A dozen years ago I was driving through Denver, on my way up to Boulder to visit a friend, when saw a massive building with a sign reading "Dave & Buster's." I was intrigued; the sign made it look like a restaurant but it was a building the size of a movie theater. An hour later I asked my friend Erik what it was.
"Oh, that place?" he said. "It's basically Chuck E. Cheese for drunks."
That was a simplistic description but still somewhat accurate: Dave & Buster's is a restaurant with a large game room and a bar (well, two bars, actually). Most of the games have a toggle switch that activates a light bulb above the game, indicating to a server that you would like to order another drink. (It does not attract a lot of drunks, though - the prices for drinks and especially the games add up very quickly, to the point that a couple hours here can easily surpass an afternoon at Dodger Stadium.)
I wanted to go to Dave & Buster's that afternoon in Colorado, but, alas, I was only 19, and minors are not allowed in by themselves. A couple years later my friend Tom and I went to a Pearl Jam concert out in Devore and we stopped a few hours earlier for dinner at a Dave & Buster's in Ontario. I was surprised by the food - it wasn't anything spectacular but it didn't suck, which I'd been expecting ever since Erik's "Chuck E. Cheese" description. We had an appetizer-size barbecue chicken pizza that was amazing (and, unfortunately, no longer offered) and I ate some fried shrimp with chipotle-honey sauce that I loved.
Over the next few years I went to Dave & Buster's occasionally. My best friend from high school was working in San Jose as a firefighter for the California Department of Forestry and I would visit him two or three weekends a year. We would go to D&B, drink beer and watch football all afternoon, and spend a small fortune on a simulation firefighting game with a giant video screen and plastic firehouses. He would bark out real firefighting commands, we would occasionally fail to extinguish burning people because we were fighting the fires with a Red Stripe in our hands - making the hose much more difficult to control - and we thought we were the coolest people ever. Now I realize we probably looked like assholes. Whatever.
Inevitably, I stopped going to Dave & Buster's. I found a couple places where I would much rather hang out and drink beer, places where I could actually talk to people instead of playing video games. A Dave & Buster's opened in the Arcadia mall about five years ago and I went there a couple times and had some laughs, but still didn't feel any attraction to the place like I did when I was younger. Then, a couple years ago, I took my young cousins to Dave & Buster's for lunch. They absolutely loved it. I probably had more fun watching them play games than I ever did playing the games myself.
Those cousins were in town over the weekend and they wanted Elizabeth and I to take them shopping and out for lunch, which we were happy to do. Jonas wanted Din Tai Fung - my mom and I had taken him there once and he remembers the juicy dumplings very well - but I drove by and it looked like it might have been a 90 minute wait, so I suggested we go to Dave & Buster's. That sounded great to the kids.
This is one of the smallest Dave & Buster's I have been to, shoehorned into a corner of the mall by the movie theater. It's still huge, though. We took a high table in the bar area, rather than sitting in the more formal dining area. (I was hoping to catch some of the The Masters but, inexplicably, they weren't showing it, although several of the TVs were showing lacrosse.) Dave & Buster's has a pretty large menu, and they also have a dozen entrees - offered at price points of $15.99, $17.99, and $19.99 - that include a $10 game card for the arcade room. Since I knew the kids would want to play video games after eating, I suggested they pick out one of those entrees.
Jonas, not surprisingly, ordered the same fried shrimp that I used to love. That guy loves shrimp more than anyone I have ever met. Elizabeth ordered them, too. Emma ordered some chicken breasts with pasta. I decided to get two appetizers: the boneless wings (in the "Firehouse" flavor) and some pulled pork sliders.
The food did not take very long to come out. I ordered too much food. I loved my boneless wings, and I'd anticipated that everyone would want to share them with me, but no one did. My pulled pork sliders were completely forgettable. They weren't bad, but they were the same kind of sliders I have made myself at home: microwaved pork in a sugary sauce on King's Hawaiian rolls. And both appetizers came with fries. I did not expect this (although if I'd paid more attention to the menu I would have read it).
Jonas and Elizabeth both loved the shrimp. Elizabeth gave me one of hers and it was just as good as I remembered it, especially with the chipotle-honey sauce. Emma liked her chicken and pasta, although it was definitely too big an order for her to eat all of it.
After lunch we went to the game room and played a few games. (My favorite was the car racing, since the four of us could all play simultaneously.) I sent a text to my friend Bryce, who briefly worked at Dave & Buster's between college and dental school (I don't know why but picturing him working here always makes me extremely happy) letting him know that I was there with my younger cousins. "As far as they're concerned it's the best restaurant that ever existed," I wrote.
"It's the best place, period!" he replied.