After transportation, tickets, and accommodations, food takes the biggest bite out of the budget of most Disneyland visitors. It doesn’t help matters that the food sold on Disneyland property is unavoidable, plentiful, decently edible, and extremely overpriced. But that doesn’t mean you have to choose between going broke or going hungry on your next Anaheim adventure.
In the first episode of Inexpensive Eats Outside Disneyland, I highlighted two of my favorite inexpensive off-property restaurants that are within walking distance of the Disneyland Resort. Though there are a number of viable options accessible around Disneyland to anyone on foot, having a car exponentially increases the number of outlets available to you.
Here are two places within a short drive from Disneyland’s front door that I always take time to visit on nearly every trip to the Hungriest Place on Earth.
Viva Bargain Center
One of our top money-saving tips in the Unofficial Guide is to get a hotel room with a refrigerator (or a cooler with ice-filled water jugs) and stock it with store-bought snacks. This tip is even more applicable now that Disneyland has installed upgraded mini-fridges in its on-site hotel rooms, and most of the lodgings ringing the resort (regardless of price range) at least offer one for a modest extra charge.
If the place you are staying doesn’t offer a free breakfast, a cooler of comestibles is essential to following an efficient morning touring plan. It’s infinitely easier to make it to the park before opening when you can breakfast bedside in your boxers. In-room food can also come handy around your early-afternoon break time (essential if you’re planning to stay in the park until closing) and for late-night snacks.
But where to stock up? Obviously, convenience stores (such as the 7-11 at the corner of Harbor and Katella) are most convenient, but also overpriced. The nearest full-service grocery stores are Vons (12961 Chapman Avenue) and Food 4 Less (1616 West Katella Avenue), each about 2 miles from the resort.
Instead, I usually head to the shopping center at 12000 Harbor Boulevard, just south of Chapman Avenue. There is a Target for groceries and supplies, and Walgreens pharmacy that sells liquor. Most importantly, it is home to the Viva Bargain Center, the most wondrous dollar store I’ve ever found.
In case you aren’t familiar with the concept, every item sold in Viva costs exactly 99 cents or less. Unlike similar establishments I’ve encountered, Viva isn’t dank, depressing, or disorganized. While you’ll find some out-of-season and off-brand items on the shelves, the majority of the merchandise is name-brand and not yet expired. I frequently make Viva my first stop after unpacking to pick up some ramen noodles (my usual post-park midnight snack), drinks, and cookies. And along with a wide sampling of salty, sweet, and spicy (including large Latin food selections), you can also pick up some dirt-cheap Disney branded souvenirs to distract the kids from the pricier in-park items. If you want a one-stop shop to shave some dollars off your Disneyland dining expenditures, this is it.
Mexican food isn’t really “foreign,” in Southern California; it’s practically the local cuisine, and should certainly be sampled by any out-of-town visitor who is only familiar with the terror of Taco Bell. While the enchiladas at Disneyland Park’s Rancho del Zocalo are at least edible, and Del Taco (2330 South Harbor Boulevard) is a great guilty pleasure of mine, neither can be considered anywhere near authentic. If you want a genuine taste of great Sonora-style Mexican food that makes the locals line up, drive three miles south of Mickey to Los Sanchez (11906 West Garden Grove Boulevard).
This perpetually-packed counter-service establishment may have fast-food style service, but the quality is first class. The menu features chicken, the best chocolate mole sauce I’ve ever had, fresh-caught fish ceviche, and tender lengua (tongue) tacos, along with more conventional dishes American will find familiar. Most of the platters on the menu are around $8 or under (through you can spend up to $18 on a feast of lobster or oysters), and all come in enormous portions you’ll want to share. All guests get a complimentary appetizer of freshly made tortilla chips with cheese and guacamole (something any other place would charge at least $5 for), and there’s and unlimited toppings bar of salsas and raw radishes (try one as an antidote for the spices).
Don’t forget to order a super-sized bottle of Mexican-made Coca-Cola with your meal; unlike modern domestic Coke, it contains old-fashioned sugar instead of corn syrup, and tastes like Coke used to before the 1980’s New Coke/Coke Classic debacle.