When he launched Disneyland in 1955, Walt Disney forever changed the experience of going to an amusement park. Through the years, Disneyland has morphed into a destination resort with two parks, hotels, a shopping district -- and loads of places to dine. Many visitors, however, stick with the same nondescript fast food typically found at traditional amusement parks. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
But they are missing out on some wonderful restaurants at the California resort and a chance to make their visits and vacations more memorable.
There are many great places to eat, so it would be difficult for one humble guy (that'd be me) to determine the best restaurants. That's why I turned to some of the most popular and respected travel journalists covering the California theme park resort for some help. I asked them to pick ten of their favorite table-service and quick-service/counter-service restaurants as well as their choices for the best desserts and snacks. I then threw their choices into a food processor, strained them through a colander, ranked the results, and developed three top-10 lists.
Whether you're planning a special-occasion meal, want to grab a quick bite before you journey to Tatoonie on Star Tours, or anything in between, you're sure to find restaurants to please your palate as well as your wallet with these top dining spots:
- The Top 10 Best Disneyland Table-Service Restaurants
- The Top 10 Best Disneyland Casual and Quick-Service Restaurants
- The Top 10 Best Disneyland Snacks and Desserts
There are many dining choices across the resort, and our esteemed panel listed a total of 20 different restaurants on their top-10 table-service lists.
But there was general consensus on the restaurants that floated to the top. (Actually, there are 11, since there is a tie for the top pick.)
Bubbling just beneath the surface are a couple of table-service restaurants that didn't make the cut but bear mentioning:
- Hearthstone Lounge at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. The menu has a modest number of offerings, including some delicious flatbread dishes, but the real appeal at the Hearthstone is, well, the hearthstone. A fireplace inside and a fire pit on the restaurant's outside terrace help make this a cozy spot to swap Disneyland stories. The cost is moderate (around $20 per adult).
Search for discount Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa rates at Trip Advisor.
- Ariel's Grotto at Disney California Adventure. The menu tends toward seafood and Italian dishes such as cioppino, a tomato-based stew loaded with lobster, scallops, shrimp, and other delicacies from "under the sea." Ariel hosts a royal coterie of Disney princesses who visit the patrons. Learn more about other Disneyland character dining opportunities at the resort. Ariel's Grotto is part of the World of Color dining package which includes a meal and reserved seating for the nightly water fountain extravaganza. The cost is high ($35+ per adult).
Reservations, which are highly recommended for these popular eateries, can be made up to 60 days in advance. Learn how to make Disneyland restaurant reservations.
For the counter-service/quick-service restaurants, our panel identified 24 different places. Again, there was general agreement on the top picks, particularly the top 5. Two restaurants that didn't quite make the list, but should get an honorable mention are:
- Corn Dog Castle at Disney California Adventure Only a few judges listed the Paradise Pier spot, but they ranked it quite high indicating the fierce loyalty that these distinctly American concoctions garner.
- Plaza Inn at Disneyland Park. The cafeteria-style restaurant on Main Street, U.S.A. also has some fierce proponents. They love the traditional, hearty fare such as pot roast and pasta. Here is one of our judges, AJ Wolfe (see below), waxing rhapsodic about the eatery: "The Plaza Inn's fried chicken has been the best lunch in the park for ages. I think they sprinkle it with magical 'addict powder' or something, because I just can't get enough of it. Plus, they always have some great desserts to go along with the meal. You can't go wrong."
With the vast array of sweets and quick bites available around the resort, you might expect that our judges would be all over the board with their picks for the best desserts and snacks. And you'd be right. They came up with a total of 41 different treats when asked to name their 10 favorite. But as with the restaurants, there was a fair amount of consensus about the items that rose to the top of the rankings. Among those that barely missed making it onto the list:
- Pommes Frites at Cafe Orleans in Disneyland Park. Three words: Oh. My. Goodness. These fried potatoes are oh so good. A major downside, however: They are loaded with so much garlic, diners either need to tote industrial-strength mouthwash or have very forgiving park mates.
- Ugly Crust Pie (also known as Flo's Pie-O-Ramas) at Flo's V8 Cafe in Disney California Adventure. The misshaped crusts may be ugly, but the individual pies are yummy at the retro diner. I know it sounds weird (unless you are a pie maven of a certain age), but the apple-cheddar is quite good.
Many thanks to following panel of travel writers who participated in the best restaurant survey. They are listed along with their top restaurant picks.
- Robb Alvey of Theme Park Review. Table-service: Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria. Quick-service: Bengal Barbecue.
- Doug Barnes, owner/producer/co-host of The Season Pass Podcast. Table-service: Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen. Quick-service: Flo's V8 Cafe.
- Laura Gilbreath, senior Disney correspondent of AllEars. Table-service: Napa Rose. Quick-service: Pacific Wharf Cafe.
- Brady MacDonald, theme park blogger of the Los Angeles Times. Table-service: Carthay Circle Restaurant. Quick-service: Flo's V8 Cafe.
- Lou Mongello, host/producer of WDW Radio. Table-service: Blue Bayou. Quick-service: Cozy Cone Motel.
- Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com. Table-service: Carthay Circle Restaurant. Quick-service: Flo's V8 Cafe.
- Dusty Sage of MiceChat.com. Table-service: Carthay Circle Restaurant. Quick-service: Flo's V8 Cafe.
- Rick West of Theme Park Adventure. Table-service: Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen. Quick-service: Tangaroa Terrace.
- AJ Wolfe of Disney Food Blog. Table-service: Steakhouse 55. Quick-service: Plaza Inn.