I did promise a review of the food at Disneyland, with a warning that it’s nowhere near as good as the food at Disneyworld is. Disneyland’s options are more limited of necessity, but we also found the execution wasn’t as good and had more disappointments than favorites. (I’ve written several posts on the food at Disneyworld over the past four years.)
I’ll start with the two best things we ate. The best meal was at Downtown Disney at the unfortunately named Tortilla Jo’s, which serves much better upscale Mexican fare than you’d expect after hearing the casual-dining name. The server talked me into his favorite dish, the achiote citrus-grilled chicken, which was very good, correctly cooked (that is, not dry) with a ton of flavor from the glaze. It came with chipotle mashed sweet potatoes that didn’t stint on the heat or mask it with sugar, charro beans, and roasted corn on the cob, for a meal that probably could have fed two. My wife was also impressed by her enchiladas suizas, saying they compared well to her favorite Mexican place from back in Massachusetts, and also finding herself full after eating about half her meal. They have aguas frescas although I found the tamarind a little watery. They don’t offer guacamole as a small side item, unfortunately – it’s made tableside, which isn’t ideal for flavor development, and is something like $9 for a very large bowl of the green stuff.
The other hit was the beignets served at the French Market at New Orleans Square, at a side window on the side facing the railroad station. The beignets are thinner than you’d get in New Orleans and are shaped like Mickey, airy inside, freshly fried and golden brown, handed over in a bag with powdered sugar. Skip the “fritters” served elsewhere in New Orleans Square (they were undercooked inside, but also had the wrong texture) and get the beignets instead.
I’d give a passing grade to Naples, the “authentic” pizzeria also at Downtown Disney. The crust was solid, better texture than flavor, mildly charred in the wood-fired ovens, and the quality of the ingredients was top-notch. Unfortunately their basic tomato sauce is badly underseasoned and both the pizza and the pasta with sauce tasted flat. (Get it? Pizza? Flat? Never mind.) I don’t know if we hit them on the wrong day; the executive chef is Italian and I can’t imagine he’d give his imprimatur to this sauce, which tasted more like pureed canned tomatoes than a cooked, seasoned sauce. If they tweaked that, they have everything else in place to have a restaurant I could preach about.
What’s most peculiar about Naples is that the restaurant management group behind it also runs Via Napoli, the new authentic pizzeria at Epcot in the Italy pavilion (which I reviewed earlier this spring). I’ve eaten there three times in the last six months across two trips and there is no comparison – everything at Via Napoli is better, from the crust to how it’s baked to the sauce to the ingredients to the menu, which includes more options for toppings, more ability to customize your pizza, better appetizers (including a verdure fritte that I recommend), and way better desserts, led by ricotta zeppole served with a warm chocolate sauce.
Returning to Disneyland, we had breakfast at La Brea Bakery just at the entrance to the promenade as you walk into the complex from the theme park entrances. The bread was good, the pastries were not (they were tough and gummy), the bacon was high quality, the potatoes served with the egg dishes were also ordinary. It does the job if you want a filling breakfast, which we did, but it’s not something to go out of your way to hit.
Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure has a prix fixe dinner special that includes admission to the World of Color light show, which was just amazing. My daughter was riveted almost from the start and for days afterward would spontaneously ask us, “Remember when we saw the World of Color?” Clips from Disney films are projected on to sprays of water over the artificial lagoon, interspersed with colored lights and the odd bit of pyrotechnics. That made up for a meal that was just average. You have a choice of antipasti; we went with the vegetarian one so my daughter would have more options; the cheeses (manchego and fresh mozzarella) were excellent but the vegetables were undermarinated. For my main course I chose the grilled redfish with pineapple chutney over wild rice pilaf with sauteed vegetables; the fish was perfectly cooked and well-seasoned, although it needed the sweet/sour flavors of the chutney to boost the flavor, while the sides were just filling the plate. The family-style dessert options were mostly disappointing, led by the “chocolate lava cake” that was around 40-50 degrees, so the inside was thick like grainy fudge, not oozing like lava. (And the server said this wasn’t a kitchen error.) The French macarons, however, were phenomenal, perfect in color, shape, and flavor, the kind for which you’d pay at least $3 apiece at a bakery in LA or Manhattan.
We did one character meal, breakfast with Minnie and Friends, at the Plaza Inn. The character part was fantastic and my daughter was over the moon to meet characters she’d never met before (Eeyore, Tigger, Captain Hook, and Chip). The food was like a hotel buffet, and there were execution problems all over the place, like trays not being replenished, waffle/pancake toppings still at refrigerator temperatures, and slow service everywhere.
The quick-service Mexican place in Frontierland, Rancho del Zocalo, was also very disappointing, the one place where we ended up leaving most of the food on our plates. I tried the grilled fish tacos, which were bitter, overcooked, and badly seasoned. The rice we were served was dry and flavorless. My wife got enchiladas with carne asada and said the steak was too tough to chew – and she typically orders steak or burgers well-done.
What’s so odd about this is how different it is at Disneyworld, where the restaurants are like well-oiled machines and the food is consistent. We have places to which we look forward when heading to Florida, from Raglan Road to Jiko to Flame Tree and now to Via Napoli as well, and plenty of options that are more than just “fill the stomach” even if they’re not automatic favorites. I don’t know if we hit some kind of lull in Anaheim but it didn’t live up to my expectations.