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Heart Attack Grill, Las Vegas
Photograph: Shutterstock Heart Attack Grill, Las Vegas

11 truly outrageous themed restaurants in the United States

From a diner inside a laundromat to a tiki bar with a swimming pool, these are the most fun themed restaurants in the USA

By Lauren Rothman and Sarah Medina
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You don't go to a themed restaurant for the food, you go for the experience. For example: If you're looking for the best burgers in America, you can head to a number of delicious cities, but if you're looking for a eight-patty-high, bacon-slathered, heart-attacking-inducing burger, then you can only go to Las Vegas. Similarly, tiki bars can be found across the country, but only San Francisco has a indoor lagoon where a live band plays from a floating boat. And we haven't even mentioned the laundromat-slash-restaurant in Texas or the live mermaids in Nashville. You get the picture. Head to these unique themed restaurants in the USA if you want something more than your average night out. 

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Best themed restaurants

Harvey Washbanger’s, cajun burger, themed restaurants
Photograph: Courtesy Harvey Washbanger’s

1. College Station, TX: Harvey Washbanger’s

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. 

Heart Attack Grill
Photograph: Courtesy Heart Attack Grill

2. Las Vegas, NV: Heart Attack Grill

Restaurants American

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 pounds eat for free and, if you dine here regularly, that goal begins to seem attainable.

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Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Photograph: Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

3. San Francisco, CA: Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

Bars Nob Hill

Note: This venue is temporarily closed 

Few, if any, other tiki bars 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 ambience 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.

Discover the best restaurants in San Francisco

Clifton's in Los Angeles
Photograph: Jesús Bañuelos

4. Los Angeles, CA: Clifton’s Republic

Restaurants American Downtown Historic Core

Note: This venue is temporarily closed 

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 40-foot-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. 

Discover the best restaurants in L.A.

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Aquarium Restaurant
Photograph: Courtesy Aquarium Restaurant

5. Multiple cities: Aquarium Restaurant

Restaurants Music Valley

This unique restaurant with locations in Nashville, Denver 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.

SafeHouse
Photograph: SafeHouse

6. Chicago, IL: SafeHouse

Restaurants Hamburgers River North

Note: This venue is temporarily closed 

For 50 years, Midwesterners have flocked to Milwaukee’s SafeHouse—a spy-themed bar and restaurant that serves cocktails inspired by well-known secret agents ("Sterling Archer," "The Man with the Copper Mug") and requires a password (or the completion of an outlandish "clearance test") for entry—until finally, the immersive experience opened a second location in the Windy City, where would-be spies turn down an alleyway, enter under a sign that reads “International Exports Ltd.,” and drink and dine under decor made of espionage artifacts, the flight deck of a WWII-era spy plane and a piece of the Berlin Wall.

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Photograph: Courtesy of The Proud Bird

7. Los Angeles, CA: The Proud Bird

Restaurants LAX/Westchester

Note: This venue is temporarily closed 

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. 

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Mad Rex
Photograph: Society Hill Films

8. Philadelphia, PA: Mad Rex

Restaurants American creative Fishtown

Note: This venue is temporarily closed 

In a post-apocalyptic world, dining options would surely be limited to canned goods and salvaged MREs, but at this Fishtown restaurant, the end of the world is a far more flavorful affair. The decor could be called scorched-earth chic, and cocktails, served in tin cans, continue the theme. Hearty proteins, like a 14-ounce New York strip, are sizzled table-side on hot lava rocks. At the bar, you’ll find a list of specialty drink, such as the Vigilante and the Flame Thrower, beers on draft and in cans and bottles, and an extensive wine menu with varieties available by the glass or bottle.

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9. San Antonio, TX: Magic Time Machine

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.

Discover the best restaurants in San Antonio

The Airplane Restaurant, Colorado Springs
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

10. Colorado Springs, CO: The Airplane Restaurant

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.

Discover the best restaurants in Colorado Springs

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Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant
Photograph: Courtesy Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant

11. Kansas City, MO: Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant

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.

Discover the best restaurants in Kansas City

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