When Super Nintendo World opens at Universal Studios Hollywood next month, amusement parkgoers will be treated to a highly immersive themed land straight out of the iconic Super Mario Brothers video games. The lineup of new attractions includes the Mario Kart-inspired ride Bowser’s Challenge, a merch shop called 1-Up Factory, and the Mushroom Kingdom’s signature restaurant, Toadstool Cafe.
A collaborative effort between Nintendo, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Universal Studios Japan, Toadstool Cafe takes many of its design and culinary cues from sister restaurant Kinopio’s Café, which opened in 2021 inside Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan. (Kinopio is the Japanese name for Toad.) Upon entering the mushroom-shaped fast-casual restaurant, diners are greeted with a digital rendering of Chef Toad prepping in a virtual kitchen.
The restaurant’s expansive dining room brings together warm and blonde faux-wood veneers punctuated by pastel pops. Fans of the video game will appreciate the power-up icons and bright green Warp Pipes adorning the dining room’s ceiling. Television screens made to look like windows within the space provide views of Mushroom Kingdom on one end and a peek inside Chef Toad’s kitchen on the other. The chef’s signature polka-dot mushroom motif shows up throughout the interior, from the wallpaper to the central seating area and even the pendant lamps. The seating options include colorful booths and roomy tables paired with seemingly larger-than-life chairs to fit up to 265 diners. A peppy soundtrack featuring remixed music from various Super Mario Brothers video games helps create an ambiance befitting the plumber brothers.
The menu leans Italian American, of course, and the culinary team drew upon the video game characters’ physical traits and personalities to develop the cafe’s whimsical dishes and drinks. The resulting menu is a significant level up from standard concession fare.
A handful of hits from the original Kinopio’s Café, like the Piranha Plant Caprese and the Mario Burger with bacon, mushrooms, and cheese, appear on the menu alongside unique-to-LA creations like the Super Star Chicken Salad and the Luigi Burger with pesto and chicken. The toadstool-shaped garlic knots dusted in Parmesan cheese and parsley are entirely made in-house, including the accompanying marinara sauce. The Chef Toad Short Rib Special features goat cheese polenta, a red wine reduction, and puddles of sour cream that mimic the namesake character’s hat. According to a park representative, the chef’s special will likely change with the seasons.
For dessert, diners can choose from a glittery pink Princess Peach cupcake, a matcha-topped slice of Mt. Beanpole cake, or a serving of tiramisu that resembles the Question Mark Blocks that are a mainstay of the Super Mario gaming experience. Wash everything down with the Super Star Lemon Squash, a fizzy lemonade drink brimming with boba and star-shaped jellies. Prices range from $6 for the garlic knots to $22 for the short rib special.
“Universal is known for putting you in an immersive environment, usually from a film, but in this case, we’re actually going into a game,” says Jon Corfino, vice president of Universal Creative. “There was really never an option of saying, ‘We’re just going to serve chicken fingers or pizza.’ It was always the opportunity to do something special.”
To fully immerse diners into the Mushroom Kingdom fold, every element of each dish — from the placement of ingredients to the angling of specific garnishes — is given careful attention. The kitchen staff understands that placing Yoshi’s eggs slightly off-kilter on the fruit and vegetable salad can take diners out of the fantasy, and they operate accordingly. Scattered about the restaurant are numerous Easter eggs, including cleverly printed mustaches on hamburger buns that match up to diners’ upper lips at first bite.
Toadstool Cafe fits perfectly into the greater trend of pop culture-driven immersive experiences. Catering to a nostalgic millennial audience, the cafe and smaller-scale pop-ups like it are ripe for social media consumption. Newer big-budget additions to theme parks, like Universal Studios Hollywood’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, suggest that the enthusiasm for tapping into the zeitgeist of yesteryear won’t be abating anytime soon.
“There are gamers, and there are people who kind of understand games, and then there are non-gamers,” says Corfino. “And the important part is no matter which one of those three categories you fall into, it’s all about immersing you in a magical environment and having a great time.”
Toadstool Cafe will be open daily starting February 17. Admission to Universal Studios Hollywood is required for entry.