One of Los Angeles’ most anticipated openings of 2023 is here, although thematically speaking, it’s not in L.A. at all. It’s nestled into the peaks and valleys of the Mushroom Kingdom, just next to Bowser’s castle.
After years of planning and teasing its newest land, Universal Studios Hollywood will officially unveil Super Nintendo World on Feb. 17. Along with that comes a restaurant that drops diners right into the world of the characters and iconography of Nintendo’s decades-old bestselling series of Super Mario video games, which follow the quests and antics of Italian mustachioed brothers Mario and Luigi.
For the record:
10:27 a.m. Feb. 17, 2023A previous version referred to Julie Thrash as Chef Thrasher. This story has been updated to correct this.
Entering the land through a large green warp pipe to do battle with the evil Bowser’s lackeys and race down Rainbow Road in an IRL rendition of Mario Kart is going to require some fuel. That’s why Toad, longtime friend of Princess Peach and the chef of the mushroom-themed restaurant Toadstool Cafe, is busy chopping and boiling ingredients for guests on a large video screen.
Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood finally opens Feb. 17. Here’s what you can do including food, rides and characters at the park.
“You’re in for a real treat,” Toad says, chef’s toque swaying on his red-and-white mushroom-top head. “Whatever you choose, I think you’ll be happy, so just relax and enjoy your meal. You’ll need the energy to continue your adventures through the Mushroooom Kingdommmm.”
Chef Toad’s sprawling new 250-seat restaurant offers not only sustenance but also an extra pinch of so-cute-it-hurts immersion: Oversize knobby, faux-wood chairs and pink-and-white-dotted booths provide the seating under an expansive ceiling from which more green warp pipes protrude here and there. Providing even more whimsy, a large red mushroom overlooks the dining room under a domed ceiling at the restaurant’s center.
The food is just as transportive. Edible-ink printers emblazon burger buns and chicken sandwiches, while sugar cookies get transformed into power-up blocks, each cookie printed with question marks and arranged to form one side of a cube that holds tiramisu and cream. A printed crown cookie adorns a Princess Peach-inspired cupcake that’s swirled with two tiers of frosting and enough glitter to fill the Valley of Bowser. A Caprese salad resembles the iconic, forever-angry character of the chomping piranha plant towering over slices of mozzarella. Digital screens around the dining room provide a peek “outside,” where Toads play leapfrog, saunter around in the sunshine and, in the kitchen, prepare salads, sandwiches, pastas and desserts inspired by some of Nintendo’s most beloved personalities.
Bowser’s warship digitally makes its own appearance roughly every 15 minutes, dimming the lights in the dining room as the screens depict lightning storms, thunder and general calamity. It also causes disruption in the kitchen: Bullet Bill rips through the chefs’ stations, causing mayhem, but the cooks eventually return to whipping up burgers, fiery pastas and Yoshi egg-crouton salads.
The restaurant’s actual kitchen sits behind the dining room’s back wall, where three large screens depict Chef Toad’s sous chefs and line cooks cheerfully chopping carrots, carrying pots to conveyor belts and otherwise creating guests’ meals. To serve up to roughly 4,000 guests a day, the facility is equipped with a small army of chipper rainbow-headed Toads and their human-counterpart chefs, who work at stations for pastry, plating, roasting and baking, boiling pasta, grilling meat and even printing via a mechanical, almost conveyor-belt-like device.
Super Nintendo World opened in Japan in 2021 with its own Toad-led version of Toadstool Cafe, called Kinopio’s Cafe, and while there are similarities to its counterpart’s menu, there are tweaks at the Hollywood location; for the piranha plant Caprese, the mushrooms in the salad are marinated. It’s all in the details, according to chef Julia Thrash, who oversees the restaurant as vice president of culinary affairs and executive chef of Toadstool Cafe, working underneath the animated Chef Toad, of course.
“Everything on the menu is actually being created by Chef Toad,” Thrash says with a grin. “And Chef Toad is honestly always creating something new. This menu is themed out to the Mushroom Kingdom, so there is some nod to a mushroom, whether it be the shape of it, the flavor of it, or it’s themed to the landscape.”
I warped into Super Nintendo World with Amy Wong, The Times Food team’s audience engagement editor, to taste these whimsical, adorable creations by chefs Toad and Thrash. Here’s our guide to the entire menu — sans two soups (one mushroom, one a nondairy tomato variety) that launched after our visits — complete with taste-test reactions and our favorites listed in descending order.
Starters and salads ($5.99-$14.99)
Piranha Plant Caprese
The Toadstool Cafe’s rendition of a classic Caprese salad involves tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a single asparagus spear and basil pesto with a side of mixed greens and apple vinaigrette.
Stephanie Breijo: Here we have a classic Caprese situation, with the addition of marinated mushrooms and pesto. Of course, we also have the piranha plant, which is terrifying forever if you grew up playing the games. I appreciate that the vinaigrette is served on the side, as it’s a little sweet but still worth devouring.
Amy Wong: Probably one of the harder ones to eat but by far the cutest. I’m partial to cheese, so I really liked this one.
Super Star Chicken Salad
A kind of grilled-chicken salad, this option includes romaine, cabbage, tomatoes and mushrooms tossed in a ranch-like truffle dressing. A Super Star Parmesan cracker tops it all, surrounded by golden star croutons and planks of grilled chicken.
Breijo: Look at these adorable star croutons. Their crouton game is incredible, 10/10 croutons. I don’t get a lot of truffle, but it’s good. But again, the croutons. The theming here is fantastic.
Wong: It tastes like a pretty standard Caesar, nothing crazy. I couldn’t taste any truffle in there, but the salad had a good amount of chicken, so this might be a better option, value wise.
Toadstool Cheesy Garlic Knots
These four mushroom-shaped garlic knots are made in-house and are brushed with garlic butter before they’re coated in Parmesan cheese and parsley; they’re served with a side of sweet marinara.
Breijo: These struck me as a bit too chewy, but the flavor’s solid and the shape is just so damn cute. Easy to share; a great opener for the table.
Wong: Any carb-based food covered in garlic is an automatic win in my book. These were exceptionally chewy and great with the marinara sauce; a decent starter.
Yoshi’s Favorite Fruit and Veggie Salad
A blend of sweet and savory, this salad involves mixed greens dotted with fresh star fruit, strawberries and blueberries, plus tomato, cucumber, mushrooms and radish. It’s all tossed in a raspberry vinaigrette and topped with green and white Yoshi-egg croutons. (Yoshi’s a dinosaur, by the way.)
Breijo: Cute! How can you not love a Yoshi crouton? (Shoutout to Yoshi’s Island.) This one feels a little like a ’90s salad, when everything came with berries and sweet dressing. It’s a little sweet for my liking, but it’s pretty good.
Wong: I don’t think I’m old enough to reminisce about ’90s salads, but this did cause me to feel nostalgic for Souplantation (R.I.P.). Decent salad, reliable. *Harry Styles voice* “You know, my favorite thing about the salad is, like, it feels like a salad.”
Main menu ($16.99-$24.99)
Chef Toad’s Short Rib Special
This four-hour-braised short rib sits atop sautéed mushrooms, which in turn rest on a little mound of goat cheese polenta. Around it is a pool of red wine reduction, dotted with large circles of crème fraîche, meant to replicate Chef Toad’s red-and-white head. The dish is completed by a Parmesan cracker printed with the visage of a smiling Chef Toad.
Breijo: Amy didn’t get to sample this one, as it wasn’t available on our first visit, but trust me, this is the winner: A cheffy entrée and something you’d likely never find at a more casual theme-park cafe, this is flat-out delicious and a notch above almost everything else served in the park, anywhere. The polenta is rich and herbaceous, the red wine reduction is deep with flavor, the meat is so tender you could cut it with a plastic spoon. It’s priced nearly $10 above the rest of the mains, but I think it’s worth the splurge. This is chefs Toad and Thrash getting to really play, and it’s both noted and appreciated.
The Mario Burger
The breakaway crowd favorite during the land’s soft launch is the Mario-themed cheeseburger, an all-beef patty topped with bacon, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and American cheese. It’s served on a brioche bun stamped with the hero’s signature ’stache and speared with a red plastic replica of his cap, with a side of truffle-scented crinkle fries. The kids menu version ($14.99) is served smaller and minus the ’stache, mushrooms and bacon, and it comes with sides of broccoli and corn on the cob, plus a gold-coin cookie, which arrives in a paper question-mark box.
Breijo: We have a classic burger here, and it’s done well. It’s dripping mushrooms everywhere. The bacon is super crispy, which is rare, especially in a theme park setting; normally, it’s a little rubbery. Great job on that. I’d order this again, and the portion size is great.
Wong: I love the presentation of these burgers — *shoves tiny Mario hat in pocket* — and for this one, the bacon is also a standout.
Fire Flower Spaghetti & Meatballs
The entrée-size take on classic spaghetti with meatballs adds ample red chile flakes to the house sweet marinara, along with mushrooms. A trio of meatballs sits atop the pasta along with a Parmesan crisp printed with a Fire Flower, all surrounded by shaved Parmesan and parsley. A sized-down kids menu version ($12.99) ditches the heat but adds a garlic knot and a gold-coin cookie in a question-mark box.
Breijo: You gotta have spaghetti for our Italian plumber brethren, gotta rep the Italian excellence. Starting with the meatball — *Mario voice* — letsa goooo! Not terrible; they’re made in-house and dense. We’ve got mushrooms in the sauce, obviously because of the theme, and it’s all got a surprising kick from red pepper, which is fun. It’s like a theme-park arrabbiata. It’s a little spicy, a little sweet.
Wong: The fire flower cracker makes a lot of sense, because this definitely has a decent kick to it. I love anything spicy, so this really does it for me.
The Luigi Burger
Not so much a burger as a grilled chicken breast sandwich, the Luigi Burger tops its chicken with basil pesto and thick slices of tender green bell pepper, all served on a Luigi ’stache-printed brioche bun, complete with mini Luigi hat spear and a side of crinkle-cut truffle fries.
Breijo: I’m gonna try not to be biased toward this one while wearing a green shirt and overalls and a Luigi bracelet. I like that they give you extra pesto on the side to dip your fries in; it’s enjoyable, but you need the extra pesto. The addition of the quick-roasted bell pepper really makes it a unique option in the space; not only is it color-themed but it’s also a delicious component. I’d definitely use all of the pesto here, or maybe even order the Mario burger and get a side of pesto for the fries. This pesto sauce on everything.
Wong: The chicken is a little dry, in my opinion. I might skip this one. I was pretty blown away by the fries, though. Even cold, they had a decent crispiness, and the truffle seasoning was a nice touch.
Mt. Beanpole Cake
This two-piece cake stacks strawberry, vanilla and chocolate cream between layers of Italian cookie cake, then ices it with matcha cream and finishes it off with a plastic spear replica of the Mario flagpole, stuck through the top.
Breijo: Obviously, you jump on the flagpole at the end of the level, a big part of the Mario lore, so we’re eating this as we end the level of this massive meal. This is the one, for sure. The flavor makes this the winner: The Neapolitan is subtle, and I love the matcha cream at the top, replicating grass. This feels like a distinctly Japanese dessert.
Wong: I was thrown off a little by how dense this cake was, but I love the flavors. The airy-light chocolate and matcha mixed well together.
? Block Tiramisu
This “tiramisu-flavored mystery block” is constructed with six “?”-printed sugar cookies that form the iconic question-mark block. Break into it — though maybe not à la Mario, by jumping into it — and you’ll find a creamy white-chocolate, tiramisu-inspired center. It’s garnished with a swoosh of raspberry sauce.
Breijo: It’s pretty good. It doesn’t have the bold coffee, or espresso, flavor that you get from tiramisu, but it’s creamy and has a pudding-like texture on the inside. The crunch from the block is really nice.
Wong: I’d describe this dessert as “having the essence of tiramisu”: It has most of the physical elements to make it a classic tiramisu but tasted more like a banana-less banana cream pie. I’m partial to anything pie-adjacent, and the “?” cookies had a nice snap to them.
Princess Peach Cupcake
A towering, glimmering cupcake, Princess Peach’s ode at Toadstool Cafe tops a funfetti cupcake with two shades — and tiers — of pink frosting and glitter, as well as a sugar-cookie crown.
Breijo: It’s roughly the size of a human head, maybe a small child, due to the tower of pink frosting. This is the eye-grabber, for sure, and, parents be warned, a certain sugar high. There’s a funfetti-cupcake situation inside, and who doesn’t love funfetti? The cake is moist, and this fruit jelly is good — kind of like the inside of a jelly doughnut.
Wong: It’s hard to write about this cupcake without sounding exaggerative, because I swear this dessert was plucked directly out of someone’s dream/nightmare (depending solely on what their stance on frosting was). The result? A funfetti cupcake covered in bright pink frosting, filled with a dollop of strawberry jam — not peach?? Seems like a major oversight. Taking one bite of this dessert causes the whole thing to topple over, as it’s weighed down by maybe 17 pounds of pink fluff on top. We laughed, we screamed. This cupcake contains multitudes.
Super Star Lemon Squash
This clear-and-gold honey-and-lemon soda fills each cup with a mix of green apple, lemon, orange and strawberry popping boba, then tops it off with star-shaped mango pieces.
Breijo: As a general rule of thumb, I’m not big on soda, but this one was so fun and surprisingly refreshing, especially after hoofing it through the park, that I really enjoyed it. The mix of boba flavors means you don’t know what each sip will contain, while the mango has an almost jelly-like consistency. This one’s a lot of fun.
Wong: There were so many textures going on in here between the fruit, carbonation and popping boba, I think I almost choked twice, but it was still refreshing and pretty yummy. An 8/10, would almost require a Heimlich to drink again.
Fruity Cream Sodas
Found at the snack cart en route to the entrance of Super Nintendo World, three sodas themed to Mario (strawberry), Luigi (green apple) and Peach (peach) include popping boba and sauces in their respective fruit flavors, plus coconut syrup and vanilla ice cream in soda.
Breijo: Of this trio, I liked the Luigi best; it’s almost like an apple pie float and tastes closest to its natural fruit flavor. The others were maybe a little too saccharine, but I really dig the subtlety of the coconut flavor in each.
Wong: Painfully sweet. I’d recommend giving it a good stir first. Otherwise, you’ll probably end up sipping straight syrup.
Food audience engagement editor Amy Wong contributed to this story.
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