Wednesday, 6:11 pm. Of course I’m at Monsterama. Where the hell are you?
Monsterama Arcade & Pizzeria (located at 3108 SW 9th St, next to Lucky Gal) on Des Moines’ south side serves pizza, calzones, hot dogs and mocktails adjacent to a gaggle of games.
If the tantalizing eats and creative concoctions don’t endear you to Monsterama, the theming certainly will: every wall, floor to ceiling, is adorned with vintage movie posters, knick-knacks and haunted house set pieces, including a gigantic gorilla hand that hangs over the register.
At first glance this haunt doesn’t seem too huge, but through a secret doorway (I won’t spoil where it is) you’ll find an arcade bigger than the dining area. A cloaked nine-foot skeleton, along with several of his creepy friends, watches over those who dare to peruse the rows upon rows of arcade games. You’ll find some of the classics, such as Mortal Kombat and Pac-Man, alongside pinball machines and driving games like Crazy Taxi.
And leave that jar of quarters at home — for a one-time fee ($10.99, or less if you’re younger than 12) you get to free-play in the arcade to your heart’s content.
Rest assured the food here isn’t just low-bar gamer fuel. Personally, I’m a Dog Hound (a person who loves a good hot dog), and if your menu has a Chicago dog on it, you can rest assured that I will be trying it. Naturally, I found myself ordering Monsterama’s true-to-form take on the dish, featuring a quarter-pound frank, mustard, relish, tomato slices, diced onions, a pickle spear, sport peppers and a sprinkling of celery salt all on a hoagie bun.
If you’re not a wiener enthusiast you may not know that a quarter pound is pretty big for a dog. Sometimes all that meat is unnecessary, and if the quality isn’t up to snuff then frankly it can be disgusting. Thankfully that is not the case here. When I first laid eyes on it I was smitten by its beauty — a lovely dark-red dog blanketed with the toppings’ neon shades of green and yellow, all resting comfortably within a pillowy bun.
Much to my delight, the first taste comes from the star of the show, the hot dog. It’s certainly not made in-house (why would it be), but it’s not Bar-S either: it’s a well-seasoned, good tasting dog with a satisfying bite. The veggies taste crisp and fresh: the onion offers a pleasant edge, the pickle has a lovely crunch and the sport peppers pop with their dish-balancing acidity and spice. The hoagie bun is a perfect container for such a laundry list of ingredients, offering reliable structural integrity without being stiff or too “bready.” At $9.99 for the dog, chips, a fountain drink and the ambience, there wouldn’t be much to complain about if it had sucked. Lucky for me, it’s a goddamn hit.
I finished my dinner happy as a clam, but I couldn’t resist the allure of their mocktails, or “Specialty Gamer Drinks.” After asking the server/host for their favorite, I was given a Bloody Sunday, consisting of Monster Loco Mango, cranberry juice and grenadine (pomegranate syrup), put on ice and garnished with Swedish Fish. This thing is SWEET with a capital S-W-E-E-T, but I have to give credit where it’s due and report that the flavors are well-balanced. Some carbonation from the Monster combined with the cranberry tartness adds a much-needed delicacy to what could have been an overwhelming sugar bomb. I recommend it whole-heartedly.
Overall, Monsterama Arcade & Pizzeria is a great spot for people of all ages. Their arcade is well-stocked and reasonably priced (in my humble opinion), the décor rules, and if I’m being real with you the food is way better than it should be. The owner-managers very clearly care about fostering positive, immersive experiences, and that’s something that I simply must appreciate. I think next time I’ll be trying one of their pizzas, or perhaps one of the off-menu specials they offer from time to time.
Rating: Two spooky dismembered thumbs up!
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This article was originally published in Little Village’s October 2023 issue.