What Is It: A pop-up restaurant with a Cheetos-inspired menu
Who Tried It: Mark Marino, PEOPLE contributing writer
Level of Difficulty: 1 (unless sharing delicious food counts as difficult, in which case I give it a 5)
Believe it or not, the most popular restaurant in New York City right now is owned by a man who roams about wearing a leather jacket, sneakers and no pants. And before you go judging Mario Batali, please note that I am talking about Chester Cheetah.
Yes, the Frito-Lay mascot has just opened The Spotted Cheetah, a pop-up restaurant that is so flamin’ hot that its three-day run is booked solid. New Yorkers are desperate to score a table at the Cheetos-centric eatery, and thanks to PEOPLE’s food director, I was fortunate enough to get an invite and also get the opportunity to shove it in people’s faces. (Sorry, haters!)
Based on its name, The Spotted Cheetah sounded like it would be a hip, swanky place where celebs mingle, and I half expected to see Kendall Jenner waving across the room to Bella Hadid with orange-coated fingers (that cheesy powder is known as “cheetle,” as in “Watch it, Kendall! You almost got cheetle in Cara Delevingne’s hair!”). Alas, I saw no It girls in the cheetah-print-heavy establishment, but a pantsless Chester himself was holding court on a large LCD screen, where guests could chit-chat with the cheetah by speaking into a microphone. I pounced on the opportunity.
After he greeted me by name (weird, right?), I asked Chesty (I feel we bonded so I can call him this) which dish he would recommend that evening and he told me the Cheetos meatballs were his favorite.
Strangely, he spoke in a posh British accent, so I assume that Benedict Cumberbatch was in a back room somewhere fielding our questions or that Chesty, who used to have a raspy, slick American voice, has been taking diction lessons from Madonna.
Taking my seat, I looked over the menu, eager to dig into the various dishes created by celeb chef Anne Burrell. “I wanted to marry together the iconic, classic Cheetos and also my own cooking style,” Burrell told PEOPLE. “I really wanted it to be serious food and not a joke where people are like, ‘Eh, it was OK for Cheetos food.’ I wanted people to say, ‘Wow! That was really good and it had Cheetos in it!'”
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So, how was the food? Here are a few dishes I tried, ranked on a scale of 1 to 4 Britneys (since Ms. Spears is the patron saint of Cheetos, after all):
- Purrfectly Fried Green Tomatoes: 3 Britneys — A crispy White Cheddar Cheetos breading added a nice balance to the tang of the large, thick green tomato slices, which were served atop a fresh corn, cherry tomato and arugula salad.
- Flamin’ Hot Cheddar Mac n’ Cheetos: 4 Britneys — This dish has it all, including White Cheddar Cheetos, jalapenos, bacon and a Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch crust. So decadent, I wanted to bathe in it (mainly so that my dining companions would be so repulsed that they wouldn’t eat a bite and I could have it all to myself).
- Cheetos Sweetos Sweet and Salty Cookies: 2 Britneys and a Sean Preston Federline (her offspring counts as half a Britney) — Desserts with Cheetos? Yes! These cookies were made with Cinnamon Sugar Cheetos Sweetos (who knew they existed?) and paired with a Cheetos Sweetos Salted Caramel dipping sauce. A nice finish, but the savory dishes are really the strong suit here.
My Cheetos experience was now completos, and I have to say I really enjoyed everything about it, from the kitschy décor (a Cheetos tree, Warholian prints of Burrell and Chesty) to the signature cocktails (the tequila-and-Aperol-based Tipsy Citrus lives up to its name and you may find yourself roaming about pantsless after knocking back three of them) to the deliciously creative dishes (more mac n’ cheese, please!).
The pop-up restaurant is only open until Aug. 17 and currently waitlist-only. But there’s good news for New Yorkers who are still hoping to claw their way in: Burrell says she’s considering serving some of the items for a limited time at her Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurant Phil & Anne’s Good Time Lounge. So prepare to get your cheetle on!
Verdict: Sure, the place is gimmicky, but Burrell succeeds in making dishes that are enhanced rather than overwhelmed by Cheetos. I’d definitely love to see another pop-up from the Frito-Lay folks — Chez Funyon, anyone?