Veggies are the star at Universal's new Nintendo cafe

February 8, 2024, 4:56 PM · Let's try this again. Universal Studios Hollywood today hosted a media tasting preview for its new Power Up Cafe, which opens officially February 15.

I tried the cafe on the first day of its soft opening last week - Power Up Cafe opens at Universal Studios Hollywood - and I was looking forward to trying some of the items that I did not get to on my first visit.

Power Up Cafe hero table
The menu at Universal's Power Up Cafe

The Nintendo-themed Power Up Cafe offers two calzones - one meat and one veggie - as well as a pretzel, popcorn, and several Sprite-based themed soft drinks. In my previous review, I enjoyed the sausage and pepperoni calzone, though I wasn't blown away by it. The drinks come with Nintendo-themed "Power Up" sugar-sparkle drop-ins, which provide a little entertainment for what otherwise are your basic sugar fizzy drinks.

Power Up Cafe fizzy drinks
Some the Power Up Cafe's themed drinks

I did not bother trying another of those drinks again today, but I did tuck into the 1-Up calzone, a green mushroom-shaped hand pie stuffed with blended spinach, green pepper, and basil pesto.

Fire Flower Pretzel and 1-Up Mushroom Calzone
Fire Flower Pretzel and 1-Up Mushroom Calzone

The 1-Up immediately captured a coveted spot on my short list of "theme park food I happily would eat outside a theme park." The abundant spinach filling tasted like a more flavorful spanakopita, thanks to the green peppers, mushrooms, and pesto that Universal's chefs have blended in there, too. Like the meat-filled Super calzone, this one filled me up before I could finish it, making the $13 list price a little less of a blow.

The Fire Flower pretzel did not do anything for me. Part of what makes a traditional pretzel so appealing is its iconic shape. That provides an optimal blend of differing surface and interior textures in each bite - a feature that is too often lost in theme park's themed pretzel shapes. (Yes, I am looking at you, Mickey pretzel.) Without salt sprinkled atop this pretzel, too, the Fire Flower did not offer much flavor on its own.

The pretzel comes with three dipping sauces: a chipotle cheese, a white queso, and a yellow mustard. The queso was my favorite, though pretty much by default. The chipotle cheese tasted like two independent flavors that did not quite come together for me. The mustard was strong and tangy, but yellow mustard is also not my thing. That left the queso, which was even better paired with the 1-Up calzone. That one did not need a saucy accompaniment the way that I thought the meaty Super calzone did, but the queso did add a pleasant extra dimension of flavor to the 1-Up.

Unfortunately, Universal won't sell you a cup of any of the dipping sauces on their own. The only way to get them is to pay $13 for the pretzel.

So, my recommendation here is to go for the 1-Up calzone, which is now my favorite vegetarian item at Universal Studios Hollywood. If you are into a hefty meat pie, the Super calzone might be worth your while, too. And if you want to pay what up until about a year and a half ago was a cocktail price [$13] for a small Sprite with popping pearls and a fancy, decorated sugar cube, go right ahead.

@themeparkinsider The 1-Up veggie calzone is a winner @Universal Studios Hollywood ? original sound - Theme Park Insider

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Replies (6)

February 9, 2024 at 8:33 AM

As with the other items that put style over substance, I worry that standards start slipping. So many of these themed dishes are more about their looks than their taste, so that artistry cannot drop in the slightest, yet those finishing touches require the most care and exacting detail.

I have yet to visit Super Nintendo World, but I do wonder if there has been any slippage since its opening last year.

February 9, 2024 at 9:02 AM

The kitchen at Toadstool fell off the cliff soon after opening, with massive demand leading to delays and inconsistency in food quality. It’s not good when you’re waiting forever just to get food that you can tell also has been waiting forever under a heat lamp.

This is much smaller scale, with a limited menu in a walk-up stand, so I have more faith that Power Up will be able to manage demand. The design of the three baked items, while clever, is very basic when you look closely. (The calzones are circles with a cutout and three slices of cheese.) Replicating it over time should not be the issue that it is at Toadstool.

That said, I would not be surprised if the pretzel is not long for this world.

February 9, 2024 at 3:18 PM

13 dollars for that tiny soda is so ridiculous. I love Universal Studios. Big time Mario fan too. But 13 bucks for that is insulting.

February 9, 2024 at 3:55 PM

I have to agree that $13 is pushing it. I mean the PX-41 is $8 and not only does it taste great it also looks cool. These drinks just look like Sprite. Hard pass for me when I finally get to try but the food looks pretty good.

February 12, 2024 at 1:48 PM

This calzone sounds great! Always on board for more vegetarian options, and I'ma spinach fan, so this will most likely be my go to if I'm eating in the land

February 12, 2024 at 10:05 PM

Always appreciate it when parks prioritize non-meat options.

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