Disneyland Dining: The Mediocrest Place on Earth
My review of various Disneyland haunts. I haven't tried them all so please chime in if I'm missing anything vaguely edible
Ah Disneyland, home to fun and adventure for children of all ages. The happiest place on earth...except when it's time to eat, when it becomes a minefield of overpriced mediocrity and downright horribility. Is it possible to find great food in Disneyland? Not really...but there is the better and the worse. As a fairly regular guest, I thought I would share my experiences in Disney dining and help you identify the pitfalls and possibly, a few hidden gem.
This week we will focus on the the popular Disneyland Park and next week, we will cover the less popular though in my estimation underrated Disney California Adventure, but first, a few helpful eating tips for both parks.
Tips for the Hungry Mouse
1. You can bring outside food into the park. That's right, you can bring food from home or elsewhere and eat it in the park. Technically, you are supposed to eat such food in the front picnic area, but I've never had a problem setting up at one of the outdoor restaurant tables. (There is a Lee's Sandwiches that opens at 7:00 a.m. just a few miles from the park on Harbor Blvd.) Even if I don't bring a full meal, I usually bring some healthy snacks so I have some alternative to the high priced goodies that tempt you throughout the park.
2. Bring water. Even if you don't bring food or snacks, there is no reason to pay Disney prices for water. I usually bring at least a bottle per person. If you freeze them the night before, they stay pretty cool most of the day.
3. Avoid Hamburgers. Even at the places I say are decent, do not order hamburgers. I don't know what Disney does to their hamburger patties but they are revolting, grey discs that have no place between a bun. Anton Ego would not swallow.
4. Remember the First Corollary of Disney Dining: Nothing is Great/Everything is Expensive. You will have a better time if you accept this rule. As a food blogger, I suspend my usual standards when I enter the Magic Kingdom. There are a few good bites, but no amazing finds, and sweets tends to be better than savories. Just repeat the rule to yourself: Nothing is Great/Everything is Expensive. You'll live to eat another day.
5. Reserve a table. At some choice dining spots, particularly the Blue Bayou at Disneyland and Ariel's Grotto at California Adventure, reservations are required. Call Disney Dining at (714) 781-DINE.
6. Disney is dry/California Adventure is wet. You won't find alcohol for sale at Disneyland park, but you will find it at California Adventure.
And now for the food, by Disney location. First a few caveats for both this list and next week's. This list is by no means exhaustive but reflects some of the things I have experimented with, for good or ill, over the years. Also, it covers only food within the park, not Downtown Disney or food at any of the hotels.
About that corndog cart
The only single Disneyland food that gets buzz among foodies is the corndog cart on Mainstreet USA. Even Jonathan Gold has sung the praises of the little red wagon. It's located on the right side of Main Street, from the direction of the entrance, right before you hit the Carnation Cafe. When done well, these things are indeed wonderful...a perfectly fried, sweet and chewy cornmeal coating, hand dipped such that it bulges at the top and locks in the hot dog juice. Of late, however, they have had a problem with the grease having a rancid odor, a smell that makes me nauseous before I even bite into the dog. If you can smell the grease before you can see the cart, you may want to pop across to Disney California Adventure's Corndog Castle, which I will cover next week. Same dog, fresh grease.
NEW ORLEANS SQUARE
New Orleans Square has some of the most promising food in the park, as you might expect from an area that is named after one of America's most prominent gastronomic destinations.
One of the most sought after seats at the Disney table, the Blue Bayou's main draw is the location. It is situated inside of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which gives you the feeling of dining alongside a bayou at night. It's fun to sit and watch the pirate boats pass by. The food is mostly mediocre, but they do serve one of the last great Monte Cristo sandwiches. I love a Monte Cristo...ham, cheese and turkey on white bread, battered and fried and served with jam. The BB does a near perfect version of this classic. My biggest beef with the Bayou is that the food is ludicrously expensive, and this includes the Monte Cristo which weighs in at almost $20 (although it is big enough to easily feed two). Overall, the BB is a great thing to do once, but call in advance for reservations, (714)781-DINE, because it fills up.
For the food of the Blue Bayou without the fun of eating inside a ride, Cafe Orleans is a table service restaurant with a similar menu, including the vaunted Monte Cristo, and reservations are not required.
French Market Restaurant
The French Market Restaurant is a decent cafeteria style restaurant right next to Cafe Orleans. They do a fine fried chicken, and I like the pork on the BBQ pork po-boy, though the bread is perpetually stale.
At the service window on the patio of the French Market you can get little apple dumplings and the popular "mint julep" which is also served at the Cafe Orleans and the Bayou. Now, as a fan of real mint juelps, I have to say that I am deeply offended that anyone would call this non-alcoholic, fluorescent green elixir that smells and tastes like something you would polish furniture with, a mint julep. I don't know what it is; I don't know that I want to know what it is, but it certainly does not contain mint or Bourbon and therefore, has no business being called a mint julep.
Royal Street Veranda
The Royal Street Veranda is a window near the Pirates ride which serves clam chowder and gumbo in a sourdough bowl. It's not bad when doused with Tabasco (think a decent canned soup in a Boudin boule) and pretty quick if you are trying to get on with your day at the park without a long lunch break.
The futuristic Tomorrowland Terrace is a large circular stand at the center of Tomorrowland. In the world of tomorrow, food will apparently have lost all redeeming value and have been reduced to tasteless burgers, wilted lettuce and flavorless chicken sandwiches. Tomorrowland Terrace may be the worst food in Disneyland, which is saying a lot...AVOID, AVOID, AVOID.
Redd Rockett's Pizza Port
Big slices of pizza and pasta are available at the Space Mountain adjacent Redd Rockett's. It's pretty similar to a Sbarro or similar mall-Italian place. They do have some decent pastas with some nice garlic in the sauce. Pizza Port is a pretty safe bet in the otherwise dangerous culinary world of Tomorrowland.
I'd heard some good recommendations for the satay-style skewered meats at Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland. The skewers looked like satay, but they were salty, really, really salty. I won't be returning.
Tiki Juice Bar
One of the few places you can get a Dole Whip outside of Hawaii is in the juice bar outside the Enchanted Tiki Room. Personally, I'm not fan of these popular tropical fruit sherbets which come out of the soft-serve machine. They have an artificial/chemical taste I find off-putting, but if that's your thing, you can get it here. Now, an Enchanted Tiki Bar, that would be cool.
FOOD CARTS AROUND THE PARK
There are lots of carts that serve food at multiple locations around the park...here's a guide to just a few of them.
Disneyland does a pretty decent churro. They are crispy on the outside, chewy within...my standard Disney breakfast.
Ice Cream Bars
There are carts all over both parks selling various ice cream novelties such as mouse shaped ice cream sandwiches, frozen bananas and chocolate covered Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. Most of these are pretty decent. I particularly like the chocolate covered Mickey Mouse bar. The chocolate is rich and the ice cream isn't too sweet. However, these ice cream bars come with two caveats: (1) Do not read the ingredient list...just don't; (2) I don't know what Disney uses in their freezer carts, but these things are hard as rocks. Seriously, you could chip a tooth on one of these things...or kill someone if you threw it hard enough. I literally wait 15 minutes before eating one of these mouse-eared treats, maybe less on a really sweltering summer day.
Well, that was pretty bleak wasn't it? The food is actually a bit better and Disney California Adventure, which we will review next week, so stay tuned Disney diners.
You may do it all the time, but The Mouse does not appreciate you bringing in your own food. According to Disneyland's website http://disneyland.disney.go.com/disne... the only food items allowed to be brought into the part are ones for guests with specific dietary restrictions (and an allergy to overpriced food ain't going to cut it). Yes, this includes bottled water. Drinking fountains are plentiful around the park. The reason such food is allowed in the front picnic area is because that area is not inside the park proper.
re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester
That may be the official rule, but I've never seen it enforced. They search your bags on the way in and I always have multiple bottles of water and snacks and have never had any problem.
Now, if you set up an elaborate outside meal, you might have problems, but I'm talking about more subtle stuff.
re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester
"Tough beans" if The Mouse doesn't like it. The prices there are outrageous -- admission AND food.
If they don't wring every possible dollar out of every possible "guest" then they'll manage very nicely nontheless.
I would add plan food for the trip home as well. The restos in the surrounding area are, as is typical of most tourist areas, overcrowded, overpriced and entirely disappointing. Tired, overstimulated kids don't do well with waiting.
Agree, the food at Disneyland sucks, but I don't think a blanket statement that there is nothing chow worthy in the surrounding area is quite accurate. Maybe not in the immediate tourist area adjacent to Disneyland, but in not to far distant neighborhoods in Orange and L.A. counties are plenty of places frequented by chowhounds. One example is Renu Nakorn, a few miles north on I-5, and then maybe a half mile east on Rosecrans.
This review was not nearly as negative as your title made it sound.
"...they do serve one of the last great Monte Cristo sandwiches."
"The French Market Restaurant is a decent cafeteria style restaurant."
"They do a fine fried chicken..."
"The Royal Street Veranda...serves clam chowder and gumbo in a sourdough bowl. It's not bad when doused with Tabasco."
"Redd Rockett's [has] some decent pastas with some nice garlic in the sauce."
"Disneyland does a pretty decent churro. They are crispy on the outside, chewy within..."
"Well, that was pretty bleak wasn't it?"
No, not really.
The real question is whether or not you would ever choose to eat at any of these places if you were not trapped in the Magic Kingdom. Most of us would not. Disney knows that time is money for most people at the park. It is not really feasible to leave the park for two hours to get a decent burger. So visit after visit, we pay way too much at restaurants that would never be able to do business on the outside.
But on the positive side, if that is the food of the future... it will be a cure for obesity!
Overall, the food at the Disneyland resort is not bad on an absolute scale, very good on a theme park/tourist attraction scale.
But to answer your question: Yes, there are places/items from Disneyland that I would choose to eat (and even pay the same theme park price) if they were available locally (SF bay area):
- Napa Rose, especially the Chef's Counter
- Monte Cristo sandwich from New Orleans Square (at Blue Bayou dinner or Cafe Orleans all day) - It's a guilty pleasure but very well executed. I would eat it once a year.
- Fried chicken from the Plaza Restaurant
- Bacon-wrapped asparagus skewer from the Bengal BBQ
- Turkey leg - This is a specialty item not easily found - the Disney version is way better than the ones they sell at Ren Faire.
- Combo nachos (beef and chicken) from White Water Snacks at the Grand Californian
Napa Rose Restaurant
1600 S Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802
1580 S Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA
Yes there really are quite a few food experiences inside the parks that I would enjoy if it didn't cost me $15 parking and whatever for a ticket. In fact you'll find locals with annual passes that go to the parks for the eating and enterntainment rather than the rides...which of course is why they even sell APs in the first place.
In addition to the ones makoka mentioned, I like a nice sitdown at the French Market patio, with a latte and fritters, listening to the Royal Street Bachelors. And a Krispy Treat to take home.
Wine Country Trattoria isn't bad either.
Thanks for the review. I've got to tell you...the popcorn is the best. I just love it. And the big dill pickles...and the pinapple spears. I agree with you the food is not generally good..(and downtown disney is even worse) but I still eat my way through the magic kingdom. Oh yeah...and the frozen banana...
re: LA Buckeye Fan
I've actually had decent meals at Catal, especially after long days at the park. My daughter especially likes the huge bowl of macaroni with butter / olive oil, and at 6- it's not a bad deal; in fact, the pricing, especially in relation to Disney, is quite fair. I even went to a winemaker dinner there one night with Silver Oak, and the food was above average and the wines were poured like you wouldn't believe. It was certainly a different experience wandering around the "Magic Kingdom" afterwards.
Napa Rose is fine, but I think somewhat overrated- if you happen to be there when they are serving a large group / meeting- try to leave because service will be slooow, but not next door to Storyteller's, where I've had nothing but mediocre food.
As an add to the food at the park itself-
Rancho Zocala (Frontierland) - Del Taco at Disney Prices
Village Haus (Fantasyland)- Tomorrowland Terrace with a Gepetto theme
Big Thunder BBQ- actually decent in the context of the park, but closed and unlikely to return.
Hungry Bear Inn (Bear Country)- used to be my go to place when I was a teen- somehow my friends and I had convinced ourselves that the burgers there were better than anywhere else.
Carnation Cafe on Main Street- breakfast were not too bad here.
RIver Belle Terrace (Adventureland)- used to be ok for breakfast, since remodeled.
Plaza Inn (Main Street)- Buffeteria style stations- had maybe the saltiest pot roast ever!
Of note, I have not been to any of these places in 10+ years, as like the OP mentioned, you can get away with bringing a certain amount of "snacks" into Disneyland. The only places I've eaten at recently are the Corn Dog Cart and Tomorrowland Terrace, which is as bad as advertised, except for decent fries, but I was held hostage since my child wanted to do that Jedi thing. However, they do offer a 3.99 toddler meal which includes a color changing straw, a drink (incl. milk or juice), apple sauce, and a small cup of arroz con pollo (the chicken is just a few bits of meat) that my kid seemed to like. She also loves just the pineapple juice from the tiki bar.
Of course, there's a wealth of info on the web- just search disneyland dining
We won a dinner here a few months back. Food was OK. I'd say 70% there but you could definitely tell something wasn't right (ie obviously pre-boiled pork ribs completely void of smoke flavor)
Wasn't bad, but I wouldn't pay their asking prices. AYCE though.
For fun, watch the performance the whole show. Do they love what they're doing, or do they want to stab themselves. You decide.
re: LA Buckeye Fan
LOL....I'm with ya on this. I loved reading this thread because now I'm reminding myself I need a Disneyland fix.
I go to Disneyland to escape....many times I've thought of hiding there and staying all night :). The food, the rides, the people watching, the children laughing and the popcorn, dill pickles, pineapple spears and those memorable frozen bananas....yum. Thanks for the review of all the restaurants....over the years I think I've hit them all at one time or another and the food, as you say, isn't all that fabulous. But, really, who goes for the food anyway?
While *water bottles* are expensive, you can get a cup of tap free from any of the restaurants. This actually is kind of convenient; I always, always seem to lose every water bottle I have. Probably a sea of my water bottles sitting at the bottom of Space Mountain.