Despite its spooky setting, this Mesa maverick scares up surprisingly good grub.
It sounds implausible, kitschy and just plain weird: a restaurant/bar/nightclub permanently decorated as a Halloween-style “house of horrors.” From the animatronic Grim Reaper peeking over your shoulder as you slurp soup to the illuminated eyeball pendants that watch you knock back a beer, Monsterland is far more likely to jar spine-tingling childhood memories of touching grape “eyeballs” than make you recall your last great sit-down meal. And therein lies the most shocking surprise: Monsterland’s bar-and-grill fare is actually quite good.
Owner Kevin Wynn set up this 8,000-
square-foot downtown Mesa storefront (with an extra 8,000 in the basement for a seasonal haunted house) in October 2011 as a Halloween-only attraction. Now, it’s a family-friendly restaurant by day and 21-and-over club after 9 p.m., with DJs, live bands, “scaraoke” events, gay/lesbian nights and frequent costume contests, though guests dress up every day.
Upon arrival, diners see a white-haired “ghost host” at a podium. They pass through a tunnel of haunted-house paraphernalia into an abattoir-like dining room adorned with werewolves, vampires and mummies.
Despite the cute/creepy word-play dish names, the food isn’t frightening at all, thanks to locally sourced ingredients. Children of the Corn ($6), deep-fried sweet potato corn fritters with cilantro and pepper jack cheese, were little bites of bliss. A Casket of Chips ($6) topped with chipotle aioli, feta, roasted red pepper and scallions was downright decadent, but I wouldn’t order the whole, uncut “bat wings” ($8.50) again. Salads were scrumptious. The Green Monster ($9), a bounty of fresh produce with lively basil vinaigrette, could be served at any upscale restaurant. Demon chicken salad ($11) with fiery sauce is punishingly superb.
For sand “witches,” go for the Mummy ($9), a Southwestern-style tortilla wrap (get it?) with black bean and corn relish, cheddar, chicken, tomatoes and Romaine with chipotle ranch. The Monsterland burger ($10) with roasted poblanos and pepper jack was better than most Valley burgers I’ve had. The Swamp Thing, crispy fried cod with corn fritters and “swamp slaw” ($13), was a great catch.
Service was genuinely friendly, and they have 20 excellent Arizona craft beers on tap. The entire experience is deliciously spook-tacular.
Monsterland Bar & Grill
Address: 18 W. Main St., Mesa
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Wednesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Highlights: Children of the Corn fried fritters ($6), Casket of Chips ($6), Green Monster salad ($9), Demon chicken salad ($11), Mummy (Southwestern-style wrap, $9), Monsterland burger ($10), Swamp Thing (crispy fried cod with corn fritters and “swamp slaw,” $13)