The 10 Best Counter Service Options at Disneyland

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Since I recently got back from a cruise on the Disney Fantasy, I have food on the brain! Apparently I’m not the only one, judging by Stacey’s post earlier this week. So let’s talk counter service options at Disneyland. Sometimes called counter service, sometimes called quick service, Disneyspeak has a lot of different terms for what is essentially fast food. If you are one of those people who avoid McDonald’s like the plague, don’t let the words “fast food” scare you. The options are much broader than hamburgers and fries, and many are several steps above your ordinary fast food choices.

Of course food is a very subjective thing to rank, and every restaurant has a bad day. Also, what some people find tasty and delicious, others will find bland and awful. So I know this isn’t going to be everyone’s top 10. These are just mine. At times I was tempted to add an 11 and 12 to the list! Feel free to add your favorites to it!

1. Jazz Kitchen Express One of the great things about Downtown Disney is that several of the great sit down restaurants also have counter service windows. If you don’t want to take the time to eat a full-fledged meal, or don’t want to spend the money, try one of these windows! Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express is our favorite. Breakfast consists of breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy, and-of course-beignets! The rest of the day you can get popcorn shrimp, shrimp po-boys, catfish, fried chicken, jambalaya and-of course-beignets! The list goes on and on. Ralph Brennan’s has one of the biggest counter service menus available.

2. Tortilla Jo’s TaqueriaTortilla Jo’s in Downtown Disney is a personal favorite of mine. The steak tacos are ‘da bomb! They’re made California style, not “Taco Bell” style. Okay, it’s possible they are not actually California style, but since I haven’t come across tacos that are served with onions and cilantro (outside of a Baja Fresh) in many other parts of the country, I always assumed that was a California thing. Of course, you can also get salsa, lettuce, and cheese and Taco Bell it up, if that’s your preference. The chips and salsa are an added bonus.

3. La Brea Bakery – La Brea is one of my son’s favorite places for a quick breakfast. And it’s all for one reason. Pretzel bread!! It’s hot and fresh in the morning,s and it goes quickly! Being a bakery, it also has other wonderful bread choices. French toast, croissants, croissant sandwiches, bagels, etc. The rest of the day, the salads and sandwiches take center stage. Located right at the edge of Downtown Disney closest to the parks, it’s a great place to grab something and go!

4. White Water Snacks – White Water Snacks makes my list for a few reasons. You’ve heard me say before that it’s a great place to go to escape the crowds most of the time. When the lines for food inside the parks are at a peak, not many people realize you can walk through the Grand Californian Hotel exit of Disney California Adventure and be in White Water Snacks in blessed quiet and air conditioning in a matter of minutes. For breakfast, in addition to bacon and eggs, you can even get Mickey Waffles! The menu for the rest of the day isn’t quite as exciting as it used to be (I used to go for the steak sandwiches), but it’s got all the standards – hot dogs, pizza, cheeseburgers. The beef nachos are also quite tasty!

5. Hungry Bear RestaurantThe Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country is right on the water and a nice place to sit and eat. I’ve found it to be fairly quiet, even on very crowded days. The crispy chicken sandwich with honey mustard is excellent! There are also chili cheeseburgers and even fried green tomato sandwiches for the more adventuresome. The desserts here really stand out though. Moist lemon cupcakes, miniature blueberry pies, even Nestle Toll House ice cream sandwiches!

6. Corn Dog Castle –Okay, you caught me. I included the corn dogs in my 10 great snacks, too. I just really, really like the corn dogs. These hand dipped corn dogs are just fried goodness. The perfect “walk to the next ride while you chow down and don’t waste any time” food.

7. Royal Street VerandaThe menu is pretty small at this little window in New Orleans Square, but it can be summed up in one word – gumbo!! In a sourdough bread bowl! Now I’m someone who likes bread bowls so much that I don’t even care too much what’s in it. My favorite part is the slightly soggy edges of the bowl that have become saturated with whatever was in it. Gumbo is never a bad choice, though!

8. The Golden HorseshoeThe Golden Horseshoe gets my vote partly based on its chocolate cake and chili, but mostly because of the entertainment. The chocolate cake is moist and delicious, and of course there’s chili – in a bread bowl!!! But the real highlight here is the show – Billy Hill and the Hillbillies. There are several shows a day here, and it’s the perfect place to escape the heat at lunchtime while you eat and try not to snort chili out your nose because you’re laughing so hard. Seriously, they’re that good. Don’t miss them!

9. Taste Pilots’ Grill – We love Taste Pilots’ Grill. It has some sentimental value because it’s one of the first restaurants we ever ate at while visiting Disneyland. The airplane theming was too much to resist with a nine-year- old boy. At the time, they also had super cool little Disney lunch boxes that the kid’s lunches came in. Way back in 2004, it was one of the first restaurants we had ever seen with self-ordering kiosks, which fascinated us. Now we just enjoy the food. The ribs are big enough to split, and the full throttle fries are artery-clogging delicious. Plus, the ambiance of its location in Condor Flats, with Soarin’ Over California immediately next door, makes Taste Pilots’ Grill one of our favorite locations at the Disneyland Resort.

10. Earl of Sandwich – Yay! I know it’s not open yet, but yay!! In a previous blog I listed Earl of Sandwich as something Disneyland needs that Walt Disney World has. And the bigwigs at Disney apparently read my blog!! I guess there’s a very small possibility that this was already in the works and actually had nothing to do with my blog, although I guess we’ll know for sure if they announce a water park in the near future, but either way, I say yay! I love Earl of Sandwich. It’s so much better than your average sandwich shop. The Caribbean Jerk Chicken sandwich is a must do for me on every Disney World trip, and it’s very reasonable price has always been a favorite of my “frugal” husband. All in all, it’s the perfect addition toDisneyland’s Downtown Disney!

How about you? What are your favorite counter service restaurants at Disneyland?

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Posted on April 13, 2012

22 Responses to “The 10 Best Counter Service Options at Disneyland”

  • I agree with a lot of this list, but no Tangaroa Terrace, French Market, Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta and…most importantly…Plaza Inn?!

  • by Chrissy Spittell on April 13, 2012, at 2:51 pm EDT

    Fun blog post. I, too, would have listed Tangaroa Terrace somewhere on the list, but I agree with much of it. I just ate at Jolly Holiday yesterday. It’s a nice addition to DL’s food choices, and might deserve a spot on the list too.

    • by Tammy Whiting on April 13, 2012, at 3:35 pm EDT

      Tangaroa is getting lots of love! I enjoyed breakfast there, but I was really put off by the sweet potato fries! Although I realize that it’s not the only one these days. I think Hungry Bear has gone sweet fried these days. The Jolly Holiday is a great addition, agreed!

  • This is awesome. I’ll be in Disneyland in three weeks, and this is perfect to help with picking out the counter service places to visit.

  • This is a great list!

    I love eating at the Golden Horseshoe just because of the Hillbillies. But the chili cheese fries are pretty good too – as are the root beer floats. And they let you order things off the menu, like plain fries or a side of chili or just a scoop of ice cream. (The side of chili makes a great addition to the kids meal when you want chili fries, but don’t want to eat the whole regular order by yourself. :)

    Oh – and I like the chicken fusili pasta at the Pizza Port. The pizza sucks and the rest is just okay, but that pasta is delicious! And you can throw it in a cup (free if you ask nicely) and then eat as you walk around the park.

    The fried green tomato sandwich at Hungry Bear is pretty good. The only thing I don’t like about it is the bread is served cold, so it can get kinda tough. The chili burger is yummy though!

    And I CAN’T WAIT for Earl of Sandwich to open!

    • by Tammy Whiting on April 13, 2012, at 3:37 pm EDT

      Aren’t the Hillbillies great! Maybe they make the food taste better too? Great tip about the kids chili!
      All good suggestions! And I am right there with you waiting for Earl!

  • by Kevin Crossman on April 13, 2012, at 4:03 pm EDT

    Seriously, where is Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta? Or Paradise Garden Grill? Much better than a couple on your list. We also like Pizza Port, for different reasons and of course Ranch del Zocalo

  • Making my first trek to Disneyland in 2 weeks so this article is just what I needed. Considering I have only visited WDW and usually don’t visit DTD, how far it is to go there while in the parks at DL? Several of the restaurants look appealing but I don’t want to sacrifice park time for commuting time.
    Thanks!

    • by Tammy Whiting on April 13, 2012, at 4:41 pm EDT

      It takes no time at all! That’s the beauty of Disneyland’s Downtown Disney. It’s literally right next to the two parks. It kind of forms a triangle with them. It takes less than a minute to walk from either park gate to the edge of Downtown Disney. It’s a great option for meals!

  • I didn’t know Tortilla Jo’s had a counter service option? Fun to watch were the two guys making amazing balloon creations.

  • I agree with this list 100%! My ultimate favorite place to eat is the Hungry Bear. The food is nothing special (especially after the recent menu changes), but sitting on the lower deck on a busy day is just soooooooooo relaxing!

  • My husband and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary with a trip to Disneyland, Las Vegas, and San Francisco in June! Thanks for listing your favorite Disneyland counter services. The bulk of our meals will be at them (we are planning a special dinner at Steakhouse 55, though). While we have visited Disneyland twice before, it was only for a day each time. We were more concerned with rides and attractions than food. We did get to try the freshly-made corn dogs, though, and they were wonderful. One of my favorite memories of a previous visit was sharing a corn dog with my husband while people-watching at a table near Main Street after dark.

    • by Tammy Whiting on April 15, 2012, at 4:24 pm EDT

      Happy anniversary, Louise! It’s great that you can take a longer trip this time. I think some food tastes even better because of the memories it evokes. Some of my choices were colored by that, and it sounds like the corn dogs would do it for you. I hope you have some yummy food and a wonderful time! :)

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