When done right, themed restaurants can be the best thing ever.
Headquarters Beercade‘s 80’s/90’s theme? Party on, Garth.
Rainforest Cafe? My shit as a kid…and not gonna lie, I’d totally still go.
So when I heard a Pacman-themed restaurant was opening up in Chicago, well you can’t not check that out.
Named ‘Level 257’ after the ‘Kill Screen’ you get on level 257 in the unwinnable game of Pacman, the restaurant’s concept was true to the game on a ‘go big or go home scale.’ Like 40,000 square feet big.
But does the reality measure up to the big dreams behind the project?
If you make Pacman-themed anything, there’s two ways it can go: sophisticated and nostalgic, or more like the play zone of a kids restaurant.
When it comes to the design, Level 257 did a pretty damn good job. They have just enough nods to the game where you point at stuff and go “I see what they did there” but modern enough that there’s a classy loft vibe. And the place itself is subtly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it like the actual game.
The space boasts two full bars, several lounge areas, a wall of arcade games and is bookended by two bowling alley spaces. It’s a lot, but if you’re coming all that way, hell – you’ll want to make a full night of it.
Here’s a little piece of 23-year-old foodie wisdom – when you’re in a restaurant that has bacon-wrapped dates, you officially know two things about the place:
1) They know what they’re doing
2) You’re getting the bacon wrapped dates
The entrees and the included sides are sizable enough to take home and have for the best lunch of your whole week. And it’s clear everything is painstakingly prepped, like their signature Bacon Apple Pork Chop, which is as good as it sounds.
I don’t care if you’re full – pretend like you have a second stomach designated purely for dessert (you do, it’s science) and order something, damn it. The green tea ice cream and banana bread pudding alone were certifiably fantastic.
Biggest issue by far – the place is in the suburban boonies of Schaumburg (Woodfield Mall). The bowling and games don’t really matter because, by the time you get there, you’re ready to eat and go home before you’re too tired to make the trip back.
While it’s a Pacman-themed restaurant, it’s kind of all over the place. There’s bowling decorations, nods to the 80’s in the menu a la Headquarters and a tiny strip of Pacman games that literally fall in the shadow of the bowling alley. They’re authentic thanks to Ebay, but in such a massive space, they play second fiddle.
And finally, as good as the food is – you gotta budget for it. Unless you’re doing just appetizers and dessert (which I recommend), it’s not a ‘casual night with friends’ kind of place. My pork was $26, my friend’s chicken – chicken – was $20. And our bill was $40…each. With no booze.
Is it an expensive hassle? Yep.
Is it worth the trip if you make a night of it? For sure.
You don’t leave regretting going – it’s a fun atmosphere, there’s a lot to do, great food and if all else fails in the fun department there’s plenty of alcohol.
Plus, it’s a Pacman-themed restaurant. Go for the sake of an Instagram selfie for all I care.