17 Themed Restaurants From The 90s, Ranked

If the internet is to be believed, everything '90s is on its way back into our lives. And we mean everything from food to sitcom reboots to all those fashion choices. Depending on your age, you might be quaking with excitement or lamenting a misspent youth spent eating sun-dried tomato pasta in a flannel shirt. And no matter which side you're on, you can probably remember some of the wild ideas restaurateurs had for their customers in that decade. Hitting a stride in the '90s, themed restaurants were a big, wacky business.

Although some were around before that golden and grungy decade, the majority of the spots on this list came to light in the mid-'90s, and a lot burned out within a few years when the minimalism of the 2000s took over — we're looking at you, kale chips and smoothie bowls. For a hit of nostalgia, we ranked these restaurants based on the menu offerings, the time spent in business, and how well-liked the concepts were. (Popularity contests being another heavy '90s theme.) Pull out your best overalls and polo shirt combo and take a walk down memory lane to some of the biggest themed restaurants the '90s had to offer. 

17. Pastamania

Coming in at the bottom of the list is the decidedly wild Pastamania! by Hulk Hogan. Looking at menu pics online, it's pretty easy to see why this fast-food pasta restaurant didn't work out. It's possible for pasta to be decently made in a fast-casual atmosphere, but Pastamania! never quite got there. In fact, this was one of many celebrity restaurants that flopped; its only location was in the Mall of America, and it opened and closed in 1995.

The menu options were small, varied wildly, and were all endorsed by the bronze behemoth himself. You could mix and match your pasta and sauce, ranging from angel hair to the hard-to-imagine pasta nuggets, and then cover it all with pesto, marinara, or, if you're feeling lucky, white clam. Though that all sounds mildly dubious, the kid's menu was possibly the best part. Hulkaroni and cheese? Check. Hulkios? Yes, please.

16. Dive!

Even Steven Speilberg couldn't resist the siren call of all the '90s-themed eateries and finally submerged himself in dark waters with the submarine-centric restaurant called Dive! (Apparently, exclamation marks in restaurant names were big back then, too.) Dreamt up by the visionary that brought us some of the best movies ever, Spielberg planned to expand to over 60 locations worldwide. In reality, only two locations came to fruition — the first location opened in Los Angeles in 1994, with a second location opening in Las Vegas a year later, and both closing in 1999. So why didn't Dive! survive?

Mostly, it came down to the deadly combination of too much entertainment and not enough decent grub. Reports were that an over-the-top theatrical experience gave diners the feeling they were onboard an actual submarine (think alarm bells, watery portholes, creaky submerging noises). Meanwhile, overpriced yet underflavored food — Dive! specialized in sub sandwiches, obviously — just didn't live up to what anyone expected from a mind like Spielberg's.

15. WWF New York

Just making it onto this list, the WWF New York complex was opened by Vince McMahon in 1999, and it included not only a restaurant but also a nightclub and a large WWF/WWE-themed gift shop. Not lasting very long, the restaurant and nightclub were closed in early 2003, with the merchandise portion following soon after. Incidentally, in 2006, the space re-opened as another popular themed restaurant, the Hard Rock Cafe.

Located in Times Square, the 46,000 square-foot sites had everything a wrestling fan could want — an arcade, enormous screens for pay-per-view matches, and the promise of glimpsing the biggest wrestling names of the time, like The Rock or Steve Austin. So why'd it close? For starters, the restaurant was paying about a million dollars in rent a year. On top of that, the food wasn't very good and had names that only wrestling fans could truly appreciate.

14. Official All Star Café

Developed by Planet Hollywood and backed by some of the biggest names in sports, Official All Star Cafe should have done much better than it did. Names like Wayne Gretzky, Andre Agassi, Joe Montana, Shaquille O'Neill, Monica Seles, Tiger Woods, and more all invested in the idea and agreed to be the faces of the brand. As a weird aside, the restaurant also had a "Charlie Sheen Room" because he had an enormous collection of baseball memorabilia and loaned some to the restaurant.

With the first location opening in New York in 1995 and going to open other spots in Las Vegas, Disney World, and Cancun, the restaurants also included enormous gift shops where fans could buy any sports-related item they desired. Much like Hard Rock Cafe for sports, it also included tons of iconic memorabilia donated by athletic investors. While it had a pretty typical menu featuring dishes favored by the celebrity athletes, the booths were made to look like mini baseball gloves, and diners were treated to big screen pics of themselves taken by an overhead blimp. 

13. Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

Opening in 1996 (and very quickly after the phenomenon that was Forrest Gump), Bubba Gump Shrimp Company remains a popular spot for diners who either love the movie or who love everything shrimp, crawfish, or derivatively named. With 38 locations worldwide (22 of those in the US), the chain continues to serve up boxes of chocolate in the gift shop, fancy cocktails like the "Hurricane Jenny," and more shellfish dishes than we thought possible ... even after hearing them all named off during the film.

Bubba Gump is going strong, which adds a point for consideration. But as for the food, we've already rated it pretty low on our list of seafood chain restaurants, with Tasting Table writers citing frozen seafood and hokey menu names as the main points of dissatisfaction. All in all, Bubba Gump seems to be better for hardcore Forrest fans rather than people who prefer taste and flavor over puns and props.

12. Fashion Cafe

The term "supermodel" started in the '80s, but it didn't explode until the early ”90s when a handful of stunning faces took over the runways and every couture advertisement in magazines. Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, and Elle MacPherson decided to expand their reach, and Fashion Cafe was born. Later, Christy Turlington joined when things still looked good. Another eatery focused more on the theme than the food; there's little online to recall what was offered aside from regular burgers, fries, pizzas, and steaks served with a supermodel's name.

Sadly, the polished and glittering veneer of gorgeous models wasn't enough to sustain the business, which opened in 1995 and closed in 1998. The women were only the faces of the business, and business operators were eventually on the hook for $15 million in various lawsuits. The concept might have sounded good at the time, but the combination of supermodels and food wasn't an ideal match, and the venue eventually became better known for food-free promotional events.

11. American Girl Café

One of the restaurants that managed to survive until now, American Girl Cafe is still going strong, with five of its stores operating cafes and bistros, including the original in Chicago, which opened in 1998. If other themed restaurants are giving diners a chance to eat surrounded by signed memorabilia or alien artifacts, American Girl Cafe offers an experience like no other.

The entire location is saturated with femininity and happiness; everything is pink, sweet, and brightly lit. And customers are encouraged to bring their dolls to lunch (those without a plastic companion are loaned one for the meal) before taking them for a new hairstyle. Conceptualized primarily for girls aged eight to 13 (although any doll collector is warmly embraced), the menu is full of foods that appeal to kids but also adult chaperones. Everything from heart-shaped pancakes and pink lemonade to tilapia and quiche is available, as well as a pretty decent wine selection. As it stands, this isn't a theme you can venture into any old time, unlike some other ideas on the list.

10. Space Aliens Grill and Bar

A smaller regional chain, Space Aliens Grill and Bar's three locations in North Dakota and Minnesota are all still open. The first restaurant opened in 1997 in Bismarck, ND, with the other two following soon after. A quick spin through the business's history reveals a wildly colorful and humorous take on the background of the owners (purported to be actual aliens who broke down on their way to Venus), while in person, the venues are just as over-the-top as you might expect.

The space-themed menu is extensive and features all the food typical of a fast-casual family restaurant. Where Space Alien Grill and Bar stands out, however, is its actual award-winning bar-b-que, which took home the "America's Best Ribs" award in Memphis' National Bar-B-Que Convention Rib Cook-off in 2020. If you're not into ribs, the chicken also took home a prize. The restaurants are all super kid friendly with the signature Galaxy Games Room and pretty impressive kids' menu.

9. Motown Cafe

Another short-lived but celebrity-packed venture was Motown Cafe, which opened its first location in New York in 1995, with a second location opening in Las Vegas in 1997, with both spots closing in early 2000. Note: neither actually made it to the Motor City. Opening night of the New York location was attended by some of the most iconic names in soul music, including Diana Ross, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, and Whitney Houston.

As for the menu, it was absolutely crammed with soul-food favorites from Chicken and Waffles Supreme to shrimp Creole, chicken pot pie, and Smokey's Ribs. The A-list lineup of homecooked sides was also enough to be star-struck — collard greens, scalloped potatoes, and sweet potato fries are regulars. Printed on a vinyl record sleeve, it's full of references to the big names in Motown's history without veering into eye-rolling territory. Sadly, many reviews complained of sub-par meals, no matter how good they might have sounded. The singing and dancing waitstaff, along with loads of live musical guests, might have helped a little; ultimately, neither location was able to remain open for long.

8. Mars 2112

The closing of Mars 2112 might have been the most lamented theme restaurant demise yet. Many actual New Yorkers (unlike the tourists that flock to kitschy Times Square restaurants) continue to express their sadness that the massive, underground theme restaurant closed, particularly on Twitter. Even the legacy glossy food mags bemoaned the loss.

The Times Square location opened in 1998 with a 33,000-square-foot space made to look like it was carved out of Martian rock. Upon entering the foyer, patrons didn't line up for a table — instead, they were taken on a three-minute "ride" through space to Mars. The cavernous space was filled with costumed staff who would gladly pose for pictures or fulfill your desire for more Nebula Chili Nachos. The menu had a mothership full of space-themed items covering a galactic range: Cronus Chicken Curry lived side by side with Copernicus Chicken Parmesan. However, it's interesting to note that the "healthy" menu — including roasted spaghetti squash, a vegetarian sandwich, and a low-sugar chocolate chunk blondie with ice cream and hot fudge — didn't get any of the solar system epithets of the regular menu. 

7. Harley Davidson Cafe

With one location that lasted 19 years, the Las Vegas strip Harley-Davidson restaurant closed its doors in 2016. Opened in 1997, it was truly a place that catered to those who consider themselves true aficionados of the brand and basic gearheads alike. Not only did the location boast floor-to-ceiling brand memorabilia and motorcycles as far as the eye could see, but it also contained its fair share of celebrity items from the likes of Jon Bon Jovi.

Part of the reason that it lasted so long, aside from the location and the draw of the brand, was likely the menu. It was standard American fare but also served well and tasty enough to earn average to good reviews. The menu was an open road graced by potato skins stuffed with chili and the Harley Hog Carolina barbequed sandwich; it's not hard to see why even customers with little interest in motorcycles would be tempted to floor it. 

6. Planet Hollywood

With the success of Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood was opened in an effort to capitalize on the lure of movies rather than music. Helmed by a former Hard Rock Cafe CEO and partners, the draw was the major star power the owners managed to bring on board. Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Demi Moore were initial investors, with Patrick Swayze, Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith, and Whoopi Goldberg climbing aboard soon after.

The first location opened in 1991 in NYC, and eventually, the group operated nearly 60 locations worldwide; Planet Hollywood remains one of the best-known theme restaurants. These days, the franchise is down to seven locations, including New York, Las Vegas, and Disneyland Paris, along with four hotel resorts. But what really happened to Planet Hollywood? Aside from expanding at an astonishing rate, it seems like the best answer is the disappointing food. Even in tourist-rich areas, repeat customers are like gold, and terrible food isn't the way to keep people coming back. While we can certainly get into the idea of a glitzy restaurant steeped in movie lore and culture, we can get that on the big screen without being disappointed by a kitchen.

5. Jekyll & Hyde

Another long-term entry on the list, Jekyll & Hyde Club opened in New York City in 1991 and recently shut its doors in 2022. Other locations in Chicago and Dallas opened for a short time as well. The NYC location moved a few times throughout its life, finally ending up in Time Square. Unlike the other theme restaurants of the '90s, Jekyll & Hyde wasn't in it for the celebrities or memorabilia; instead, it was packed to the rafters with creepy, goth animatronics and costumed entertainers who served cocktails that sounded like poison.

A big part of the success of Jekyll & Hyde Club was the immersive, interactive element of the diner's experience. Theatrics, costumes, sound effects, and washrooms hidden behind fake bookshelves all appealed to people who weren't into the regular theme restaurants and craved something with a bit of an edge. Each floor apparently had its own macabre theme and boasted, in its own words, extravagant entertainment.

4. ESPN Zone

Outfitted with a batting cage, a replica of the SportsCenter set, enormous murals of the top athletes of the time, and, again, tons of memorabilia, ESPN Zone was supposed to be a sure-fire success. When parent company Disney opened the first of nine national locations in Baltimore in 1998, fans couldn't have been more excited. The combination of the hottest sports network in the country plus Disney? There was no way it could fail, certainly.

Unfortunately, by 2010, ESPN Zone was down to two remaining locations, both of which were housed in Disney theme parks (where they were instead called ESPN Club), but both have since been shuttered as well. Generally speaking, it appears that despite the well-loved venues, Disney decided to do away with them as the theme park was closed during Covid. Much like all the other locations, declining financial performance was cited as the main reason.

3. Rainforest Café

Another big hitter that's recognized worldwide and is still open, Rainforest Cafe took '90s enthusiasm for saving the planet and cashed in. With 20 current international locations (but weirdly, none in Brazil), Rainforest Cafe has brought adventure to the world of themed restaurant eating. Even though the chain is down to 16 locations from when it opened in 1994, the original venue is still running in that great-themed restaurant incubator, the Mall of America.

The first versions of Rainforest Cafe had real live animals and trainers, but that didn't last long. Perhaps the chain would take one of the top spots if it had remained committed. Soon, the owners filled the spaces with animatronic gorillas, elephant sounds, and a thunderstorm effect that goes off every 17 minutes. A bit chaotic, even with reasonably good food. Serving burgers, pasta dishes, and mildly international-sounding food, like the China Island chicken salad or the Amazon fajitas, the place is well-known for its kid's parties.

2. Hard Rock Café

What can you say about Hard Rock Cafe? The first heavy-hitting theme restaurant to open locations worldwide, it also remains a success to this day thanks to a varied menu and a theme that treads the thin line between trite novelty and tasteful execution of theme. The first location was opened in London, in 1971, as just an American-style diner. As the business became more popular, the owners began to make connections in the community, including Eric Clapton — who also happened to donate the very first piece of memorabilia, a guitar.

The restaurant's connection to musicians didn't end there. Paul McCartney played one of the first live gigs at a Hard Rock Cafe back in 1973. Now, more than 15,000 live performances take place each year across all locations. Part of the reason the chain continues to endure is the consistency of the locations, the incredibly enormous archive of music memorabilia amassed, and if you want the untold truth, the Hard Rock Cafe makes an absolute mint off of those branded t-shirts. Since opening in 1971, the company has also diversified into casinos, hotels, and live music venues.

1. Ed Debevic's

Finally, number one. Like Hard Rock before it, Ed Debevic's is older than the '90s and has held on because of the quality of food, as well as the staff. A 50s-themed diner is nothing new, but this little gem is all about the service. Or lack of service, rather. If you've never been, it's not exactly the type of attitude you would expect. Taking the opposite approach of almost every other dining establishment on earth, Ed Debevic's takes pride in being unorthodox and downright snarky with the customers. Staff are encouraged to form their own character, generally a broadly typical '50s stereotype, and really make it their own. On top of that, there's all the '50s kitsch you can handle.

One of the less discussed facts about the Chicago diner is that ... it didn't actually start in Chicago. It's true; Debevic's first opened in Phoenix in 1984 and eventually closed in 2000. The Chicago location became the most well-known of all the venues, running until it closed in 2015 — but re-opening in a new location in 2021, thankfully. The retro feel of the place, combined with decent food and the joyfully sassy service, is what has kept it popular for so long.