Restaurant Reviews

Ranking the Counter-Service Restaurants We’ve Eaten At – Disneyland Resort

A couple of weeks ago I started a series ranking the restaurants we’ve been to at Disney Parks.  We started with table-service restaurants at the Disneyland Resort and today we move to counter-service on the same coast.  The idea of this post is to keep adding to the list as we go more and more places.  There are a few rules (more like guidelines) and caveats applied to these rankings.

These rankings include Disneyland, California Adventure, the Disney owned hotels in the area, and Downtown Disney.  Disneyland has a pretty large focus on counter-service restaurants as opposed to table-service restaurants.  As the title states, this post is only ranking the restaurants we’ve been to.  While that is quite a few it does not come close to all of them.  I’m not going to include snack stands (sorry Dole Whip and chimichangas) and a few restaurants will be left out because it has been too long since we have been there, namely Hungry Bear.  If we’re missing one of your favorites from the list, leave us a comment and we’ll be sure to try that place next time!

In these rankings I will try to balance all of the factors – value, quality of food, atmosphere, etc.  To be honest, I rely more heavily on the quality of food than other factors because most restaurants tend to have a similar price range and counter-service places usually don’t excel in atmosphere.  If we have a review to a certain restaurant then it is linked in that restaurant’s name.  Let’s get to the rankings!

14. Smokejumpers Grill (California Adventure) – When people think of bland theme park food, Smokejumpers Grill is basically what comes to mind.  The burgers are bland and the menu is boring and overpriced.  There was a toppings bar here for a while which is a nice plus but, frankly, I would stay away from this place.

13. Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill (California Adventure) – If Smokejumpers is bland American theme park food, Cocina Cucamonga is pretty bland Mexican theme park food.  I will say that my opinion is fairly old and the newer menu looks slightly more interesting.  Still, in the few times I’ve eaten here I thought the food could use more flavor and the experience was entirely forgettable.

12. Jolly Holiday Bakery (Disneyland) – If you come to Jolly Holiday Bakery for the treats and Main Street ambiance then you are in good shape.  I love the setting and the Raspberry Rose Macaron is one of the best single items in Disneyland.  Unfortunately, I don’t enjoy the savory items.  Since this ranking is focused more on actual meals you can have, Jolly Holiday ranks pretty low.  Come here for dessert though!

11. Earl of Sandwich (Downtown Disney) – Earl of Sandwich is just a place to get a sandwich.  It’s better than Subway and other restaurants of the like but not much more.  The prices are decent and I thoroughly enjoy the Holiday Turkey Sandwich.  For a while, Earl of Sandwich seemed to be very popular but that has died down some.  I still think this is a decent spot to go for a cheaper lunch or dinner on property but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.

10. Pacific Wharf Cafe (California Adventure) – For a while, I really enjoyed Pacific Wharf Cafe.  The bread bowls are delicious and they serve practically everything in them.  The last two times I’ve gone there the salad (in a bread bowl) has disappointed and thus the restaurant has fallen in the rankings.  I’m not a big fan of the seating here (which also pertains to Cocina Cucamonga) so that doesn’t help things.

9. Tangaroa Terrace (Disneyland Hotel) – If you are tired of crowds, Tangaroa Terrace is a nice respite.  At the Disneyland Hotel, Tangaroa Terrace offers sandwiches, flatbreads and a few fish items.  The menu is interesting and the food is decent.  I didn’t think the sandwiches were anything to write home about but the other items are interesting.  Tangaroa Terrace does offer a nice setting, with views around the Disneyland Hotel grounds.

8. Flo’s V8 Cafe (California Adventure) – Flo’s makes it this high on the list mostly based on atmosphere.  The food is American and mostly average.  I do like the milkshakes and pie fairly well.  But the theme and atmosphere of Flo’s surpasses nearly every place on this list.  While I don’t dislike the food, I’d recommend grabbing a dessert (or something from the nearby Cozy Cone’s) and finding a seat in one of the many rooms.  The outside seating is nice too, with views of Cars Land or Radiator Springs Racers.

7. Bengal Barbecue (Disneyland) – One of the better values anywhere at Disneyland, Bengal Barbecue offers meat (and other) skewers.  The price is under $5 and the product is typically delicious.  This is a little lower in the rankings because the menu isn’t very large and might not be a great place for a full meal.  For a filling snack or light lunch, this is a fantastic place to go.

6. Cozy Cone Motel (California Adventure) – This is a little tricky, as the Cozy Cones are actually 4 different snack stands that sell different items.  Seeing how they serve some great items, I included the whole group anyway.  The Prickly Pear Soda is a favorite of mine.  Melissa’s favorite snack at Disneyland is the Garlic Bagel Twist that you can find here.  The bread cone filled with chili con queso is one of those items where it looks like it should taste terrible but, while you are eating it, you swear that it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted.  All in all, the Cozy Cones serve some of the best food in California Adventure, even if that food doesn’t look particularly appetizing.

Cozy Cone Cars land night

5. Little Red Wagon Corn Dogs (Disneyland) – This is another case of “if they served more, then this would be higher.”  I love the corn dogs at the Little Red Wagon and recommend them to everyone, even if they don’t like corn dogs.  Eating here is a Disneyland rite of passage and one of the cheaper, delicious meals you can have at the park.

4. French Market Restaurant (Disneyland) – A place with good food and a great atmosphere.  While all of the seating is outside, the views of the river are lovely.  In the evening, guests are serenaded by a live jazz band.  The setting is romantic and ideal.  As for the food, French Market serves Cajun inspired dishes.  The Jambalaya isn’t incredible but it’s a good dish at a pretty good price.  French Market is a personal favorite of mine even if it ranks slightly below the next three.

French Market tree

3. Rancho Del Zocalo (Disneyland) – While no one mistakes Rancho Del Zocalo for authentic Mexican food, the restaurant does a commendable job for being inside of a theme park.  The menu is fairly ambitious and the value throughout the restaurant is not bad at all.  I particularly like the Carne Asada and Red Chile Enchilada Platter.  The inside of the restaurant is nice to and fits the Frontierland theme quite well.  Like all of the top 5, Rancho Del Zocalo just feels like a classic Disneyland restaurant.

2. Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar – Should a bar be included in these rankings?  Probably not but since it didn’t fit into the table-service rankings I had to put it somewhere.  Trader Sam’s is one of the best spots in all of Disneyland.  The atmosphere and theme are far and away the best of anywhere on this list.  The drinks are solid, food is good and the experience is extremely memorable.  The Little Red Wagon Corn Dogs and Trader Sam’s Panko Crusted Long Beans are the two things I crave most from Disneyland.  If you are an adult (without kids) at Disneyland and don’t go to Trader Sam’s then you are doing something wrong.  I’m not putting it at number one though since it’s a bar and maybe shouldn’t be on this list.

1. Plaza Inn (Disneyland) – The Plaza Inn is a perfect blend of good food, decent value, great location, fun atmosphere and tradition.  Famous for their delectable fried chicken, the Plaza Inn serves home-style food in large sizes.  While the menu isn’t all that exciting, the food fits the time period and setting of Main Street.  Frankly, you should get the fried chicken and don’t worry about the rest of the menu.  Like the Little Red Wagon, eating here just has a distinct Disneyland feel.  The people clearing plates usually offer up some entertainment and the big windows let the sun light the whole restaurant.  It’s a step back in time at the end of Main Street.  Combine that with delicious fried chicken and that’s why it is number one on the list.

Those are my rankings of Disneyland’s counter-service restaurants.  I’m looking forward to adding to the list over the years.  What would you add or change?  Let us know in the comments!  If you enjoy what you’re reading here on Wandering in Disney please subscribe to the blog and like our Facebook page.  You can find both of those on the right side of this page.  Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

– Andrew

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