With this month’s grand opening of Super Nintendo World, Universal Studios Hollywood has managed to do the impossible (at least, impossible until now). The new theme park land doesn’t just look like all your favorite childhood video games—it actually puts you inside the Nintendoverse, with snacks and entrees perfectly suited to the immersive environment.
The whole place is about play, as it should be. Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, the most anticipated ride in the park, brings riders through a physical recreation of courses from the racing game, like the haunted mansion and Bowser’s castle, and a layer of augmented reality lets them change the outcome of the ride by beating their score and uncovering secrets. Beyond that, there are “key challenges” where playing physical games earns keys that let players access Bowser Jr.’s castle. Once there, players use their own shadows to advance the game, jumping up and “hitting” question mark blocks to collect power-ups, then shooting fireballs at Bowser Jr.
You can also meet Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach, or search for secrets and Easter eggs all around Super Nintendo World. Naturally, all that gaming is going to make you hungry, at which point you should head to Toadstool Cafe.
“Chef Toad is actually the one back there cooking everything,” Julia Thrash, Vice President, Culinary, and Executive Chef at Universal Studios Hollywood, tells The Takeout. “His inspiration for the entire menu is the Mushroom Kingdom, so everything on the menu either looks like a mushroom, tastes like a mushroom, or is inspired by the Mushroom Kingdom in some way, shape, or form.”
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The menu isn’t anything like what you’d expect to see in a quick-service theme park restaurant. Each menu item is truly a work of art, pulled straight from the world of Super Mario and dotted with graphics and props showcasing the iconography of the games.
There are burgers, yes, but even those are scaled up from your average theme park burger. The Mario Burger ($16.99) comes topped with bacon, sauteed mushrooms, and American cheese with a side of truffle fries; the bun has a Mario mustache printed on top and a Mario hat pick holding the whole thing together. The Luigi Burger ($16.99) is a grilled chicken breast topped with basil pesto, Swiss cheese, green pepper, and spinach, with a Luigi mustache on the bun and speared with a Luigi hat pick.
In keeping with the toadstool theming, the Super Mushroom Soup is one of the highlights of the menu. At $9.99, it’s served in a bowl with a mushroom hat lid; when you open it, the soup is garnished with crackers printed with power-up mushrooms (which make characters grow in the Mario games).
The Piranha Plant Caprese ($12.99) is similarly inventive: fresh mozzarella and tomato slices topped with basil pesto, accompanied by a green salad and a “piranha plant,” the sharp-toothed chomping plants that try to eat your character in Super Mario Bros. The plant is actually made from two halves of a tomato speckled with polka dots of cheese, plus an asparagus stalk for a stem. It’s as much fun to eat as it is to photograph, and it’s a great complement to the “real” piranha plants you’ll find just outside the restaurant, waving around trying to cause mayhem.
“My absolute favorite thing that Chef has created is actually Chef Toad’s short rib special,” Thrash says. “It is one thing that you wouldn’t expect to find in a theme park, which is what makes me extremely happy.” Said short rib ($24.99) is braised for four hours, then served with goat cheese polenta and a red wine reduction.
Every dish finds a way to surprise the diner. I tried the Fire Flower Spaghetti & Meatballs ($16.99) and wasn’t expecting its deliciously spicy marinara sauce with mushrooms—though perhaps I should have, because the titular “fire flowers” are the power-ups that allow Super Mario characters to shoot fireballs.
I’ve eaten at Toadstool Cafe three times, and I can never bring myself to leave without ordering dessert. There are three on the menu, and they are all as creative as they are delectable. The ? Block Tiramisu ($9.99) is a cube formed by cookies to create the spitting image of the blocks characters hit with their heads to release power-ups. Mt. Beanpole Cake ($9.99), shaped like the beanstalk flagpole at the end of each level of Super Mario Bros., features layers of vanilla cake and vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry creams, topped with matcha mousse and the flag you grab to win the game.
The showstopper, however, is the Princess Peach Cupcake ($9.99), a funfetti cupcake with raspberry filling, pink swirls of buttercream frosting, edible glitter, and a white chocolate crown on top. It’s big enough to share, and I did, twice, even though I really didn’t want to.
The Toadstool Cafe is uniquely dedicated to providing an immersive dining experience, from the creative presentations to the fact that you can watch Chef Toad cooking in the kitchen through “windows” (screens) placed around the dining room. Every so often, the evil Bowser shows up and darkens the room, but he’s gone faster than an order of cheesy garlic knots.