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Dining at Disneyland

Our critic discovers a day at Disneyland can actually include a good meal.

twist-cone-cozy-food
Cozy Cone Motel serves Americana food with a twist in California Adventure.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I must admit that my favorite thing to eat at Disneyland Resort is the corndog at Corn Dog Castle in Disney California Adventure. So that’s where I usually start. It never takes long, however, before I’m ready to take a break from the strollers and electric scooters and sit down to a proper meal away from the chaos, preferably with a cocktail (although a milkshake will do). Disneyland offers lots of full-service options, most of which require reservations to be made days or even weeks in advance.

After repeat visits to every such restaurant inside Disneyland, California Adventure and Downtown Disney, I can confidently say these are the five best places to unwind with a good meal. (You might notice that Napa Rose is conspicuously absent from the list. I dined at Napa Rose several times over the past 12 months and found the resort’s flagship restaurant to be consistently underperforming and simply not worthy of recommending this year.)

Steakhouse 55
Disneyland Hotel, Downtown Disney
Quick hit: Breakfast, dinner. Full bar. American/steakhouse.
Great service.
Food items: $12-$54
What to order: Prawn “cocktail,” bone-in rib-eye, 24-layer chocolate cake
What to skip: Shepherd’s pie
Review: If you’re in the mood for a superb USDA Prime steak while visiting Disneyland, this is the place to go, an old Hollywood-inspired steakhouse with old-school waiters, dirty martinis and bone-in rib-eyes. Save room for dessert; the 24-layer chocolate cake is legendary.
Reservations: Highly recommended but not always required
Need to know: The shrimp cocktail isn’t likely what you are expecting, but if you have an open mind you will probably love it.
Inside info: The adjoining bar – first-come, first-served – offers a fantastic burger but no steaks.

Wine Country Trattoria
Pacific Wharf, Disney California Adventure
Quick hit: Lunch, dinner. Italian. Full bar. Wine flights.
Great service.
Food items: $7-$23
What to order: Fettuccine Bolognese, tiramisu
What to skip: It’s all pretty good.
Review: This is a very good Italian restaurant set beneath a canopy of grapevines overlooking the Pacific Wharf. The pastas are first-rate, especially the fettuccine Bolognese and the braised oxtail ravioli. You also can’t go wrong with the bruschetta or the shrimp and polenta. The tiramisu is fancier than most, and it is absolutely delicious. And as the name suggests, this is a place to relax and enjoy some wine, including Frank Family Vineyards chardonnay and a Lasseter Family malbec. All of the vintners have some sort of Disney connection. It can become chaotic at parade time when everyone wants a table at the edge of the patio overlooking the spectacle. The upstairs deck is reserved for nighttime “World of Color” guests, with a slightly limited version of the regular menu.
Reservations: Required, usually at least two days prior. Reservations to coincide with the daily parade or the nightly light show must be made several days or even weeks in advance.
Need to know: Most seats are on the patio, the outer edge of which offers the park’s best view of the daily parade. The indoor dining room is very limited and far less atmospheric.
Inside info: Three-course menu served upstairs only on the “World of Color” dining deck.

Carnation Cafe
Main Street, U.S.A., Disneyland
Quick hit: Breakfast, lunch, dinner. No alcohol. American fare.
Food items: $7-$19
What to order: Buttermilk fried chicken, malts and milkshakes – especially the vanilla malt
What to skip: The German chocolate cake
Review: Many people rave about the fried chicken across the street at the Plaza Inn, but the fried chicken at Carnation Cafe is far superior. The burger is very good, too, and the catch of the day is always supremely fresh. But the best reason to dine at Carnation Cafe is dessert – specifically the milkshakes and malts. This is the only place in Disneyland that sells malts, and they are pretty magical, both the chocolate and the vanilla. Meanwhile, if you see a grandfatherly chef strolling through the dining room greeting customers and chatting about the menu, that’s probably Oscar Martinez, who has been cooking at Carnation Cafe since 1967.
Reservations: Strongly recommended
Need to know: Although reservations are strongly advised, this cafe does hold some tables for walk-in customers; the wait generally is about 45 minutes.
Inside info: The sidewalk patio offers a close-up but somewhat obstructed view of the parade.


Tortilla Jo’s
Downtown Disney

Quick hit: Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Full bar. Mexican/Tex-Mex. Happy hour.
Food items: $6-$24
What to order: Combination plates, street corn, margaritas
What to skip: Ceviche
Review: In no way, shape or form is Tortilla Jo’s one of the finest Mexican restaurants in Orange County, but nevertheless it is probably the best restaurant in all of Downtown Disney. The combination plates are as classic as it gets, with very good crisp tacos, soulful enchiladas and a reputable chili relleno. The fajitas are exactly what you would hope they will be. More important, this is where to find the best margaritas in the resort, hands down. As is the case with most restaurants in the downtown promenade, this place could use a good scrubbing.
Reservations: Recommended for dinner but usually not required at lunch. Best to call ahead anyway because the restaurant is sometimes rented out for private events.
Need to know: The patio offers a partial view of the fireworks.
Inside info: One of the best things on the menu is the street corn, sold only during happy hour (3-5 p.m.), but if you show up a little late, you can sometimes still get the corn if you ask nicely.

Catal
Downtown Disney
Quick hit: Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Full bar. Spanish/American. Fireworks view.
Food items: $9-$40
What to order: Tuna crudo, chicken paella, suckling pig
What to skip: Desserts
Review: The kitchen got a desperately needed refresh last summer when a new chef upgraded the menu. Start with the sushi-grade raw tuna served with watermelon radishes, cucumbers and olives. The Spanish tortilla frites are also great, but just know that a Spanish tortilla has nothing in common with a Mexican tortilla. These frites are big, fat, puffy delicious contraptions. The paellas are fantastic, too, especially the one with chicken and chorizo. The suckling pig is essentially a big slab of pork belly – rich, fatty and decadent. The burger here is more or less the same as what’s served at Uva Bar downstairs and always excellent. Prime rib won’t disappoint, either. Desserts are the only letdown. Avoid the red velvet cake like the plague.
Reservations: Recommended
Need to know: If you order only one cocktail, make it the Paloma: tequila, grapefruit, lime and soda.
Inside info: Check the fireworks schedule, then book a patio your table for a great view of the pyrotechnics.

Disney’s Fast Food 7
Over two months, I embarked on a gastronomical journey through Disneyland Resort that, at times, was both gut-wrenching and palate-pleasing. It was a plum assignment. I bought a Disneyland annual pass and spent most of my workdays doing what I love to do: eat and evaluate. I tackled some 50 fast-food and buffet restaurants. My favorites:

1 - Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe
Main Street, U.S.A., Disneyland
Quick hit: Counter service. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Bistro sandwiches, baked goods, espresso drinks.
Food items: $2.49-$7.19 (breakfast), $8.49-$10.79 (sandwiches, salads), $1.99-$5.99 (baked goods, desserts, pastries)
What to order: Roast beef sandwich, chicken Waldorf sandwich (seasonal), toasted ham and Swiss sandwich (seasonal), Jolly Holiday salad, Market Sandwich, chocolate mousse brownie, Raspberry Rose Mickey Macaron
What to skip: Caprese on focaccia
Inside info: The bistro offers prime seating facing Main Street, U.S.A., so time your meal to a parade.

2 - Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop
Pacific Wharf, Disney California Adventure
Quick hit: Counter service. Dessert, ice cream, coffee and espresso drinks.
Food items: $4.95-$39.95
What to order: Warm brownie sundae, Nob Hill Chill shake, Ocean Beach sea salt caramel sundae, World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae
Inside info: You can buy the chocolate brownie a la carte for $4.95. Order it warm. Most sundaes are $10.95 and big enough for two to share. You can get an eight-scoop Earthquake Sundae for $39.95.

3 - Troubadour Tavern
Fantasyland, Disneyland
Quick hit: Counter service. Lunch, dinner, snacks. German and American fare.
Food items: $5.39-$8.19
What to order: Loaded russet potato, bratwurst, stuffed potatoes, pretzel bites
Inside info: A tweaked version of the swoon-worthy potatoes used to be sold in Critter Country but now this is the only place you can find them.

4 - Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta
Paradise Pier, Disney California Adventure
Quick hit: Cafeteria service. Lunch, dinner. Italian.
Food items: $6.99-$9.99
What to order: Campanelle pasta with sun-dried tomato pesto, chicken sun-dried tomato pesto, five-cheese ravioli  
What to skip: Spaghetti with meatballs
Inside info: Depending on how busy it is, each station (pasta, pizza or salad) prepares dishes to order.

5 - Cozy Cone Motel
Cars Land, Disney California Adventure
Quick hit: Counter service. Lunch, dinner, snacks. Americana with a twist.
Food items: $3.59-$8.25
What to order: Chicken verde bread cone, Red’s Apple Freeze, flavored popcorn
What to skip: Doc’s Wild Grape Tonic
Inside info: At the Cozy Cone, you’ll find five orange cone-shaped food stands that sell junk food with a gourmet twist. Cone 3 is my favorite stop – home of bread cones stuffed with comfort food classics.

6 - Little Red Wagon
Main Street, U.S.A., Disneyland
Quick hit: Food stand. Lunch, dinner, snacks. American fare.
Food items: $8.75 (includes corn dog and choice of sliced apples or bag of chips)
What to order: Hand-dipped original corn dog
Inside info: The long line goes fast. The corn dog is the only entree-type item sold on the limited menu.

7 - Harbour Galley
Critter Country, Disneyland
Quick hit: Counter service. Lunch, dinner. Seafood.
Food items: $9.59-$14.99
What to order: Lobster roll, clam chowder, shrimp salad, tuna salad sandwich
Inside info: This tiny shack along the Rivers of America gets dwarfed amid the crowds clamoring to get into the Haunted Mansion, so the lines are seldom long at this seafood-centric shack. Take your food over to Hungry Bear Restaurant, where there’s plenty of seating on two decks.


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