I think of Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue as the forgotten Disneyland table service restaurant. While Blue Bayou, Napa Rose, or Carthay Circle enjoy a certain amount of buzz, no one ever really talks about this particular dining establishment. Perhaps it’s because it’s relatively hidden compared to the other restaurants. Or maybe it isn’t yet old enough to have a reputation. Today I will help to boost the reputation of this restaurant, because any place that allows me and my loved ones to stuff my face with unlimited ribs should be loudly and frequently celebrated.
Before I start my review here is a little history lesson on this location. Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue was added to Disneyland in December, 1986, along with the neighboring Big Thunder Ranch petting zoo. It started its life as a quick service restaurant with a menu consisting of turkey legs, chicken, and prime rib, but for whatever reason it never gained the amount of popularity Disney had hoped. For most of its life it remained in the dreaded “seasonal” operating status, meaning it was only open during the busiest days of the year. Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue was closed permanently on January 21, 2001, and it remained shuttered until Disney revitalized the entire Big Thunder Ranch area in 2009. Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue returned as a family-style, all-you-can-eat table service restaurant. Fun fact: From 1996 to 1998, Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue was rethemed to promote Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame film and renamed to “Festival of Foods.”
Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue doesn’t have its own marquee, so it may be a bit easy to miss. It is located in the Ranch entrance nearest to Fantasyland.
Your first order of business after you arrive is to check in at the building on the right. You won’t actually pay here: you just check in and wait to be seated. Your bill will come after the meal. The current price is $26.99 for adults and $11.99 for children.
When your table is ready you will be taken to your table by a “ranch hand.” He or she will take your drink orders and bring out your buckets of food.
Notice the tables. All tables in Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue are benches. When you check in you will be reminded that seating is “family style” and that you may be seated with people you don’t know. I’m not sure why it’s called “family style” if you have to sit with people who are not your family. But then again I’m also not sure why I feel like I need to sleep all day after eating unlimited ribs.
Before we get to the food I should also mention that there is live entertainment while you eat! Tex Tumbleweed and Miss Chris sing various songs while you stuff your face. They will also try to talk to you, so make sure you’re not covered in barbecue sauce.
The entire area is festive and it receives themed decorations for the summer, Halloween, and holiday seasons.
Some of the decorations remind me of when I was a child and my grandma would take me in to antique stores. The smell of old wood and potpourri still makes my stomach sick to this day. Luckily the Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue smells nothing like this. But you may occasionally catch a whiff of the goats in the petting zoo, which is about 10 feet away from the restaurant.
The drinks are served in these lovely mason jars. I should also mention that drinks are included in the price of the meal. So whether you order a soda or not, your’re still basically paying for one.
Now on to the good stuff! The food! Everything is brought out shortly after being seated. The initial wait for food, as well as for reorders, was brief.
The star of the show is obviously the ribs. I was pleasantly surprised at how good they were. The ribs were cooked perfectly: moist, with not-too-much barbecue sauce. I also enjoyed the chicken, but a friend I was eating with said his was dry. I didn’t notice anything wrong, so maybe he just got a bad piece. Remember I said the restaurant is all-you-can-eat; initially they will bring out a bucket of chicken and ribs, but after then you can ask for one or the other. Also, you can specify what parts of the chicken you would like. This means fans of drumsticks can get their fill. I may or may not have eaten “too much food.” But, hey, I’m on vacation!* *I am not on vacation.
Coleslaw and baked beans. These are pretty much number 2 and 3 on my “list of least favorite foods on the planet” (nothing will ever dethrone sour cream). So I did not try these two food items, but my friends did, and they assured me they were edible. Moving on.
Cornbread! These little loafs of cornbread were fresh baked, warm, and delicious. My only warning is that the cornbread is so good that you may fill up on it and leave less room for ribs.
Finally we have the dessert menu. All desserts are cost extra, but thankfully they all seem reasonably priced. Everything sounds delicious, but unfortunately I didn’t leave enough room in my stomach for anything.
But I would be foolish not to take advantage of pumpkin-flavored goodies. Because it is Halloween Time in Disneyland, they offer pumpkin ice cream. It was great, albeit a bit pricey at $2.29 a scoop. By the way, pumpkin-flavored food should be available all year. The world would be a much better place if we all could buy pumpkin related food at our leisure.
Was Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue worth it? I thought it was. Some people may balk at the $26.99 price tag, but if you think about it you’ll be spending bare minimum of $10 for a quick service meal in any restaurant in Disneyland. Considering the unlimited food, included soda, fast and friendly service, and live entertainment, I think that makes it one of the best values in the park.
What do you think? Have you ever eaten at Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comment section below.
Posted on October 4, 2013