When I was little, it took every ounce of willpower in my chubby little body not to eat colorful Play-Doh that I had turned into food. The Play-Doh hamburger looked JUST LIKE a real burger, so why couldn’t I eat it? The sad answer is one that destroys childhoods. You know it as well as I do. “It’s not real.” Like the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and hot cheerleaders that like snarky short guys, you can’t eat Play-Doh food because it’s not real. As an adult, I understand this. As a child, all I understood was the disappointment that came from wanting to eat something and not being able to.
It’s the same disheartening feeling I still have every time I see some great restaurant on TV or in the movies and realize that I’ll never be able to eat there because it’s completely fictional. Even though we can’t eat at these establishments, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be celebrated. So, in the spirit of giving props based solely on how awesome I think they would be, these are my all-time favorite fictional restaurants:
I loved 1991’s L.A. Story long before I loved LA. Each subsequent viewing after moving here has only made the movie even greater. Steve Martin is perfect as the bored weatherman who has no bad weather to work with and L’Idiot (pronounced LEE-dee-oh) is even more perfect as the restaurant that makes fun of the early ‘90s dining scene in Los Angeles. It has everything you could possibly want in a parody of Spago: paparazzi snapping outside, security cameras identifying big spenders and Patrick Stewart as the angry French maître d’. There’s a b-boy waiter rapping the specials, tiny lobsters on sparse plates, and a curated selection of floss (“Diet or regular?”). It hits hard at every cliché without remorse. Now that’s how you take down a dining culture.
11. The Max
If you were a kid in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, I’ll bet that you watched Saved by the Bell. I did. Like everyone else who watched, I wanted to hang out with Zack, Kelly, Slater, Jessie and Lisa while we all made fun of Screech together. The best place for hangin’ in Bayside? The Max. It was owned by a magician (not cool), Kelly worked there (double cool) and there were never any parents around (ultimate cool). As a TV version of a high school hangout, it was sorely missing chain-smoking, bathroom sex and gang fights, but that didn’t matter. The Max was where you went after school and I desperately wanted to be there – even if it meant having to watch creepy Max’s magic tricks.
10. The Frying Dutchman/Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag/Krusty Burger
It’s hard to isolate just one fictional restaurant from The Simpsons. With 23 seasons already in the can, there have been an unbelievable number of fauxstaurants in the show. From Chez Guevara to Municipal House of Pancakes to The Texas Cheesecake Depository, this show has always loved jokes about restaurant names. May they make 23 more seasons so we can finally find out what they serve at the Icelandic food stand in Springfield. It’s called “What They Eat in Iceland.”
9. Pete’s Luncheonette
Muppets Take Manhattan was one of my favorite movies when I was growing up and Pete’s Luncheonette plays a pretty big non-speaking role. Pete’s was just your typical diner, except Pete happened to have a very lax hiring policy. When I say lax, I mean most of his staff consisted of rats and other non-humans. That’s pretty innovative, Pete. Also, I definitely had a crush on Pete’s daughter Jenny who worked there as a waitress. I’d love to come here for a ham and cheese sandwich despite the fact that it would probably be served by an actual pig.
8. Cafe 80s
Check out this timefuck: I’m writing this in 2012 about a restaurant that exists in 2015 whose concept focuses on the simpler times of the 1980s. Messed up, right? Cafe 80s is the throwback restaurant that Marty McFly stumbles into in Back to the Future Part II. The waiters are all virtual Max Headroom-style avatars of ‘80s icons like Michael Jackson and Ronald Reagan and Pepsi comes in cool ergonomic bottles that look like curvy versions of the VOSS water bottle. Diners can sit in a booth or get really 80s with an exercycle instead of a chair. Man did I want to go to Cafe 80s, “where it’s always morning in America – even in the afternoon!” I also wanted light-up Nikes and the Cubs to beat Miami in the World Series. I’m still giving it three years…
7. The Peach Pit
Yet another teenage hangout, but this one is way cooler than The Max. The Peach Pit was the place to be in Beverly Hills circa 1990. The 90210 crowd hung out there, worked there and got into fights there. Brandon Walsh wiped down tables while the rest of the gang ate burgers and sundaes, but they also had special guests. Did somebody say Color Me Badd?
6. Zyggies Ice Cream Parlor
What do you do when you bring Napoleon back to San Dimas in your time machine? You let your snotty little brother babysit him and take him for a Man vs. Food-style ice cream challenge. Obviously. That’s the lesson in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure where Ted’s little brother Deacon (what kind of name is Deacon?!?) takes Napo to Zyggies for the infamous Zyggie Pig, “the single greatest ice cream spectacle known to man.” The Zyggie Pig is a giant punch bowl full of ice cream, whipped cream, maraschino cherries, marshmallows, nuts and all kinds of other sundae goodness. I imagine it’s very close to Ben & Jerry’s Vermonster. Thanks to this movie, I can’t go get ice cream without hearing the legendary Zyggie chant in my head: “Eat the pig, eat the pig, zyggie zyggie zyggie zyg!” One day, I will take down the Zyggie Pig. MARK MY WORDS!
5. Perry’s Pizza
Admittedly, I was not the target audience for Fast Times at Ridgemont High (I was six weeks old when it was released). That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it later in life, though. While some people got off on Phoebe Cates coming out of the pool in her red bikini, I was more into Phoebe Cates serving me pizza. A mall pizzeria isn’t the most glamorous of fictional restaurants, but there’s something so charming about early ‘80s California teen culture. I’d spend a whole summer in that mall if I could. I’d even buy overpriced concert tickets from Mike Damone.
Before he was Mr. Miyagi, Pat Morita was Arnold, owner of the hippest joint for the coolest cats in Milwaukee, WI. Arnold’s was the prototypical sitcom high school hangout and all other sitcom hangouts since have aspired to be as Fonzie-worthy. You could get more than milkshakes and French fries at Arnold’s. You could also get lessons in life. The most important lesson? Any jukebox can be fixed with a well-placed fist to the coin slot. Come to think of it, just about any problem can be fixed with a well-placed fist to the coin slot, if you know what I mean.
The only contemporary addition to the list, Al-Abbas is the mythical Palestinian chicken joint that’s so good even Larry David will forsake his Judaism for it in Curb Your Enthusiasm. While Al-Abbas isn’t real, the people behind Curb clearly know their Middle Eastern chicken in Los Angeles because the restaurant was modeled after the venerable Zankou Chicken chain (also referenced in Beck’s song, Debra) and filmed at Sunnin, another awesome Lebanese restaurant. It’s an LA/MidEast pollo mash-up and I’d eat there twice a week if it actually existed, peace process be damned.
2. Stan Mikita’s Donuts
I will happily attend any donut shop where Al Bundy (a.k.a. Dutch) speaks hypothetically about killing a man. Thank you, Wayne’s World, for dreaming this into (fictional) reality.
1. Mr. Brown’s Candy Factory
I fully acknowledge that this one is cheating. Mr. Brown’s Candy Factory isn’t a restaurant. It’s also not from a movie or a TV show. It’s from my grandmother and it’s my favorite fictional anything. Clearly cribbed from Willy Wonka, Mr. Brown was a nice man who happened to make candy in a giant factory that also doubled as an enormous sugar emporium. It’s best to think of it as a multi-floor department store where every floor is devoted to a type of candy. It’s been too long since I heard my last Mr. Brown story, but I definitely remember that there was a floor dedicated to chocolate and a floor dedicated to gum. I don’t know why Mr. Brown made gum, but I imagine it was a loss leader. All I truly know is that my candy-loving brain went crazy for these stories where you were allowed to visit the factory and take home as much candy as you could carry. It may not have been fully depicted on a screen in front of me, but the sprawling mental picture that I created could never be matched by a Hollywood set designer.
The Itis (Boondocks)
Mel’s Diner (Alice)
Bob’s Burgers (Bob’s Burgers)
The Bait Shop (The O.C.)
Nolita (Kitchen’s Confidential)
Bluth’s Banana Stand (Arrested Development)
Bronto Burger (The Flintstones)
Lanford Lunch Box (Roseanne)
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