Inexpensive Eats Outside Disneyland (Part 1)

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From the fine dining of the Blue Bayou and Napa Rose down to the ubiquitous churro cart, the Disneyland Resort has more food options than any visitor could possibly sample in several visits (trust me, I’ve tried). The parks feature almost every variety of American cuisine, and an increasing number of ethnic choices, in both counter-service and sit-down venues. Add in Downtown Disney’s restaurants, and you have more than enough to occupy your appetite for weeks on end.

But one thing that the Disneyland Resort’s vast array of comestibles have in common is their higher-than-average cost. Sure, there are good values to be found on the Mouse’s menus, and you’ll be gouged even worse for snacks at most sports stadiums and airports. Still, when eating on Disney property you have to expect to spend nearly twice what you’d pay for a similar meal elsewhere.

Most of the time when touring the parks, atmosphere and convenience outweighs containing costs, keeping hungry guests inside the grounds. However, sometimes both you and your wallet can use a break from Disney dining. At Walt Disney World, going off the ranch to wrangle some grub is generally a headache. Luckly, the layout in Anaheim is more conductive to leaving for leisurely lunch. There are a couple prime eating options within walking distance of Disneyland that will help you fill your belly without going broke. And with a car, you have access to nirvana for hungry cheapskates (like myself).

While I’d never recommend refusing to dine at Disney’s table, consider some of my favorite off-property penny-pinchers before budgeting your next vacation. By taking advantage of them for a meal or three, you just may save enough dough to let you justify splurging on soup and salad at that new Carthay Circle Theatre restaurant.

McCormick & Schmick’s Happy Hour

The Anaheim GardenWalk has hit hard times recently (the bankrupt owners were recently foreclosed on) but that shouldn’t stop you from hitting up their bargain bites. The Downtown Disney-like strip of shops and restaurants sits only a couple blocks east of Disneyland, so taking a short sidetrip is viable without a vehicle. The complex contains several notable places to nosh, including Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and P.F. Chang’s, that offer daily happy hour discounts.

My pick of the litter is McCormick and Schmick’s, a high-end seafood chain normally known as place to stretch your expense account, not save a sawbuck. But the bar area offers a cut-price mid-afternoon menu on Mondays through Fridays from 3pm to 6pm that eases the pain considerably. A minimum drink purchase is required to dine at the bar, which will be easily fulfilled by a well drink or draft beer ($5 or under).

The star of the happy hour menu is a half-pound hamburger for under $4; throw on some bacon or blue cheese for another buck. Even less expensive items like fish tacos and tater tots are available, or for a dollar or two more you can order steamed mussels, sushi rolls, or spicy wings. Big spenders can buy a trio of sliders made from ultra-premium Kobe beef for $10. The selections rotate from time to time, but everything I’ve tried on the discount menu has been at least acceptable, and usually excellent. If you like what you taste, there’s a frequent diner club you can join; the bartender will happily provide details.

Panda Kitchen

The strip mall at the corner of South Harbor Boulevard and West Katella Ave is Just a short walk from the GardenWalk’s McCormick & Schmick’s, but several steep steps down the retail food change. This is the kind of unlovely arrangement of discount storefronts that you’ll find in any second-rate suburban shopping center. And the selection of quick-service eateries operating here (a pizza parlor, an off-brand burger joint, a 24-hour Subway sandwich shop) are certainly nothing to Yelp about.

But if you are staying in a hotel near this corner (I frequently flop at the Super 8 down the block) this location can be a godsend when hungrily trudging to your room after an exhausting adventure in the parks. My go-to option at the end of a long Disneyland day is Panda Kitchen, which is conveniently open late (usually until after the park closes) seven days a week, servicing dirt-cheap Asian edibles to tired tourists.

Make no mistake, this is no gourmet palace of classic Cantonese cookery; we’re talking Americanized pseudo-Chinese fast food, served quick and and cheap with a healthy helping of grease and sodium. This isn’t the place to go if you’ve been studying haute cuisine in Shanghai for the past decade, but as a guiltly-pleasure devotee of “New York Style” stir-fry I’ve always been perfectly satisfied with my $7 combo meals.

The menu is short and straightforward, with a dozen-odd standards like orange chicken and sweet & sour pork. A few dishes have amusing variations on their usual names (“eggflower soup” instead of “egg drop”) but they still taste as expected. Be aware that (at last check) credit cards are not accepted, and they don’t deliver.

Again, the quality here doesn’t compare with the high-end dining described above. But when it’s almost midnight, and you’ve spent the last 12 hours riding seashells, spaceships, and submarines, the last thing you want is white table cloths. With fast, friendly service, serviceable restrooms, and ridiculously reasonable prices, this is a perfect oasis to pause in for takeout while walking back from the resort. And after a tiring day, there are few things sweeter than watching the late show in your hotel room with a bowl of wonton soup and some steamed veggies.

What’s your favorite place for cheap eats in the Anaheim attraction area? Leave your picks in the comments below, and tune in soon for the rest of my selections.

(Photo copyright McCormick & Schmick’s, Panda Kitchen)

 

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Posted on May 24, 2012
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