Ask any Alamo city resident what the weirdest restaurant in San Antonio is and without hesitation, the answer will always be the Magic Time Machine. This San Antonio establishment is a place which, you will find, almost nobody recommends, but which nearly everyone has been to. And they’ve been to it precisely because it’s weird.
What is the Magic Time Machine?
What is it indeed?! The Magic Time Machine is a family-friendly restaurant/cosplay/immersive experience that feels something like a cross between a theme park and a drug trip.
The Magic Time Machine is located off of 410 East access road, about a mile down the road from the San Antonio International Airport.
There is a fair amount of free surface parking in the lot at the restaurant both to the left and right of the building. Given the popularity of the MTM, the lot does fill up as the restaurant fills.
The Magic Time Machine restaurant opened up in San Antonio in 1973 in the same building that houses it today. That means that the building is a bit dated (and looks it!) with dark green, wood paneled sides, and a few odd embellishments that leave you wondering – what the heck is this place? Additionally, the noticeable lack of windows contributes to assumptions about the “propriety” of the establishment and what is actually going on inside of it. Spoiler: nothing untoward is going on inside, that is unless you consider bizarre, untoward. The MTM is a family restaurant, albeit an odd one.
There is really no cohesive way to describe the interior of the Magic Time Machine. Words like unique, bizarre, unkempt, weird, old, dated, vintage, antique, confusing, and fun may start to scratch the service, but fall appalling short when it comes to really describing what this place is like on the inside.
But to sum it up, the MTM is a collection of dining spaces or nooks that are each themed differently, connected by walkways with carpets that date back fifty years and decorations on the walls and ceilings that are more meant to be interesting than attractive. Each seating area is isolated in its own alcove with its own theming – there’s a Christmas themed table, a SpongeBob SquarePants table, a San Antonio Spurs table, a Cow table, and so on and so forth. No two sections are the same and the lack of consistent theming can feel a bit trippy.
In addition to the seating areas, the center of the restaurant houses a 1952 MG-TD Roadster car that doubles as both decoration and a salad bar. (And yes, that’s a really weird sentence.) There is also an indoor bar and arcade located in one of the labyrinthine back rooms.
The Magic Time Machine isn’t just a restaurant, it is an entertainment “experience.” Each server chooses to dress up and act as a well-known character from movies, tv, or some other pop culture avenue, which means you will not only be eating dinner, but it will be served to you by Belle from Beauty and Beast, Captain Jack Sparrow, or Batman’s sidekick, Robin. Servers stay in character the entire time they are waiting on your table which, depending on your mood or temperament, is either really fun or super annoying. If you happen to be into cosplay, this is the restaurant you have been waiting for.
When you arrive at the restaurant, kids are given little “autograph books” and encouraged to wander the restaurant and get the signatures of all the characters that are present. We saw a number of kids doing this and the servers were honestly great about it. They took their time with the kids, interacted with them appropriately as the character they were dressed as, and posed for pictures as requested.
Servers here also take it to the next level by mildly messing with guests. While this is nowhere near what they do to people at places like Dick’s Last Resort (where they are straight up rude, even bordering on mean at times), playful teasing and banter are the norm and should be expected.
A story about this - shortly after arriving at the restaurant and being seated, one of my kids decided he needed to go to the bathroom. Our waitress (Mirabel from the Disney movie, Encanto) noticed he had left, asked where he went, and what his name was. About a minute later, we heard her voice over the restaurant-wide PA system calling out our son by name in the bathroom and admonishing him to leave some toilet paper for all the other guests.
This happened about 2-3 more times with other people in the hour and a half we were there, and it was all in good fun. However, if this sounds like a veritable nightmare for you, avoid the MTM.
I’ll level with you on this one. You don’t go to the Magic Time Machine for its food, which is typical American fare and isn’t that great. Our family ordered pizzas, chicken tenders, and burgers, and while portion sizes are hefty, food quality is about on par with what you would find at a quick service counter at a theme park.
The “wow” factor at the MTM is more in its drinks than in its cuisine. The good people at the MTM are wizards with dry ice and love serving up drinks that both smoke and bubble. Each of our kids ordered a Magic Potion, which bubbles and comes in a variety of colors. Best we could tell, it is some kind of carbonated lemonade, but it bubbles like a potion and isn’t necessarily yellow (unless you order it in yellow, of course).
Given that you are paying for more than a meal, I would say prices are on the higher end. Again, compare it to theme park pricing with entrees starting at $15 and going as high as $37 for a steak (please, don’t go here and order a steak!).
The Magic Time Machine is not a place I care to go to over and over again. The weird ambiance coupled with so-so food just isn’t my cup of tea. And yet, somehow in the 20 years we have lived here, I’ve gone three times. The first time I was taken by a friend who wanted me to experience San Antonio’s weirdest restaurant, and I promptly swore that it was a one and done for me. But then, I had a friend come to visit who said he wanted something totally unique. So we took him. And now 18 years later, my husband and I decided our children should have their own bizarre experience.
And maybe that’s the magic of the Magic Time Machine. There’s nowhere else quite like it. So even if have no desire to experience it again, you’ll find yourself taking others just so that they can experience it once as well. And that means that the people keep coming back.
Ultimately, the MTM is a place to go if you want weird, have a large group and like a little kitsch, or if you have a celebration and want all the entertainment taken care of. Just do the research and have an idea of what you are getting yourself into. Otherwise, you will leave feeling slightly unnerved and asking the question that everyone ultimately asks when they visit, “what the heck was that?”
WEBSITE | 902 NE Interstate Loop 410, San Antonio TX, 78209
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