Big Al's Bites: What to eat at Disneyland

My wife and I just got back from The Happiest Place on Earth. Crowds of children roamed the park with parents, ranging from disgruntled to moderately happy, being dragged from one dent in their child’s college savings to the next. It’s a testament to what capitalism can do: You take demand (demand that America didn’t know was there — kudos, Disney) and pull out all the stops on the supply, and people will open their wallets and pour money out to childhood memories.

I have to tell my wife to hold my cards when I walk through the behemoth of a Disney store, otherwise I will be going home with a perfectly reasonable investment of a Steamboat Mickey stuffed animal, which goes for a mere $40.

I can give Disney a hard time because it knows that I love it so much. And that’s why I took the time to find, in my opinion, the best places to eat in the park.

I have a disclaimer: I have not eaten at every restaurant in Disneyland or California Adventure. I have merely compiled a list of my favorites. So if your favorite isn’t here, I’m very sorry, but you can deal with it.

Disneyland seems to have an affection for Southern food. Louisiana Square is peppered with Cajun restaurants, ranging from mildly cheap to a bill fitting a special occasion. The cheapest of these options would be found in Downtown Disney, with the Ralph Brennan Jazz Kitchen Express, offering jambalaya, po-boys and red beans and rice for under $10. If you go here, do yourself a favor and get the hot beignets, tasty creole pastries sprinkled with powdered sugar and possibly nicotine.

The next store offers a table-service version of the Jazz Kitchen, featuring live music, more upscale options and an exciting inferno of bananas foster. While all of this is fantastic, it is quite a bit more expensive. If you have the time and the cash, sit down and enjoy the New Orleans ambiance. If not, the express route is perfectly fine.

Another Creole option is found in Louisiana Square. The French Market Restaurant is found adjacent to the Haunted Mansion and offers a nice middle ground in price between the express and the regular Jazz Kitchen. Slow-roasted Louisiana beef stew, jambalaya and a citrusy French Quarter chicken are well worth your time, though the mint julep is my favorite on this menu.

If you’re looking to treat yourself, there’s a Cajun route for that as well. The Blue Bayou is a dimly lit romantic restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean. That’s right, I said inside the ride. It has an impressive menu with everything from herb panko-crusted rack of lamb to Royal Street Seafood Jambalaya, all made from outstanding ingredients. This is my favorite restaurant in the park by far, if only for the ambiance. Fortunately, the food matches just as well.

Another upscale dining destination is Napa Rose, the most exclusive restaurant I’ve mentioned thus far. Napa Rose is a tribute to the Napa Valley wine region in California, so naturally it would be found in the California Adventure Park. The cuisine is the artistry of Chef Andrew Sutton and has won countless awards, making Napa Rose one of the most celebrated culinary endeavors Disney has to offer.

By now, you’re probably thinking that I’m going to keep ranting about fancy Cajun food. Well, you’re wrong. The fact is that while there are upscale places to eat, the carts and shacks offer some delicious options at a fraction of the cost. The corn dogs are addicting. The Dole pineapple stand was the first thing we got in line for, and rightfully so. They blend pineapple juice and soft-serve to blissful perfection. The jumbo turkey legs (my personal favorite) are about the size of my forearm and are just as big on flavor.

However you choose to eat at Disneyland, you’ll be happy. They have put as much effort into the food as the rest of the park, and it shows in the smiles from kids of all ages. It certainly showed on mine.

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