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Clifton's in Los Angeles
Photograph: Jesús Bañuelos

The 10 best themed restaurants in the U.S.

From a diner inside a laundromat to a tiki bar with an indoor lagoon, these are the best-themed restaurants in the U.S.

Written by
Sarah Medina
Lauren Rothman

No one expects Michelin-quality food at themed restaurants—it’s all about the experience. Sure, you can get an amazing burger in cities all across America, but where else but Las Vegas can you get an eight-patty-high, bacon-slathered, cardiac-arrest-inducing burger? Many cities have top-notch tiki bars, but you’ll have to head to San Francisco to sip your Mai Tai while being serenaded by a band that’s floating in an indoor lagoon.

These themed restaurants offer more than just themed decor. You’re not just dining out, you’re part of the action. And themes can fit your mood to make an extra special night out. Whether you’re reveling in a post-apocalyptic world that happens to have some pretty tasty food, watching mermaids perform or being served by a mish-mash of classic comic book characters, these unique restaurants will make your night out memorable.

If you’re looking for a romantic night out or a celebratory meal at a fine dining destination, look elsewhere. But for a kooky, quirky, oddball experience, take a road trip and give these themed restaurants a go.

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Top themed restaurants in the U.S.

This LAX-adjacent spot began life in 1967 as an aviation-themed restaurant but was reborn as a modern food hall in 2017 featuring six food stalls serving Asian, Italian, American fare and more. The aviation theme has been preserved: Giant model planes hang from the ceiling and the lingo echoes travel language ('Arrival' is where you place your order, 'Departure' where you pick it up). Don’t forget to visit the Mile High Club bar to pick up a cocktail or a glass of wine and admire the view. 

Leave it to Vegas to host this over-the-top restaurant where waitresses dress up as nurses and the kitchen serves the most unhealthy, heart-attack-inducing food you can possibly imagine. Customers don hospital gowns as they await towering, loaded burgers that range from 'Single Bypass' (one patty, various strips of bacon) to an awe-inspiring 'Octuple Bypass' (eight patties, 40 strips of bacon). Fries are cooked, unsurprisingly, in pure lard, and shots are served in those little plastic prescription pill containers. Customers weighing over 350 lbs eat for free and, if you dine here regularly, that goal begins to seem attainable.


Tombstone should be considered a compulsory stopover for any true Wild West enthusiast and along with all the history to be absorbed is Big Nose Kate's Saloon. The establishment is reportedly haunted and features an underground level where a worker spent years tunneling a secret entrance into a nearby silver mine. Visitors are welcome to dress up in period-style attire and you can freely snap selfies on the bar... or draped across the piano should you be so inclined. The Wyatt Earp-esque experience is accompanied by nightly live music and the equally-themed menu includes burger, brisket, and homemade chili. And the movie Tombstone plays on an endless loop on screens behind the bar.

This unique restaurant with locations in Nashville, Denver, Kemah and Houston, combines an aquarium visit with a seafood restaurant. (Yes, we also think it's a bit strange to chow down on the very creatures you’re observing but, hey, whatever works.) Diners are seated around a 200,000-gallon aquarium, where they can take in tropical fish, sharks, stingrays and more. Fish is at the center of the menu, too, with offerings such as clam chowder, a lobster tower with avocado and black beans, and crab-stuffed shrimp. Several times a month, guests are treated to a 'Mystic Mermaid' show, where 'mermaids' dive into the tank and put on a choreographed-to-music performance.


Only in Texas, folks. This perennially packed spot combines a state-of-the-art laundromat with a gourmet burger joint and craft beer bar. Tote your whites and colors to the 80-machine washing room; toss them in a high-efficiency washer; then grab a seat in the dining room next door where you can chow down on oversized, juicy burgers like the Cajun, an andouille-and-Angus patty topped with pepper jack and fried crawfish, and sip locally brewed suds. And don't worry about your laundry – a light board will let you know when it’s time to transfer your clothes to the dryer. 

6. Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar | San Francisco, CA

Few other tiki bars, if any, in the nation show as much obsessive dedication to the form as Nob Hill’s classic watering hole Tonga Room. Located inside the iconic Fairmont hotel, the Polynesian-inspired bar-slash-restaurant has been pouring mai tais since 1945, but in 2010 benefited from a $1 million renovation and facelift. While we love the balanced drinks and indulgent finger foods, it’s the ambiance at Tonga Room that’s unparalleled. Built around a 'lagoon' that was formerly the hotel’s swimming pool, it features a floating stage that’s occupied nightly by a live orchestra.


Anything goes at this San Antonio classic open since 1973. The theme is broad, embracing everything from Marvel comics to Pirates of the Caribbean and the dining room is a hodgepodge of seating areas, including the attic, a tiki hut and even an old refrigerator. Servers are dressed as all kinds of characters: Spider Man, Robin Hood, Jack Sparrow and more. The fun is clearly aimed at kids, though grownups will enjoy the post-10pm saloon featuring a full bar and live music.

Founded in 1931 as a pay-what-you-can cafeteria, Clifton’s now serves as a multi-level drinking den with a jaw-dropping forest theme. At the center of the space stands a 40ft-tall fake redwood tree; Its base is located near the Monarch Bar on the second level and it reaches up to the ceiling with reinforced branches designed to hold aerialists. On the third level you'll find the Gothic Bar, a repurposed 19th-century altar, and on the fourth floor offices were transformed into two more bars spaces, Treetops and the tiki-themed Pacific Seas. 


This railroad-themed restaurant (with a second location in Kansas City, Kansas) has been delighting diners since it opened in KC in the mid-60s. At cherry-red vinyl booths among RR memorabilia like wooden train sets and crossroads sign, visitors order tried-and-true burgers, crinkle-cut fries and thick milkshakes, then wait for a ceiling-mounted 'train' that runs on tracks to deliver the order right to the table. It’s an old-fashioned good time that kids, in particular, are sure to love.

Located within a stone’s throw of Colorado Springs’ small city-owned airport, the Airplane Restaurant is housed within a converted KC-97 U.S. Air Force tanker. Diners can sit at small tables within the plane itself or in 'the terminal,' an attached dining room. While the food isn’t anything special—don’t expect much more than burgers, fries and a few straightforward salads—the fun involved in chowing down on non-airplane food while inside an airplane is, well, totally worth it.

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