If you arrive at Disneyland and California Adventure via the main entrance, as most people do, you might notice, tucked away to the left of the tram stop, a semi-hidden collection of tables behind a sign that says “Picnic Area.” There is no one in the picnic area. There never is.
Nothing is cheap at Disney, including the food. But the company, whose entire lifeblood is making people happy, has landed on an irresistible mix of treats at the two Anaheim parks. Some are better than others, of course, so here they are: the ten best foods at Disneyland and California Adventure.
Disney's corn dog creates a lot of excitement. Fair enough, as it truly might be the best corn dog in all of existence. There's nothing particularly special about the hot dog itself, but the breading is exceptional. Where most gas station corn dogs (are there really other kinds?) are covered in a soft, squishy and often thin batter, here the batter is flavorful — it actually tastes like real cornbread — and thick. You won't even get to the meat until your second bite. It's also crunchy on the outside, which adds a nice textural element. It's worth trying even if you think you don't like corn dogs. (Says the person who doesn't really like corn dogs.)
Found at: Corn Dog Castle in California Adventure
Many people's first experience with churros is at Disney. If you eat your first churro and meet Mickey Mouse at the same time, you're going to have a wonderful memory of these deep-fried, cinnamon-and-sugar-coated sticks of dough. Disney's are good, but the secret is to get them fresh out of the fryer. If that means loitering by the stand for a bit until a new batch is made, go for it. You probably need a rest anyway.
Found at: Stands in both parks
Often, upscale takes on down-home comfort food are complete failures. Not so with this queso fundido, an item on the lounge menu at Carthay Circle, where true delight can be found watching grown adults wearing Mickey ears decide between cab sauv or pinot noir. The queso is a riff on the classic Velveeta and Rotell (a brand of canned tomatoes and chilies), but made with real cheese (Monterey Jack of course; this park is an homage to California) and fresh vegetables. Since it's devoid of preservatives, you'll have to eat it quickly. Which won't be a problem.
Found at: Carthay Circle in California Adventure
Dole Whip is just pineapple-flavored froyo, but it's legendary pineapple-flavored froyo. A product of the Disney-Dole partnership, Dole Whip for a long time it was only available at Disneyland. That's no longer the case, but there is still a cult of Disney Dole Whip. Some folks even bring a packet of Tajin seasoning powder from home to sprinkle on their frozen yogurt, but that's a pretty expert-level move. The treat is also available as a float, with pineapple juice. Either way, it's a delightful sweet treat.
Found at: Adventureland in Disneyland
Fried Chicken Dinner
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the food, just like everything else Disney, is pretty expensive. So if you think about it, the fried chicken dinner at the Plaza Inn might be the best bang for your buck: it's not cheap, but it is a huge amount of food. And genuinely enjoyable, to boot! The green beans and mashed potatoes are pretty basic, but the biscuit is quite good, and the three (three!) pieces of fried chicken are crispy outside, juicy inside. And if you snag a patio table near the front, you're in for a pretty decent view of the fireworks.
Found at: Plaza Inn at Disneyland
Grilled Cheese and Tomato-Basil Soup
Across Main Street from the Plaza Inn is Jolly Holiday, a vaguely French cafe. There is a wide variety of desserts and sandwiches here, and the “Jolly Holiday Special” is grilled cheese and tomato-basil soup. (Hence “vaguely” French.) The grilled cheese is nice, very buttery, but the real delight here is the tomato-basil soup. Now, I don't know if it's made from scratch or if it arrives at Disney frozen by the ton or in huge barrels. I don't care, because it is wildly delicious. Truly one of the better soups I've experienced of late, whatever its origin. Suddenly soup at a theme park makes sense.
Found at: Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe in Disneyland
Given the fame of Disneyland's turkey legs, it's surprising that they can only be found at one relatively hidden spot, in a relatively quiet corner of the park behind the Matterhorn. The vendor is called Edelweiss Snacks, and it also sells chimichangas. Why not! These turkey legs are true beasts, and you'll feel like some sort of king while you eat one, drinking in the admiring stares of passers-by. Plus, they taste good.
Found at: Edelweiss Snacks in Disneyland
Carthay Circle gets two entries in this list, which is deserved: Disney clearly intends this to be its most real-life restaurant, with the dim lighting, well-made cocktails and food that would be admired in L.A. But with better service. (There are the private clubs in Disneyland that offer truly elegant experiences, but those don't get to be on a best-of list because they're, you know, not open to the public.) These tostaditas, little tortilla cups stuck to the plate via a smush of guacamole, seem sort of silly when described, but they're practically perfect. The pork cheek, marinated in mole verde, is paired with herbs, microgreens and pickled radish (plus more guacamole) and just a touch of hibiscus sorbet, which surprisingly doesn't seem like overkill on the plate. The dish is well balanced and well made.
Found at: Carthay Circle in California Adventure
Bacon Mac and Cheese Cone
One of the sillier food offerings in California Adventure is the “goopy stuff in cones” genre found at the Cozy Cone Motel. (Took me a minute, but it's “cone” as in a traffic cone.) The beef chili gets high marks, but I'd propose that the macaroni and cheese — which rotates on and off the menu — is even better. Of course, there's a cheat: The mac and cheese alternates layers with bacon bits. As in, inch of mac and cheese, half-inch of bacon bits, etc. Unsurprisingly, it's an utter delight and a journey of gluttony. It's what you want from a Disney adventure.
Found at: Cozy Cone Motel at California Adventure
Between the sensory overload and the five miles of walking you've done by the end of a day at Disney, you'll be exhausted. It is right and good to relax at a tiki bar at that point. Trader Sam's is technically outside the park, on the other side of Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Hotel. Outside, it's a perfectly nice poolside lounge, but if you can get inside the small bar, you're in for a true treat. Trader Sam's really embraces the silly tiki spirit, but it also makes respectable drinks — the bourbon-based Shipwreck is the standout, and it's fun to order because there's a lot of shouting and water-spritzing as it's handed over the bar to you. Just remember, if you're driving, that you're tired and dehydrated. Pace yourself and have fun.
Found at: Trader Sam's at the Disneyland Hotel
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