While visiting Disneyland there are many considerations you need to make regarding budget and spending your money wisely. Generally, it’s wise to bring some snacks and plenty of fluids to keep hydrated. I recommend a bladder filled with ice water that you can easily drink from. Disney will provide free cups of ice water* at most Quick Service locations. I don’t want this article to be so much about preparing or planning or budgeting. I want to talk about the food at Disneyland.
*During the hot Summer months, we’ve found that some places don’t add ice to the cups saying they commonly run out due to high demand.
Disney categorizes their dining options as follows:
- Table Service: Sit down, traditional restaurant style dining
- Quick Service: Walk-up ordering with some basic seating
- Cart/Kiosk: Walk-up snack foods such as popcorn or churros
- Dining Event: Highly themed Table Service dining can include character interactions
Disneyland offers such a great variety of foods and snacks that it would be tough to narrow it down. We have some favorite places that over the years we have decided these are “must-haves”. They are our favorites because they are consistently good and have good choices based on our different tastes and appetites.
Rancho del Zocalo – This is one of our two favorite Mexican style dining locations. This is considered a Quick Service location as you stand in a line, order your food, it’s made in front of you. You then get your drinks and other sides and finally pay at the cash register. However, there is a lot of seating and most all of it is at least covered if not indoors. Also a tip here is you can get free drink refills as well as fill your own drink containers. It is located in Frontierland between Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Frontierland Shootin’ Exposition. It’s usually busy but folks move through fairly quickly. Wyatt and Rachel love the Burrito Guadalajara. It’s a huge burrito filled with beans, rice and Carnitas. My favorite is the Chile Verde.
Tiki Juice Bar – As the meme above states, “I did it all for the Dole Whip!” This treat is easily my personal favorite food at Disneyland. Soft serve ice cream you can either get in a dish by itself or as a float in a cup of pineapple juice. You can get a Dole Whip elsewhere, maybe a local restaurant, and it may be quite similar but there is truly something magical about getting one at the entry way to Adventureland at the Tiki Room attraction/show. The line at this Quick Service location is usually very long and you will definitely have to wait 10-20 minutes. But, there’s another line inside the Tiki Room attraction that is much, much shorter. But don’t tell anyone! It’s a “secret”!
Carnation Cafe – Right on Main Street, USA, this institution of Disneyland is famous for affordable dining any time of the day. We’ve added this Table Service restaurant to our must-do list recently and found it necessary to reserve it early. We enjoy breakfast at least once per trip here. We’re big fans of the Country-fried Steak and, of course, the Mickey-shaped Waffle! The food is great, the service is fantastic and it is old school, traditional Disney through and through.
Blue Bayou Restaurant – This is easily the height of theming and quite honestly, expense, of where we eat at Disneyland. The restaurant is located inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in New Orleans Square. In fact, if you sit close enough to the waterfront, you can wave and see the riders (please wave back if they wave at you!). If you don’t decide to eat there, please go in and at least look at the place and be taken away to a southern plantation at “night”. Our favorite dish here available during lunch is the Monte Cristo sandwich. Unique to Disneyland, this meal is a very indulgent and heavy “sandwich”. Fluffy egg, or Challah bread topped with powdered sugar and filled with turkey, ham, and Swiss cheese. Small dishes of blackberry sauce and Crème Anglaise are included for dipping. This delectable dish can easily feed two. At $30, it should!
Wyatt and I are huge fans of the N’awlins Gumbo so consider adding that to your next order. The Monte Cristo is also available at the Cafe Orleans restaurant. This location is a lot easier to get into. You usually only need to reserve a week in advance, where you need to reserve Blue Bayou a few weeks to more than a month in advance.
Tortilla Jo’s – Located in Downtown Disney, outside of the Parks, this has become one of our must-eat places as well. A great selection of Mexican fare with unlimited chips & salsa (so good!). Service is excellent. Indoor and outdoor options. I highly recommend the nachos! Consider reserving a table in plenty of time as well.
Along with the restaurants listed above, we love eating the other foods as well. We’ll get clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Pacific Wharf Cafe in Disney California Adventure Park. We love getting a free chocolate square and indulging in a delicious ice cream nearby at the Ghirardelli’s Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop. Pretzels, popcorn, and Churros will always hit the spot at the many carts around the parks. Corn dogs are amazing from the Little Red Wagon near the Plaza Inn and Corn Dog Castle near Little Mermaid in California Adventure. Burgers are great at the Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland and at Hungry Bear near Splash Mountain. We also like Smokejumper’s burgers next to Soarin’ Over The World in California Adventure. For a hearty way to start your day, check out the breakfast burritos and sandwiches at Galactic Grill.
Recently, Disneyland started adding online ordering options for many Quick Service locations to help get your food faster. Be sure to look through your Disneyland App for what’s available. I just heard that you’ll soon be able to order a Dole Whip with your app and skip that crazy line!
As we mentioned in our first posts, we’re not big into Character interactions. However, a few years ago, we accidentally stumbled upon a Character Breakfast at The Plaza Inn. It is a buffet-style breakfast where Disney Characters, especially Minnie Mouse, would wander around and make some really fun photo-ops for the diners. They sold some photo print packages for added magic. We enjoyed ourselves and were glad we experienced it. We’ll likely not do it again, but if you have young children, these kinds of experiences are pure Disney magic!
Food options are nearly endless at Disneyland Resort. Any price range, almost any kind of cuisine. Full meals to quick snacks. Again, it’s up to you how you decide to budget your trip to Disneyland. Outside the parks are typical places like McDonald’s, Denny’s, iHop, etc.. But I hope this article gave some insight to eating in the parks. We certainly haven’t eaten everywhere. We never made that a goal. We definitely take advantage of the food and dining experiences that are available and really, really good.
-UPDATE: It has been recently reported that Disney is no longer providing lids with any cups except child cups and straws are available by request. This is due to goals to reduce single-use plastics in the parks.