If you're not going with a member you are supposed to eat there. But, you can blow off you're reservation. I believe the reservation police are not there anymore on the way out. But, you will miss the bunny bag for the leftovers. Go to Yamishiro's (view) or Moun of Tunis (someplace different) first.
I've been a member for more than twenty years. The food was once awful. Not all that long ago, a whole new company came in to manage the food service. They completely rebuilt the kitchen and brought in a whole new menu and crew. So ignore any comments that are more than two years old. They have no relevance to the current situation.
I like the food now, especially the garlic chicken. If you look at the price for a meal alone, it's overpriced but you have to think of it as an entertainment cost. You eat dinner, you see some magic shows. The excess profits on the food pay for the magicians.
They just brought in all new chairs so the dining room is much more comfortable than it used to be.
Dress code is strict. Really. I've seen women wearing pants but not quite a pantsuit per the website, but the overall outfit needs to be nice. Men must wear a coat and tie, although they do have ties to lend. Anyway, it's nice to dress up sometimes, and this is pretty much the only place in L.A. where you're required to, so have fun with it.
I was a member of the Castle since 1972, but recently let my membership lapse because of what I thought was an inappropriate fee assessment. That's another story, and one Slacker (see above) mentioned.
While it's true that non-members must have dinner, I just heard of a way to bypass dinner. It's the "I have to eat kosher" scam.
The kosher charge is somewhat like a corkage charge. It's a $20 fee imposed on anyone coming in on a guest pass who can't eat the Castle's non-kosher food.
So a couple of the lawyer members figured out that the Castle food is so overpriced, it's easier and cheaper to advise guests to eat elsewhere before visiting the Castle and then show up for dinner. Once seated, everyone requests kosher. When the Castle can't comply, they finish their water and dinner rolls, pay $20 each, and get in line for the next show.
The savings can be substantial and we'd pay $40 for the privilege of not eating dinner there.
Here's a follow-up. We ate at the Magic Castle because the birthday person wanted to have everybody together for dinner. The service is excellent, albeit a bit more eager and friendly than professional. The food is a notch better than banquet food. I had the chicken and my wife had the chopped salad. Neither were great, but they were definitely edible. I substituted the sweet potato fries for the mashed potatoes, hoping for a minor miracle whereby the sweet potato fries would be fresh and thereby make the meal. They were not fresh, but they were not horrible either.
In general, I would say that the Magic Castle has great service at dinner, at the bars (good, stiff drinks), and in the different theaters. I was impressed enough to go back, though I will eat beforehand next time. And if I have to eat there, then I'll just stick to some small appetizers. And lots of drinks.
I believe (someone correct me if I am wrong) that if you are going there on a guest pass (meaning that you are not a member) you are required to eat there. The last time we went, I basically agree with the other reviews here, very expensive for the quality, which was just OK. We used to like their "festalbord" buffet, but they no longer have that. I guess it's all just part of the experience!
I go there a lot. And try to not eat there whenever possible.
Chili--I've only tasted it bc I don't eat beef, but it was pretty good, and the cheapest thing there. You can also get it at any of the bars.
Lobster bisque: tastes like a pound of melted butter.
Crispy artichoke hearts: chain restaurant type breading.
The fish I've had there was pretty good.
I was there on Monday but didn't want to waste good money on testing their paella.
In the Wings:
I don't think I've tried these, been meaning to try the mac and cheese.
The chicken was actually very good the time I had it, nice and moist, good flavor, crispy skin.
Cobb salad: large and dreadful
Seafood Louie: large and passable.
Seafood Linguini: large and not bad.
Like I said I don't eat beef, but all the steak dishes I've seen look pretty good and I'm told they're pretty good.
I've only had the chocolate soufle cake which tasted like duncan hines.
I've had an irish coffee at the bar downstairs (outside of the Palace), and the bartender made me a strong one!
The thing to do at the Castle is to drink a lot. Everyone else does, plus it's more magical that way. :)
Edit: btw there was a lot of underhanded money stuff that went on for years at the Castle, including food service arrangements. A couple of years ago, there were changes to the food service (food money matters went from underhanded to above-board) and so if you hear that the food has gotten better, this is why.
Further edit: be sure to try to catch Whit Haydn in the Parlour of Prestidigitation, he's the early performer at the Parlour this week; he is a true professional amongst the professional magicians, and just a joy to watch.
We recently ate there with a group and the Geek is right on. We went in with fairly low expectations and were still disappointed by the cost/quality ratio. The fried calimari was quite good. The Cobb salad was good but be sure to ask for avocado if you want it; they don't put it in. I was going to have the prime rib butwas glad I didn't because it was unbelievably fatty. The filet I had instead was very gristly. They pour good drinks.
It's been about 3 years since I've actually eaten there, but I remember fairly bad food at fairly high prices. Not the worst or most expensive... but when you're at the Magic Castle, why waste time and money on kinda crappy food?
Every other time I've gone, I've eaten somewhere else before (or after) and just had drinks there. I much prefer to spend my time there at the bars, in the various theaters, or just poking around than eating boring, over-priced food.
On the other hand, I was with a group of people and we all kind of were digging the slightly bizarre service (very very nice, just a little... bizarre,) the boring but pricey menu, the bland food... I remember it being a very giggly meal. So if you can be amused by it all, go for it. And really, who goes to the Magic Castle and *isn't* ready to be amused by it all?