Let's-a go! From Toad-themed mushroom soup to a Mario mini burger, I ate my way through the Super Mario-themed foods at Super Nintendo World.
After you've worked up an appetite on headlining attraction 'Mario Kart': Bowser's Challenge, there's only one place to go: Toadstool Café.
Let's-a go ... eat! My gaming years are long behind me but when it was announced that Super Nintendo World was opening at one of my favorite theme parks, Universal Studios Hollywood (USH), I was particularly giddy about the opportunity to step into the whimsical world of the video game giant. High on my list of priorities was, of course, testing out all of the Super Mario Bros.-themed foods served inside the land.
As a theme park journalist, I visit parks aroung the globe, but they've yet to include the high levels of immersion promised to be found inside the Mushroom Kingdom. Sure, I was excited to get behind the wheel in a real-life Mario Kart attraction, but I was mostly eagerly awaiting the adorable, themed eats to be found.
The first Super Nintendo World in the U.S. is a wildly innovative, interactive land, where I lived out all of my childhood Nintendo dreams — like real-life block-punching. I wasn't simply a bystander to the story but an active participant in Mario's world.
While visiting Super Nintendo World, guests venture into the vibrantly-colored Mushroom Kingdom via a green warp pipe before being greeted by Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach — who talk. It's a pioneering feat in theme park design with 360-degree immersion and countless interactive elements found around every corner.
But, after you've worked up an appetite on headlining attraction, Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge, there's only one place to go: Toadstool Café. Here you'll be feast on short rib that's been braised for four hours and is served atop scratch-made polenta and paired with a red wine reduction. And you thought theme park food was limited to chicken nuggets and corn dogs.
Julia Thrash, an executive chef at USH, shares that the menu for Super Nintendo World was a development project that took over a year. "There has been a lot of creativity in building the menu and also working alongside Nintendo," she tells Yahoo Life.
Chef Toad serves as head of the kitchen at the café, with his culinary masterpieces inspired by the physical attributes of beloved characters within the Super Mario Bros. franchise. The land's Insta-worthy moments extend to its flagship eatery — with visually stunning goodies that are almost too adorable to eat.
"It has to look cute," says Thrash. "We want people to look at it and say, 'Oh my gosh that's the Piranha Plant.' But it also has to taste good. People eat with their eyes first and we draw them in first with that."
While food is the star, the physical space is impressive alone. The restaurant is lined with interactive windows that come alive with playful scenery of happenings in the kitchen and "outside" in the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom. The concept is part quick-service, part table-service as guests order their food at the front but are then seated and served like at a standard restaurant. And there's no plastic cutlery here. Guests dine on real plates using actual silverware and logo-emblazoned napkins.
As highly-themed and immersive as the rest of the land, Toadstool Café is the sister restaurant of Chef Toad's other locale, Kinopio's Café at Universal Studios Japan's version of the land. The menu is a perfect blend of sweet and savory, with much of the latter including 'shroom-loaded flavors. Some dishes, like the Piranha Plant Caprese, even made their way over from Japan, but the dishes are largely exclusive to Hollywood.
As someone who's been visiting Universal parks for more than 30 years, I think Toadstool Café is a major foodie step in the right direction for the Southern California theme park. So, after visiting the Mushroom Kingdom, which items from Chef Toad's famous restaurant should you try? My group of hungry gamers tried everything on the menu, and these are the Mario-themed dishes I would not miss when I return to USH.
Toadstool Cheesy Garlic Knots, $5.99
This carb-loaded delight was vegan and made in-house using dough that's prepared daily, then shaped to look like an adorable toadstool. Baked to golden brown, the soft, pillowy knots were brushed with garlic butter and loaded with parmesan and parsley. Marinara adds a zesty element but they are just as good on their own. You'll eat these up quicker than you can say Koopa Troopa.
Piranha Plant Caprese, $12.99
If you've ever played Super Mario Bros. you've likely been eaten by one of these — but finally the tables have turned. The plating alone was spectacular, but the fact that we can now enjoy a standout salad in a theme park is a blessing. Sliced fresh mozzarella comes along with tomatoes, asparagus and a creamy basil pesto. The dish is rounded out with a mixed green salad topped with shaved radish and apple vinaigrette. Gluten free and vegetarian, it's the perfect fuel needed to level up for all of the land's challenges.
? Block Tiramisu, $9.99
This one takes the cake — pun intended. One bite of the ? Block Tiramisu instantly transported me to an Italian bakery. The delicate dessert was layered with coffee soaked lady fingers, cocoa powder and delicious whipped cream. Mamma Mia!
Super Star Lemon Squash, $8.00
While you may be inclined to go for the adorable character cream sodas found elsewhere in the park, the Super Star Lemon Squash was the unsung hero of beverages. The bubbly beverage was sweet, tangy and refreshing — and it served as a perfect accompaniment to the savory, heavy menu items. Super Star is a play on the invincibility granted in the video game and your palate will feel justly so after each sip. While the bobas aren't necessarily needed, they add a fun element.
Fire Flower Spaghetti and Meatballs, $16.99
As the name implies there was a bit of heat with this one — and not the usual "theme park spicy," as this had a real-deal kick. A heaping plate of spaghetti was loaded with mushroom marinara sauce, meatballs, Fire Flower parmesan crisps, shaved parmesan and chopped parsley. As an Italian food connoisseur, I was surprised this ended up being one of my favorite dishes of the day.
Luigi Burger, $16.99
Mario may be the star of the Nintendo universe, but at Toadstool Café his brother takes all the glory with the better of the two burger options. The Luigi Burger was actually not a burger in the traditional sense but instead, a piece of juicy chicken. It's topped with an addictive basil pesto, swiss cheese, green pepper and spinach, and served on a brioche bun. The side of truffle fries were crinkle cut, perfectly cooked and dosed with black truffle salt. Pro tip: ask for some extra basil pesto on the side to dip your fries in.
Mario Mini Burger Adventure Set, $14.99
Only the littlest of park goers can order the Mario Mini Burger Adventure Set, but it was a well-rounded dish featuring a cheeseburger, truffle fries, corn on the cob, broccoli and a coin cookie. The playful plating can tempt even the most vegetable timid to add some nutrients to their day and the coin cookie was delicious.
Princess Peach Cupcake, $9.99
The most adorable treat of my visit was the irresistible (and glittery) Princess Peach Cupcake. Luckily, it didn't rest on its looks alone — rightfully so for any true princess. The raspberry filled Funfetti cupcake was incredibly moist and topped with a pile of buttercream frosting and a Princess Peach chocolate crown. Kudos to Chef Toad, as this crushes other theme park cupcakes.
Super Mushroom Soup, $9.99
For me, every season is soup season — and the Super Mushroom Soup was one of the most surprising foodie moments in the Mushroom Kingdom. It was creamy, silky and bursting with flavors of mushrooms, onion and garlic. This vegetarian option is definitely for those who enjoy the taste of the pungent vegetable. But, much to my dismay, the super cute bowl it's served in is not for sale.
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