12 Unexpected Best Foods At Movie Theaters Across The US

Movie theaters are battling against the convenience of streaming services, and some are using unique theater foods as a way to draw in customers. But before we talk about some of the best unexpected foods at movie theaters these days, we need to talk about movie theater food.

Yes, you can get burgers, pizzas, and salads at movie theaters now, but calling a salad movie theater food flies in the face of tradition and practicality. Movie theater foods like popcorn and Twizzlers are iconic. Also, they can mostly be eaten without being seen. How are you going to keep up with the latest developments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe if you're busy stabbing at grape tomatoes at the bottom of a salad bowl? How are you going to follow the plot of a foreign-language film if you're spilling saucy cheeseburger detritus with every bite? Foods like truffled parmesan popcorn and homemade beef jerky are in the spirit of movie theater food. More importantly, it's practical to eat these foods in a dimly lit theater. With the spirit of movie theater food in mind, these are the best unexpected foods you can find in movie theaters across the United States.

Homemade jerky - Nighthawk Cinema

Simultaneously an aspirational figure and a figure of ridicule, the Brooklyn Hipster of the early 2000s has long been dead and buried. The Brooklyn Hipster's spirit still lives on, though, albeit in more mature and upscale ways. Instead of crushing PBRs and taking flash photographs at exclusive loft parties, former Brooklyn Hipsters are walking with their kids to the local movie theater — where they can buy homemade beef jerky. To be fair, this jerky is far from your average truck stop fare and is pretty bangin'; being flavored with lime leaf, ginger, and Thai chili.

While it's tempting to poke fun at all things Brooklyn, the borough has helped to usher in a new age of urban revival, and Nighthawk Cinema is a part of that proud legacy. On its official website, Nighthawk Cinema explains that it was single-handedly responsible for overturning a Prohibition-era New York State law that forbade the service of alcohol in movie theaters. So if you're a New Yorker, the next time you order a craft beer at your local movie theater, pour a little out for Nighthawk Cinema and the Brooklyn Hipster.

Chocolate hazelnut filled churros - AMC

Cinetopia made a name for itself by offering very unique movie theater foods like gyros and Mongolian beef. Unfortunately, the culinary-focused theater chain was bought out by AMC in 2019, and Cinetopia's expansive menu offerings were ditched in favor of AMC's own established foods. Although the new owner's menu items aren't as ambitious as the previous owner's, there are still some unexpectedly great treats to be had.

The churros with chocolate hazelnut (read: Nutella) filling prove that AMC is keeping up with culinary trends, as these Hispanic treats are definitely having a moment (and we're here for it). The humble churro got a massive boost in popularity when Disney published the recipe for its churros in April 2020. While a simple dusting of sugar is the traditional churro topping, this version from AMC gets a bit extra by filling the churros with everyone's favorite chocolatey breakfast spread.

Mac & cheese bites - AMC

When you go to a movie theatre, you're going because you want to have a good time, and the Mac & Cheese Bites from AMC are undeniably a good time. Like rewatching a classic '80s movie you know by heart, they trigger nostalgia while also feeling indulgent. Mac-n-cheese bites are scoops of macaroni and cheese that have simply been breaded and deep-fried. They seem pretty self-explanatory when it comes to making them, but they do require a few specific ingredients.

First, it's important to use one or more tangy cheeses like sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack. These cheeses have a strong enough flavor to cut through the additional richness imparted by deep frying but still retain that traditional mac-n-cheese flavor. Although you won't find them in the AMC movie theater snack, some of the best cheeses to use for mac-n-cheese include gruyere and gouda. Mac-n-cheese bites are also typically made with panko bread crumbs, which are bread crumbs dehydrated with an electric current.

Churro popcorn - Alamo Drafthouse

Movie theaters with restaurant-quality food and draft beer may seem like a pretty normal thing these days, but just a couple of decades ago, that idea sounded like something out of a movie. When Alamo Drafthouse was founded by Tim and Karrie League in 1997, the couple was looking to lean into what they liked most about watching movies and get rid of the things they hated.

The result is a modern movie experience that focused on three things: film, food, and fun. Themed movie nights and festivals allow people to celebrate movies they love in a concert-like experience, while craft beer and craft cocktails bring the party vibes. The churro popcorn at Alamo Drafthouse is one of the best exemplars of the theater chain's three-pronged mission statement. Popcorn is a bit of a blank canvas, and one of the best ways to transform it is with churro-inspired flavors: cinnamon, sugar, maple, and vanilla.

Truffled parmesan popcorn - Alamo Drafthouse

Truffles are expensive. Black truffles can cost between $300 and $800 a pound, while rarer white truffles can cost $4,000 a pound. Because they require a highly complex blend of environmental conditions to thrive, truffles are difficult to cultivate. However, that doesn't mean people aren't trying. Until truffle farming becomes commercially viable, the conventional way to source them is to hunt for them using specially-trained dogs. On top of that, truffles only last for five days after they are harvested. This means they must be quickly shipped or processed into things like truffle oil, truffle butter, and truffle salt.

While these factors make truffles prohibitively expensive, you can still get an amazing truffle experience with truffled parmesan popcorn. Even better, the popcorn at Alamo Drafthouse is bottomless, so even if you wolf down this popcorn like a fiend, you don't have to worry about running out during the coming attractions.

Loaded fries - Alamo Drafthouse

The combination of french fries and nacho toppings is always a winning one, especially when those toppings include cojita cheese, bacon, and sriracha sour cream. But the star of these pork-loaded french fries is unquestionably the Hatch green chile queso.

Hatch chilies come from the Hatch Valley in New Mexico and fans of these chiles claim that the soil and climate in the valley give them unparalleled flavor. There are two types of Hatch chilies: green and red. The green chilies are simply less-mature versions of red Hatch chilies. These chilies are about as spicy as poblano peppers, but they are more prized for their flavor than for their heat. Picked early and roasted, the green chilies have bold and smoky vegetable flavors. If left to mature, the chilies turn red and develop a sweeter flavor profile. While red Hatch chilies are just as tasty, the green version has a bold flavor that is capable of cutting through the richness of these fries.

Tandoori chicken skewers - iPic Theatres

A tandoor oven is the most essential tool in the kitchen of an Indian restaurant because it imparts a signature char and smokiness. But because this is a special piece of equipment that reaches temperatures around 900 degrees Fahrenheit, it isn't practical for non-Indian restaurants and home cooks. As a result, many people simply use a trusty oven broiler to replicate the intense heat of a tandoor.

More than being cooked in a tandoor, tandoori chicken is also defined by a signature marinade made with yogurt and South Asian curry spices. While we aren't sure if the kitchen at iPic Theatres is outfitted with a tandoor, the tandoori chicken skewers produced hit all the right notes for a snack-y movie food. In addition to being easy to eat, these chicken skewers evoke a sense of place. We go to the theater to be transported away from everyday life, and for many of us, these chicken skewers do just that.

Hot pepper calamari fritti - iPic Theatres

Fried calamari — or calamari fritti in Italian — is an unexpected choice for movie theater food for a couple of reasons. If you're trend-conscious, you might think it's weird to offer food that hasn't been popular since the 2000s. It's true that the popularity of fried calamari in America has waxed and waned over the years, and The New York Times actually uses something it dubbed "The Fried Calamari Index" for describing the rise and fall of food trends. While fried calamari did hit its peak popularity in 1996, its popularity has plateaued a bit since then and has not completely fallen off a cliff.

But beyond that, calamari might not be the first food that comes to mind when you want to watch a movie, but this crispy, chewy, and spicy dish from iPic Theatres checks all the right boxes for movie theater food. It's also a dish that's been brought into the 2020s with an ingredient that's likely high on the Fried Calamari Index right now: gochujang.

Flight of fries - Reading Cinemas

Reading Cinemas has a restaurant-level menu with everything from pizzas to burgers to salads. But the most unexpected offering from the cinemas has to be its flight of fries, which includes double parmesan truffle fries, sweet potato fries, and green bean fries. What's that you say? Sweet potato and green beans aren't actually french fries? Well, if we're getting technical, the term "french fries" actually comes from Belgium.

American soldiers fighting in Belgium along the River Meuse during World War I took to these deep-fried potato sticks, coined the term "french fries", and popularized them upon returning home. Debate aside, there's no denying that fries are popular these days. However, you never really see flights of different french fries, whether at restaurants or at movie theaters. This movie-friendly sampler is a great way to keep your taste buds from getting bored through the opening credits and the first few scenes. Like a bucket of popcorn, this flight is also very sharable.

Hummus - iPic Theaters

Yes, it's a bit unheard of to put hummus on this list, but amidst all the salty snacks and sweet treats, it's nice to see something that appeals to the hummus lovers among us (after all, this is a list of unexpected movie theater foods, and hummus is certainly that).

Chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, are high in fiber and protein. They're also high in vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, folate, and choline — a brain-boosting compound. Hummus is also made with sesame-based tahini, which is high in protein, B vitamins, and other minerals. Hummus also usually includes garlic, which is associated with all kinds of health benefits such as immune health, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower risk of cancer. Basically, if you are going to be sitting down for three hours, snacking on a hummus plate is probably a great nutritional boost, and your tastebuds will love it, too — it's so creamy and delicious.

Nutella beignets - Studio Movie Grill

While the history of beignets starts before 1862, this was the year that the iconic Cafe du Monde opened in New Orleans and began selling these irresistible fried dough treats. Today, the cafe sells beignets 24/7, and it's a must-stop during any visit to the Crescent City. With a flavor similar to that of fritters and funnel cakes, beignets are traditionally topped with only powdered sugar. However, New Orleanians do not regard them as sacrosanct. Many restaurants and cafes around the city put their own twist on the classic treat. For example, one take on the beignet involves filling it with the flavors of praline, an iconic New Orleans caramel candy that's studded with pecans.

Studio Movie Grill puts its own spin on beignets by filling them with Nutella. Beignets are made with pâte à choux dough, which is both light and capable of holding a rich filling like Nutella. These sweet treats are great with coffee or hot chocolate and are best eaten while warm. So if you do order these beignets from Studio Movie Grill, plan on eating them soon after sitting down, and then settling in to enjoy your movie.

Tuna poke bowl - The Lot

Modern poke bowls with their dazzling colors and neatly placed toppings might be custom-made for Instagram, but this Hawaiian staple in its traditional form is far from beautiful. In the Aloha State, it's easy to find this raw fish dish at local supermarkets as a kind of deli item. Rather than meticulously construct beautiful bowls, supermarket workers scoop poke unceremoniously into plastic deli containers. For native Hawaiians, poke isn't an exotic treat that generates FOMO. It's a convenient and fresh lunch that's packed with protein.

Simultaneously decadent and fresh-tasting, poke is actually a pretty good movie treat. You might be tempted to take a picture of the Tuna Poke Bowl from The Lot, but a movie theater isn't the ideal place for generating Instagram content. Instead, take a tip from native Hawaiians and quietly eat your poke unceremoniously as you watch your movie.

Static Media owns and operates Tasting Table and Mashed.