(Updated November 2012)
Used to dining at Walt Disney World in Florida and heading to Disneyland? You need to know a few things before hitting the parks...if you don't educate yourself, your stomach will definately be surprised.
It would make since that because Disneyland/DCA is smaller than the Walt Disney World complex, there would be fewer restaurants. But if you've been used to a huge selection of dining choices at the Florida parks, you'll be very surprised when you get to Anaheim. This Guide seeks to give you our experience, as Guests who have been to WDW annually since 1988, and who visited Disneyland in September 2011.
Myths about Disneyland Dining
When you think about all the dining choices at Walt Disney World, you may think that dining options within the parks at Disneyland and California Adventure are severely limited. And you would be right...to a point. In WDW's Magic Kingdom, there are five Full Service restaurants; in Disneyland, there are also five; but Disneyland and Magic Kingdom both offer over a dozen quick service restaurants. In California Adventure, there are three Full Service restaurants and 11 Quick Service restaurants. That may seem small for a whole park until you think about a place like WDW's Animal Kingdom: It also has three Full Service restaurants (though they have additional ones for breakfast) and only a half dozen Quick Service spots!
But after that, Walt Disney World has Epcot (with its 16 wonderful Full Service restaurants) and Hollywood Studios' five FS offerings! And while Disneyland/DCA's on-property hotels boast five Full Service restaurants, WDW boasts over three DOZEN such offerings! The same comparisons can be made for each location's Downtown Disney.
If you're looking for fine dining, you're going to have far more choices at Walt Disney World than at Disneyland. But considering the size of the two locations (two parks vs. four), Disneyland's dining is a pretty good match.
If you vacation like we do, staying just a day or two at a Disney park isn't an option...it's more like a week or two. So for us, variety in dining is very important. But if you're staying at Disneyland for just a couple of days, you can get by fine with great some great choices.
Fine Dining at Disneyland
If you only have a few days at Disneyland, there's only a few dining experiences that shouldn't be missed...but as with Walt Disney World, if you want to get a seat, you need to do some planning.
Fine dining at any of the Disney parks' most popular restaurants require reservations (actually Priority Seating) well in advance, if you are going there in the Summertime. But even during off-season times, such ressies are suggested and a must at some places. (Just try to get a reservation a day or two before at Epcot's Le Cellier or the Grand California's Napa Rose.)
If you only have a day or two at Disneyland and enjoy fine dining, then Napa Rose is certainly suggested. It is the most highly-praised restaurant at Disneyland and has a varied menu that can change weekly. Though we have not tried the counterpart to WDW's Yachtsman Steakhouse, we have no reason to believe that Disneyland Hotel's Steakhouse 55 is less in quality.
Our Suggestions at Disneyland
For Full-Service spots, we had some real hit-or-miss experiences at Disneyland. Though the Blue Bayou is wildly popular (with its location being within the queue area of Pirates of the Caribbean), we felt its prices were way out of line ($30-$44 for entrees at dinnertime). We did find the Carnation Cafe' on Main Street USA to be a surprise, with sandwiches, soup and salad possibilities quite reasonable and tasty; seating here, however, is somewhat limited, so you'll want to make a reservation. Entrees were $8-$13. At Cafe Orleans, we'd recommend the Creasent City Salad: You could choose pan-seared Atlantic Salmon ($17) or Blackened Chicken ($15) on a bed of fresh spinach and mixed baby greens, with carmelized pecans, red grapes, navel orange sements, caramelized and chopped onions, roasted sweet corn and an orange-cilantro vinaigrette.
Quick Service meals were a bit harder to recommend with one exception: Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland offers small skewers of meat or vegetables for under $4 each. My wife and I each got a meat skewer (Chieftain Chicken in a Polynesian Sauce, Banyan Beef in a hot-and-spicy sauce [our favorite], Bengal Beef in a sweet Zulu sauce, or Safari bacon-wrapped asparagus), and then shared one Outback Vegatable Skewer (with a significant amount of roasted veggies)...we enjoyed this spot several times during our last vacation. We also felt that Frontierland's River Belle Terrace offered several tasty sandwiches which could easily be split between people. We also felt that at most places, you could get a generous Fruit Salad with an abundance of melon, pineapple, watermelon and cantalope.
If you're looking for variety, we suggest you go to Toontown, where there are a series of walk-up counter services in an outdoor food court set-up. We found the pizza there surprisingly better than we thought it would be.
In both parks, we highly recommend you AVOID the chicken strips. They are dry and lack much flavor or appeal.
Finally, as we would suggest in its counterpart within WDW's Magic Kingdom, we would certainly suggest people enjoy a pineapple Dole Whip or Dole Whip float at the Tiki Juice Bar in Adventureland. It's one of only a few spots in the USA where you can get it.
Our Suggestions at Disney's California Adventure
Here, Ariel's Grotto is good but fairly expensive; $37 will get you a character dining meal or preferred seating at World of Color. Granted, it is a 3-course meal...but we found our off-center location for World of Color was just fine, without paying the extra for the meal. Wine Country Trattoria also offers a World of Color 3-course meal (for $40), and frankly the menu seemed a little more legitimate for the price charged...its Southern California wine country atmosphere made it the better choice, in our opinion, if you were going to pay for preferred seating at WoC.
As far as Quick Service offerings, we have two recommendations: Pacific Wharf Cafe' offers a variety of soups served in sourdough loaf bowls, and their Sanoma Chicken & Apple Salad was also fairly good. Also in that area was the Lucky Fortune Cookery (which he had doubts about until we smelled one of the spicy Korean dishes. Thai and Chinese dishes are also offered there.
Downtown Disney Suggestions
Whereas we found the Potato Bacon Cheddar Soup at Jazz Kitchen Express to be very tasty, though found the fried chicken there tough. House of Blues and Rainforest Cafe usually have good food. Nipolini was overpriced, though the pizzas were good. Our suggestion is at the far end of the district - by The Disney Store - the La Brea Bakery Cafe. The Quick Service menu was varied with sandwiches, salads, paninis and other items, and they were made to order. My favorite was a grilled mozzarella sandwich.