Find a back issue

Dirtiest Restaurants in Dallas: The Magic Time Machine

It's not a beautiful day in this neighborhood.

I did not go to The Magic Time Machine for haute cuisine. When I packed up a good portion of my family, including three kids, and headed to the popular restaurant known for servers dressed as Peter Pan, Superman, or Jack Sparrow, I had no expectations of getting a decent meal even though the prices for entrees run from $13 to $23.99.  I did expect to dine in a safe and clean environment. Or at least a restaurant that was not so filthy it caused my 12-year old niece to turn to me, dirty fork in hand, and say, “Uncle Nancy, I think you should write about how dirty this place is.”

We walked in at 5:43PM on Sunday night. We were greeted by the stench of stale air. It was like walking into an old house without windows: the smell of musky furniture combined with lingering cigarette smoke trapped inside for years. The dark carpet was littered with bits of paper (toilet?) and napkins. Nobody had bothered to vacuum between shifts (days?). I spotted a plastic Gerber baby food container tucked behind a round light to the right side of the front door. The contents were dried and cracked. As I watched my 3-year old nephew run down the short hallway, I noticed a lamp cord connected to an extension cord lying perilously on the rug about a foot from the wall.

Do a shot of Pepto Bismol and jump hard.

Restroom: 6:00PM on Sunday night.

We were seated in the Library Room. At first I thought the dust on the books had been sprayed on for effect. Not so, it was real. Many of the books once glued to the wall were ripped off and  the unpainted wall was exposed. The wallpaper on one wall was worn through to the dry wall and you could run a knife down the outside and peel off a layer of crud. At 6:00PM on a Sunday night, the trash cans in both bathrooms were overflowing with used paper towels and the salad bar, which is displayed across the top of an old car, was surrounded by dropped ingredients.

Old baby food container tucked behind the light by the front door.

Servers dressed in tacky costumes were whirling around with huge trays of food and bubbling red, green, and yellow drinks. I never saw anyone replenish the anemic bowls at the salad bar or anyone attempt to wipe up the dressing, which dripped down the car door, or the black olives strewn across a plate of beets. The restaurant was maybe half-full.

I’m not going to get into the food except to say whatever you order will taste like nothing, including the tough-to-cut prime rib. This is not my first time to The Magic Time Machine. It has been open since 1973 and was once a hot place for dates (still is) and birthday parties (ditto). The costumes used to better: the ones I noticed looked like they’d been thrown together for a pre-school play: all felt, tights, and glitter.

Here’s the catch $23.99: the kids had fun. They didn’t have to pay the bill or endure the incredibly shoddy visuals. I wonder how long it has been since the someone has shampooed a rug, had the upholstery cleaned, or scrubbed a bathroom. I also wonder the last time a fire marshal or health inspector visited. They could walk in with in their uniforms on and nobody would even notice them! Adults shelling out big bucks in a dirty restaurant with kids’ handprints (not going there!) all over a greasy salad bar would appreciate the gesture. At least force them to put a bottle of Purell next to the ketchup.

Three feet from the front door. The main hallway.
The cruddy, worn-out wallpaper in the library.
Dirty, worn-out forks.

43 comments on “Dirtiest Restaurants in Dallas: The Magic Time Machine

  1. I went to this place about six years ago. Looks like that’s the last time it was cleaned or updated. Hopefully this article will give it a wake-up call.

  2. My family and I had been meaning to go here for quite some time because we figured our son would love it… but I had heard the quality of the food & service were terrible and overpriced. Your article only confirms the tales I’ve already heard! Thank you!

  3. If you offered me a thousand dollars to correctly identify the decade it closed, I would have thought long and hard and gone with the 80s. Literally no idea that place was still open.

  4. Back in the 1970′s this restaurant sat all alone in the pre-discovered Addison. It is, I believe, an old country school house that was converted into a restaurant. The last time I went there was a few years ago. Over the decades I don’t believe the menu has changed, the food for the adults is tolerable at best, the pricing has always been horrifying for the one that picks up the tab but young children love it. I wonder if it is still the same owners and if they bought the building way back when. This review makes me think it is an absentee owner situation.

  5. Maybe they should hire Michael Costas to whip the place into shape, so it will eventually disappear.

  6. Basically the restaurant has never been refreshed. I really have to wonder how and why they are still open. They are a throw back to a lack of restaurants in DFW. Today there is little reason to go except for bad food and tacky decor.

  7. Unfortunately, they are busy. I had not been there in at least 25 years, but my kids wanted to go there Saturday night. There was a 1 1/2 hour wait. We left and went back Sunday afternoon for lunch. At least the salad bar was clean when we were there because it was early. The adults did discuss how gross it must have been the night before with the big crowd. It could stand a good cleaning!

  8. If this place that everyone agrees is underwhelming at best consistently has a wait just because it is amusing for young ones and/or provides easy ice breaker conversation on a date, that says to me that the metroplex has an easy opening for a new restaurant opportunity.
    We went there for a 13 year old’s birthday and got what we went for… amused preteen/teen girls. How hard would it be to reinvent the concept and significantly improve on the execution of both food and atmosphere?

  9. We were there about 5 years ago and got the “Roman Orgy”. The whole thing tasted like it had been microwaved and haven’t been back since.

  10. Someday (soon?), someone will rescue this building and open up a Dallas location of the McMenamin’s Brew pub chain in Portland, OR. That is the only way that you could get me past those doors. If they don’t do that, they should blow it up.

  11. i skipped all the grossness to come down here and question you about your niece calling you “uncle nancy.” explain?

  12. It is owned by Hasslocher Enterprises/Frontier Enterprises, which also owns the Jim’s Restaurants chain.

  13. A complaint to the manager probably wouldn’t have much effect in this case. A complaint to the health department should result in a surprise (hopefully, a surprise) visit from an inspector who (again, hopefully) could shut them down if he or she found several critical violations. A look at previous inspection results could be interesting. If the inspectors are finding serious problems and noting these problems and nothing happens, then we’ve fallen back to those days in the early 1980s where every restaurant inspector wore a long, tight leash held by the Dallas City Manager.

  14. Umm, Charles, this is Addison. Their code is much different than Dallas’. As is the size of their department that checks restaurants.

  15. I assumed from the title of this article that the restaurant was actually in the City of Dallas. It appears the address is one in Addison. My comments about the 1980s and the Dallas City Manager were not intended for any other city. Eat, Drink and Be Wary found that Dallas was unique in its favoritism toward managers and owners of habitually dirty restaurants.

  16. The MTM website lists the address in Dallas but I just checked and it is in Addison. Either way, it’s in Dallas County and it’s filthy.

    Mary, my five perfect nieces and one perfect nephew call me Uncle Nancy because they thinks it is funny and it has just been that way for 18 years.

  17. My 2 teenage kids and I were driving around Addison about 2 years ago on a Sunday looking for someplace to eat that we haven’t been to yet. I whipped onto the parking lot with expectations of my kids and I experiencing the uniqueness of this restaurant. We walked in, it was dark and had a stale odor..the odor was so surprising, most restaurants you walk into you smell FOOD! My kids looked at me and said “nice try mom, this place stinks, lets go to Houstans”. We never made it more than 10 or 15 feet inside the door when we all 3 knew this was not a place we wanted to eat at. Sounds like our instincts were spot on. Too many great restaurants out there all over Dallas and Addison to settle for filth.

  18. I was more bored by the food and the presentation than anything. I was only there once though and it was quite a long time ago. I am surprised that something that is as popular as this place appears to be has no one out there to defend it. Even the owner/manager.

  19. We went three weeks ago. I had the bacon wrapped filet. I only ate a few bites. Food poisoning kicked in at 2am and I threw up for HOURS. Bad meat- pathetic!!!!!

  20. I worked there in 1991ish. It wasn’t that horrible then but that was 20 years ago. I can see how it would have deteriorated but if they’re still open & thriving then that says something about the diners as well. Doesn’t it?

  21. As a former employee. I can say this a lot of what has been said is drama. The food especially the prime rib is cut fresh as well as all the steaks each day. If your meat was tuff you probably had it cooked well like a lot of people. If it was tuff and cooked no more than med. Then a word to a mgr would have fixed it. The kitchen is actually very clean and probably more clean than back in 1980. And I assure you the health inspector visits regularly and the score is better than most. THE DECOR yes it needs a major over haul generations of parents letting their kids tear and destroy the decor has just taken its toll. Parents feel they can drop diapers and what ever else on the floor behind seats the staff does its best to pick up behind the customer. The rugs do get shampood regularly. Yes there is a lot that needs to be fixed. As far as.costumes they aren’t cheap. Just because they don’t look like Broadway play material it because they SERVE FOOD. These costumes must be made of durable material that must be washed not to mention again children and ADULTS pulling and tearing the.costumes cuz its.funny. Well its not they cost money and when I worked there and a customer tore my costume so bad that I was.done for the night I was told to.take it out of my tip.
    So next time you go ripping on this place and the servers and costumes. Maybe you should step back a minute try the job on for a.weekend. And don’t eat all the food and then say it was awful. Lastly the pictures are proof the customers are hard on this place. Its old. its a good place and I know a lot more people who have dined and loved it.

  22. Keep in mind that this is not a place where children and adults are constantly sitting. Children are running around with autograph books, weaving in and out between costumed characters carrying food. The children are placing their greasy hands all over the walls and tugging at the decor. This is not Disney. They are not on a Disney budget. Also, the characters are carrying food. There costumes must be fashioned to hold up to the abuse.

    The antique scent is from the authentic antique furniture.

    Also, a baby food container? Suppose a costumer placed that there a moment before you came in?

    This seems a little extreme when taken into consideration the overall theme and intent of this restaurant.

  23. I actually went there 3 years ago for my daughter’s 7th birthday dinner – but we turned around and walked out when we saw how run down the place is. All I can say to John is that it sounds to me that you are making a ton of excuses for very poor upkeep.

  24. Amanda, the baby food container had molded dried food in it. If kids are constantly running around then cleanup crews should be constantly running around. There was not one person in the lobby when we arrived and two people working the front desk. The antique sent is not from authentic antique furniture. It is from old upholstery and smoke from the bar upstairs. If you are going to run a restaurant, especially for kids, it has to be clean.

    John, I ordered prime rib medium rare to rare. my mother’s pork was formed pieces of pork that seemed microwaved. But all of that is beside the point. Who said we ate all of the food? We didn’t. Again, if customers are hard on a place, then the place needs to be ready to clean up after them. No excuses. None allowed.

  25. It’s been almost 20 years since I’ve been there, when my children were young. We tried it a second time after a disappointing first visit. So our bad eperience wasn’t just a bad day. I think it is the same carpet.

    They should get an award for consistency. Nothing has changed. Maybe this article will finally send them to restaurant cemetery where they belong.

  26. Well I assure you the pork is not pressed the meat is cut fresh. Funny the one thing you never mentioned was what the manager had to say. Probably because you never talked to one. I assume because writing this was easier to do than actually talking to someone.

  27. I worked @ MTM for years… been in the restaurant biz my whole life and NEVER worked in a cleaner kitchen —- seriously. Time was always spent on over hauling and re-doing booths, difficult, when parents took their kids and let them run rampant, as if it were an outdoor playground. I do question your takes on the prime rib, bang for the buck , best in town. Why so much hate?

  28. We went there two years ago because I thought my son would love it. I had been there a few times before and it was “okay”…nothing fabulous but passable…It was so filthy when we went, I could not enjoy my meal. From the stale sour musty smell in the furniture to the lack of “cleaning” throughout the rest of the restaurant, we joked that they must keep the lights dim so we can’t see “what else” is there…

    It’s a shame because Dallas needs a family-friendly place that is fun, clean and has decent food. It’s truly hard to find a place where kids can enjoy themselves that doesn’t cater to the 6-and-under set.

  29. I’ve never eaten there, but I have several friends that rely on this place to make their living, and all the comments about tearing and blowing it up were really much.

    It is a fun place, with fun people. On Thursday and Friday nights they even have karaoke up stairs in the bar which is extremely fun.

    They get extremely busy, and are understaffed to deal with just how many customers they get in there sometimes. Cut them some slack.

  30. I used to be a manager there & can verify that the kitchen is actually one of the cleanest of any restaurant I’ve ever worked for and they regularly receive very high marks from the health dept. I believe those reports are public & can be verified. Also, it is the original Addison school house, it is a historical building & changes to the building have to be approved. It will always have a musty smell, the building is almost 100 years old! Also, the way parents let their children behave there is appalling. The fact that a customer hid the baby food container rather than walking 3 feet to the host stand says a lot to me. All that being said, one of the reasons I ended up quitting is that it is owned by a company on San Antonio. As the Dallas location is one of it’s most profitable, they just leave it alone. The decor is in major need of an update, but they won’t spend the money to do it, despite the many great ideas offered by employees, who also offer to help do the actual work. I really left because I couldn’t stand to see something that is a great idea and has been such a tradition in Dallas, be run into the ground by such apathy.

  31. I recently worked at MTM and was continuously disturbed by the onslaught of critical customer comments. First of all, take a look around the building. It is SHOCKING to see how many people think this is a restaurant “built” for children. It’s not. The narrow corridors, uneven flooring, dim lights, crowds, and servers continuously weaving around it all with hot and heavy trays of food should be a clue that this is not the place to allow children to run amok. How it turned into such a venue, I have no idea. When I visited this place as a kid in the early 90s, there were no hoards of screaming children tugging at the servers, following them around, demanding autographs. Just deal with the dank and dingy atmosphere…it’s old. It’s supposed to be old. You will NOT catch any diseases from dusty books. Hell, it’s probably GOOD for you to be around something so outside the norm of a prissy pristine and squeaky clean atmosphere being served processed frankenfood. That being said, the kitchen IS pristine. Every night the kitchen workers stay for hours after close deep cleaning every inch of it. I’m convinced the complaints about the food are from people conditioned to not eating REAL FOOD. Here’s something to think about, every vegetable you eat there started as a whole vegetable which came in on a produce truck and was chopped and steamed and seasoned that day. No frozen fare (except for the kids pizzas). All the steaks and meats are hand cut, the sauces are blended, and the deserts are baked and prepared there. The food is GOOD. If you don’t like it, just tell somebody and they will gladly replace it with something you do like. People have unrealistic expectations about this place. If you’re trying to get it shut down, it will not work. Call it a cult classic. For every bad review there are hundreds of people that had a great time.

  32. I completely agree (with Bailie) that the Magic Time Machine is a cult classis in DFW. I know it’s a sad, smelly dive, but I can’t get enough! The staff waitstaff seem to truly love their jobs- and how many people who spend 30-40 hours in a dark, musty, kid infested place can say that? The decor is in serious need of an overhaul, though. The same broken junk has been hanging on by a thread since I first started going there, many years ago. I know for a fact that if you tell the server or the management your food has not met your expectations, they will right the situation. There wouldn’t be so many “regulars” if the staff didn’t care so much about the place. I think it really does come down to absentee owners. I think that building would appreciate the new life brought on from replacing the peeling wallpaper, revamping many of the booths, and actually inforcing that sign they have in the lobby about vandalism (no kidding-I’ve seen kids AND THEIR PARENTS writing on the wall with markers.) Long live the Time Machine!

  33. I host Karaoke at Magic Time Machine and have for the past 5 years. I can attest to the fact that they have the carpets steam cleaned twice a year and that vacuuming occurs everyday. You have to understand that if you show up at 6pm on a Sunday the restaurant has just been hit by 200 guests or more (many children) for 4 hours straight. The extension cord being moved away from the wall and into the foyer is most likely caused by someone’s kid while waiting there for a table. I’m in the Time Machine 3 days a week and I have to say that if people would control their children when in public these complaints would decrease. I have 3 children of my own and when we’re in public they are not allowed to be monsters.

  34. The last time I was in a Magic Time Machine we couldn’t place a rotten smell – until we noticed the party that had been seated at the table next to us left a USED DIAPER underneath one of the seats.

  35. Haven’t been to the Time Machine in a few years, but when I did go it was always a good time. Fun witty staff looking to create a pleasurable experience for the guest and not your run of the mill Chili’s decor. While the building is a bit worn try thinking of the cost in creating the environment they have, I would guess it to be quite a bit more expensive than, again, Chili’s. Yes the food may costs more but you are paying for more than just food. The experience which you can choose to either enjoy and help create or ruin and knit pick (your choice), as well as the upkeep of the building is included in the price of the food. As said multiple times prior to my comment, children run rampant showing no regard for anything they can get their hands on; this combined with parents being inattentive and careless (worn out decor due to destructive children and improperly disposed of baby food containers due to parents) create many of the problems that you are writing on. Maybe try a follow up article titled “Laissez Faire Parenting and the Repercussions on Great Restaurants in Addison”. I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone looking to have a good time, if you want five star cuisine look elsewhere, if you want to let your children run amok try McDonalds.

  36. I truly have to agree with the people that are defending the place as I have been in many businesses and it is very hard to keep everyone happy all the time and especially when it comes to dealing with people and their kids. I am a professional harpist and play at public events and I love to show children the harp and let them play it but that doesn’t mean I permit them climbing, pushing, pulling and trying to tear apart my instrument. I have had many stories of parents standing by watching their kids descended on the instrument to see in how many moves they can have it in pieces. One child charged into like it was a bull he was attacking and his teacher stood beside him saying WOW go for it!! SO I am amazed they still have a building standing and hope they make enough profit after paying taxes this year that they can afford to update.