If you are planning a visit to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure (DCA) in the not-so-distant future, you’ll want to educate yourself on the current dining situation. Families with children will want to pay special attention, as the way in which guests order food has evolved since both theme parks reopened on April 30, 2021. Beyond the stand-alone soda and snack carts, most meals will require a certain amount of planning.
Anne Marie Panoringan
Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for eight years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly “On the Line” column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.
Except for outdoor vending, nearly all quick-service food outlets (and a few carts/kiosks) highly encourage mobile ordering and payment via the Disneyland app prior to claiming your food. Available standby lines have been few and far between during the gradual reopening of Disneyland and DCA, and places that accept seated reservations are typically booked up by the time you arrive on site.
My initial experience using Disneyland’s app was at the beginning of June. I actually canceled my first order because there was only one person in the standby line. I received my food almost immediately after a receipt was handed over. Yet when seeking lunch, Disney’s app listed wait times of at least an hour at quick-service outlets before pickup. When you consider estimated waits at most attractions weren’t as long, it was a little ridiculous. The line I encountered at Frontierland’s Stage Door Cafe wasn’t for standby – it was a queue for paid orders! Managing to get a fried chicken meal from Plaza Inn on Main Street 30 minutes later, I refused to endure a longer waiting game for dinner.
Coincidentally, I visited Disneyland during the same weekend that Avengers Campus was opening inside Disney California Adventure, also impacting wait times on the app. Friends who spent the day at DCA that same weekend reported that Pym’s Test Kitchen (the newest eatery) was selling out of its entire menu well before dinnertime. One friend was so determined to dine there he went back the following day, pre-ordering early so his meal was guaranteed to be available for lunch.
Disney’s phone app may make food or beverage transactions more streamlined with cashless payment and limited in-person interaction, yet coordinating one person’s (much less an entire household’s) eating schedule is easier said than accomplished when roaming a theme park. Exploring local joints outside of the park is the way to go when experiencing Disney dining fatigue like I did.
For your upcoming visit, I’ve assembled a list of suggestions that my friends and I frequent outside of Disney and its downtown district. You’ll find options that are walkable and affordable, as well as dining spots for people looking to spend a little more or willing to drive a few miles out of their way for a tasty experience.
Without a set of wheels and uninterested in paying for rideshare? Many properties surrounding the Disneyland resort have shifted from less-inspired menus to including regional and smaller dining chains that famished families can appreciate.
Almost a decade ago The Pizza Press was a random eatery along Harbor. Today this build-your-own pie concept has risen in popularity with outlets in a handful of states, with the original hole-in-the-wall relocated to the Anaheim Hotel, a short walk away from Disney. For a modest fee customers work their way down the line editing and “publishing” a blank dough canvas to their liking. Bourbon bacon, chevre cheese and squash mingle next to more traditional toppings. You can pair your custom creation with a craft beer before digging in.
Launched at the end of 2020, Anytime Hawaiian’s Harbor outpost is a few doors over from the Grand Legacy at the Park hotel. A popular yet costly travel destination, Hawaii is well-known for its unfussy cuisine. Plate lunches comprised of white rice, a scoop of mac salad plus protein of choice are an Aloha State staple. Open until 10 p.m. as of this writing, its quick-service menu features all-day breakfast, saimin (noodle soup) bowls and a variety of musubi, Anytime’s island version of sushi.
The San Diego-based concept known as Puesto placed its next O.C. location along Disney’s major cross street of Katella, making it walkable from the convention center (See: Beyond Van Gogh and Richard Chang’s review) and adjacent to Westin’s newest site. From the honeycomb windows to enclosed booths peering directly into the kitchen, it’s a property for the senses. Simmer down from the heat with ceviche, or order the chicharrones with a guac for a twist on chips and dip. Puesto’s tacos are cheesy in a good way, and the mushroom handhelds taste just as hearty as meat.
Pro tip: Diners that aren’t registered guests at hotels are still welcome in most hotel restaurants, but most people aren’t aware of this. With plenty of hotels within walking distance to the park, this opens up untapped options for Disney visitors.
Venturing Further Out for Anaheim Alternatives
Global dining within city limits? It’s possible in Anaheim. Checking out nearby eats also makes for a nice mini-excursion when you’re wanting something different.
BluSky Restaurant and Bar (originally Blu SkyBar) first opened at Radisson Blu in spring of 2020. Dishes by executive chef Edgar Beas trace back to his time working in the Basque region of Spain where some of BluSky’s ingredients are sourced from. Its menu is designed for sharing, granting room to graze rich queso and Iberian ham pairings, suckling pig, dry aged beef plus seafood paellas. Outdoor seating finds diners viewing sunsets from the rooftop, mezcal cocktail in hand.
With both a steam table of favorites and a kitchen cranking out the remainder of Punjabi Tandoor’s menu, curries in combination platters are the way to go. Lamb, goat and a vegetarian-friendly spread cater to many tastes. Mull over Punjabi’s list of bread and rice variations to tamp any spice intensity from your Indian feast. Located a few miles away off Anaheim Boulevard and West Elm, the bulging takeout containers speak for themselves.
A family-owned brand with an origin story out of Beirut, Lebanon, Zankou Chicken relocated to the U.S. when the Iskenderian clan moved in 1983. Situated in a strip mall at Ball and Gilbert, this unassuming storefront is known for beef shawerma, rotisserie chicken, falafel and addictive garlic paste. If there are vegans in your group, pay attention to Zankou’s Mediterranean/Armenian salad and sides. While it boasts delivery service options, I prefer waiting in line to devour my meal while it’s piping hot.
If you think I forgot about dessert, think again. Azules Coffee doles out a triple threat of coffee, cakes and scoops. From cafe de olla (Mexican coffee flavored with spices) to creative concoctions mixing fresh fruits and sorbet, the Hispanic-inspired menu offers sweets for all palates. Try some horchata or cajeta ice cream sandwiched between churros for double the treats. Cool off and support a local business at the same time. Bonus: Free wifi and extra outlets to upload photos from your day.
Bordering Buena Park Possibilities
Found along Anaheim’s western border lies a city best known for Orange County’s other major theme park: Knott’s Berry Farm. Only six miles away, this region is accessible to both I-5 and SR-91 freeways as well as neighboring L.A. County, which may explain why real estate developers are drawn to Buena Park. After spending a sizable amount on admission, gifts and parking, drive out to this neighborhood for affordable bites.
Porto’s Bakery and Cafe descended upon Beach Boulevard in 2017 and the waits have been nonstop ever since. The bulk of its bakery lineup travels well for snacking purposes, making the Porto’s family name synonymous with long drives. Cuban must-haves include papa rellenas (potato balls), guava strudels (a.k.a. pastelito de guayaba) and my underrated snack of choice: mariquitas – crunchy plantain chips with a side of garlic sauce. Perhaps go in the morning to stock up on inexpensive treats and stow an assortment in your backpack to nosh on while in the park.
Multi-level eating, shopping and entertainment venue The Source OC is a concrete jungle housing a multitude of storefronts. Coffee and sweets shops are located throughout, but trek to the top for an assortment of full and fast service fare. Dining leans more towards Korean tastes, with Fifty One’s Chinese menu and La Huasteca’s classic Mexican selections offering diversity. I liked the no-frills vibe of KSoul Food’s noodle and rice entrees. The Source’s aptly named Grub food court maintains more casual bites.
For a taste of the midwest, Portillo’s operates one of two West Coast locations in Buena Park. A busy drive-thru found at the city’s mall is home base for Chicago-style hot dogs, featuring links with a distinctive “snap” and dressed in tomatoes, neon relish plus other garden toppings. Other carnivorous features include Italian beef sandwiches, chicken and even ribs. While it may be a larger chain with regards to the number of outlets, Portillo’s exclusivity on this side of the country paired with consistent quality make it worth a visit.
Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at email@example.com.