically accurate 14th-century English village that's been recreated in the US, just a stone's throw away from Seattle, Washington. It's a living museum project that teaches visitors all about Medieval life that just so happens to have a tasty dinner right at the center of the history lesson. On extra special occasions, visitors to the Bors Hede Inne enjoy special meals for holiday feasts like Mid-Lenten Feast, Midsommer, or Yuletide.