Monsterland Bar & Grill: Drag Me to Hell

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Monsterland Bar & Grill Location: 18 West Main Street, Mesa Open: A little over two weeks. Eats: burgers, sandwiches, salads, and apps. Price Range: $11 - $30

No one wants the concept of a haunted house-themed restaurant to succeed more than I do. I love the horror genre. I love to eat. And the thought of devouring a kick-ass dish in a well-designed, spooky space among replicas of werewolves, and mummies (not to mention movie legends like The Exorcist's Regan MacNeil, A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger, and Alien's, er, alien) gives me the shivers of the most excitable kind.

So when I heard that the owners of Monsterland, a two-story haunted house that opened last year along Mesa's Main Street, were planning to turn it into a restaurant and nightclub in an effort to use the property year-round, I nearly screamed with delight.

But unfortunately, when it comes to the food, the only real scare at Monsterland is being bored to death.

Monsterland's menu -- burgers, salads, sandwiches, and appetizers -- is strictly standard fare, with some items under horror-ific names like the Vampire Burger ($10.75) and Demon Chicken Salad ($7.50), and others simply left alone such as chicken tenders ($8) and a ham and Swiss panini ($7.50). There's little creativity to be found in any of the dishes and average to below-average ingredients do little to help.

There are a dozen passable deep-fried Bat Wings ($8.50.) They are whole wings, which make them somewhat difficult to eat. And they became even more so, when our server said there were no small plates for the bones. To keep the mess the in check, all she gave us were a small stack of cocktail napkins(?). The wings came with a Garlic Scaryaki sauce, which tasted like little more than a a light coating of soy and no garlic, and a side of thin Ranch dressing.

The Swamp Thing Sandwich ($9), a muffelata-style hoagie, is not very good, mostly because of its somewhat stale, dry Italian bread. But the ultimate food scare is its $11 Monsterland Burger. Featuring red and green peppers, green chiles, Poblano peppers, onions, pepper jack cheese, jalapeños, and tomato, its first offense was the well-done patty (I wasn't asked how I would like it cooked), the second its garden of shredded iceberg lettuce, and the third a dry, stale bun that fell apart on the first bite. At least the chips were good.

Amid Monsterland's castle-walled interior, there are a few cool sights -- mostly movie props and replicas of skeletons, werewolves, and classic fright-fest icons. But given their inclusion in a large room that wants to be both a night club and a restaurant, hounds of hell sit near a cheery indoor/outdoor patio area and children with painted monster faces sit (waaaaay) too close to stripper poles. Add those goodies and the don't-care fare to a bare-bones "VIP" room with a street view of downtown Mesa, and you've got yourself one hell of a freak fest of the straight-to-DVD variety.

Sadly, Monsterland Bar & Grill seems like an afterthought. Clearly, its owners are putting more effort into this fall's opening of its basement haunted house and less into its restaurant and nightclub angles. And that doesn't make Monsterland Bar & Grill exciting at all. It makes it boring.

Utilizing a seasonally noted property year round seemingly makes good business sense. Here's hoping Monsterland can scare up some good eats in a hurry.

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