Theme restaurants get a bad rap. Not all are hokey, and not all are just for kids or out-of-towners. Several local establishments offer entertainment and eats to Valley visitors, but we believe they’re fun for locals too. Get weird while checking out these 11 themed restaurants in greater Phoenix.
525 South Central Avenue
The Duce is the perfect place to take friends or family who can’t seem to make up their minds. The downtown restaurant is a veritable shopping mall of different food and drink options, stores, and even exercise areas. The menu ranges from home-cooked Southern favorites like mac-and-cheese muffins to brisket sliders. At night, the spot turns into a Prohibition-era themed bar complete with discount beverages and activities for all. Like food, drinks range from affordable cans to intricate cocktails. There’s also a boxing gym right in the middle of the space.
The Duce is a big space, and it offers a little bit of something for everyone.
Organ Stop Pizza
1149 East Southern Avenue, Mesa
Production of the Mighty Wurlitzer organ ceased in 1943, but one restaurant in the Valley boasts an original model and treats guests to a concert each night. At Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa, you can enjoy a side of music with your meal. The musicians play on an elevated stage that even transforms into a light show on occasion. Tunes include classics for adults and familiar tunes for the kids — and for the little ones with short attention spans, there’s also an arcade. The family-style dining experience carries into the kitchen, where staff creates pizzas of your choosing. There are also pastas and gluten-free options.
At this classic pizza parlor, you can enjoy pizza with a side of tunes.
Hula’s Modern Tiki
Mad Men fans would be remiss to skip Hula’s Modern Tiki. The ’50s Hawaiian-inspired restaurant serves Polynesian fare and creative cocktails that appeal to every taste. Patrons of all ages are welcome, as the menu caters to kids and adults looking to branch out of the ordinary. A sleek dining room and bar create a luau vibe that’s anything but kitschy. Tiki masks decorate the walls but don’t expect grass skirts or “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on repeat in the background. Hula’s currently has two locations, one in Old Town Scottsdale and an uptown Phoenix location. Hours vary depending on location, but both are open for lunch, dinner, and after-dinner drinks, as well as weekend brunches.
Pick your poison.
Hula’s Modern Tiki
The Stockyards Restaurant and 1889 Saloon
5009 East Washington Street, #115
The Stockyards is an embodiment of the classy cowboy joint, meaning you’ll want to shine your boots a bit before visiting this one. Locally known as Arizona’s original steakhouse, The Stockyards has served classic Western dishes since 1947. Listed in the state’s Historical Register, The Stockyards was built on the famous Tovrea Land and Cattle Company’s property. After a fire in the 1950s and a renovation in the early aughts, the restaurant has remained a staple in the local scene. The kitchen covers everything you would expect from a steakhouse but ups the ante with some more exciting options including elk, buffalo, and boar. And if you like Rocky Mountain oysters, you might try the “calf fries,” which follow the same recipe but come from younger cattle.
Will you see the Lady in Red at Stockyards?
Jacob Tyler Dunn
8383 South 48th Street
Rustler’s Rooste is likely the most carefree cowboy bar you’ll ever visit. The massive restaurant offers steak dinners, fish options, ribs, and rattlesnake, plus, every table gets a hearty post-dinner serving of cotton candy. Inside the restaurant, you can wander around two stories and slide down the famous slide. Outside, you can hang out on the balcony, where you will catch a nice view of Arizona’s mountains and — if you time it right — a breathtaking sunset. It’s a family-friendly spot and can be reserved for private parties or receptions. The saloon opens at 4 p.m. and stays open late; the steakhouse serves from 5 to 10 p.m. Oh, and don’t forget to say “Hi” to Horney the Bull at some point while you’re there. You can’t miss him.
The scene from the Rooste.
MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain and Espresso Bar
2303 North Seventh Street
For those looking to step back in time and enjoy an ice cream soda or homemade cherry Coke, MacAlpine’s in central Phoenix is the place to go. The small restaurant, flanked by a vintage clothing shop and home decor store, serves an array of old-school meals ranging from hot sandwiches to comfort food-based meals. But it truly excels in its construction of dessert-based drinks. Guests can get the full experience by playing the shop’s old jukebox, which carries all the biggest hits from the ’50s and ’60s. Pin curls are encouraged, but not required. Note: at this time MacAlpine’s is open for carryout only.
Alligator tacos at the Mesa Bass Pro Shop’s, a quirky seafood-themed restaurant that’s attached to the outdoor-gear megastore.
6935 East Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek
As you drive up Cave Creek Road and pass through the arid desert landscape, you’ll eventually find yourself in a town full of colorful vintage shops and cafes. You’ll also eventually become surrounded by dive bars, each one boasting the best food and strongest drinks. It’s very important that you drive past them and turn right into Harold’s Cave Creek Corral. You can’t miss it; it has the biggest sign out front and looks the most authentic. The drive out to Harold’s Corral is a clue to the atmosphere you’ll find at the cowboy bar and restaurant. Harrold’s usually houses a relaxed but colorful crowd who seem to know each other and yet accept everyone as family — especially if you’re a Steelers fan. You can get traditional cowboy dishes (meaning countless types of steaks and other various red meats). There’s also an in-house popcorn machine. After dark, Harold’s turns into a haven for those looking to two-step their troubles away.
The Yard and Culinary Dropout, where some backyard-style fun will definitely go down.
The Yard at Culinary Dropout
5632 North Seventh Street
The massive outdoor area at Culinary Dropout provides guests with a backyard party feel. There are all kinds of yard games such as corn hole, giant Jenga, and ping pong, plus drink deals that’ll make you feel like you’re drinking at home. During the day, you can find charcuterie boards and loaded sandwiches, while the dinner menu incorporates hearty classics like 36-hour pork ribs and rainbow trout. Over the weekend, you can start your day with dishes like bread pudding French toast, and a little hair of the dog. There’s (usually) live music on weekends to boot. For food, Culinary Dropout’s kitchen staff cooks up comfortable tailgating favorites.
Can you think of any other bat-themed bar and grill in the Valley?
New Times Archives
3313 North Hayden Road, Scottsdale
Carlsbad Tavern, named to sound like Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico, has a brunch, dinner, happy hour, and late-night menu for those to enjoy their genuine New Mexico grub at nearly any hour. Street tacos and green chile mac and cheese are available till 2 a.m. just a three-minute drive or 20-minute walk from Old Town Scottsdale. If you’re more of a morning person, brunch is available at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Carlsbad Tavern has textbook New Mexican food — machaca red chile enchiladas, carne adovada, green chile burritos — but with some Scottsdale flair. For example, the brunch menu has a build-your-own Bloody Mary option and avocado toast, while entrees include Maine lobster enchiladas and New York carne asada.
Topo can’t be missed — both on the street and for the elote.
301 North Gilbert Road, Gilbert
A place like Topo looks like it should be neighboring an old rest stop along Route 66 in northern Arizona, but instead, it’s found among the many dining options along Gilbert Road in the Heritage District. But that does not take away its charm. Topped with the didn’t-take-to-be-iconic gopher, Topo’s small, standalone structure and walk-up window look like something that should be listed on Roadside America (we’re waiting). The menu is tight and cashless, offering two types of burritos, two types of elote, and some soft serve. But menu items are still next level — like the prickly pear soft serve with lime dip and Mexican Coke. And while it may feel like a road trip to some of you to even get to Gilbert, that only adds to the experience.
Don’t ever change (again), Space Age Restaurant.
Space Age Restaurant
401 East Pima Street, Gila Bend
It’s a little bit of a drive, but the Best Western Space Age Lodge is definitely worth the trip. The hotel’s Space Age Restaurant is weird, roadside Arizona at its best — complete with the glowing spaceship sign announcing the pull-off along Pima Street (the main stretch of Gila Bend). A life-size alien (or so we assume) greets you at the front door, and another welcomes you inside. Menu items include the Jupiter Burger and the Spacey Melt (both on the Lunar Lunch menu). There’s also a full bar and plenty of shuttle-themed murals inside. The lodge itself dates back to 1965 when its original founder Al Stovall opened the site as Stovall’s Space Age Lodge.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on October 26, 2015. It was updated on December 5, 2020. Sara Weber contributed to this article. See what Valley restaurants are offering takeout, delivery, and dine-in services with our Phoenix Restaurant Directory.
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