Top 10 Disney California Adventure Counter Service Restaurants
Looking for the best quick service restaurants at Disney California Adventure? This post ranks DCA’s fast food options, and shares some of our recommendations for them. Disney California Adventure’s dining scene has been greatly reduced since the park originally opened and was filled with a litany of pun-rific options–RIP Malibu-Ritos and Sam Andrea’s Shakes–but the park still has some great choices.
We’ve dined at every single counter service restaurant at Disney California Adventure multiple times, and over time, several clear favorites have emerged. Those are basically numbers 1-4 on the list, and we’d recommend focusing on those options unless something else on the list really catches your eye.
Before starting, we should note that we previously did a post on the Top 10 Disneyland Counter Service Restaurants that lumped both parks together. Given that a lot of tourists won’t have Park Hopper tickets (and thus, won’t be able to bounce from park to park for a meal), we thought it would make sense to break the choices down by park. Plus, a lot has changed since we wrote that post! (We’ll be updating that one soon, too.)
Obviously, “best” is a subjective determination with personal preferences weighing heavily. We try to be as objective as possible, considering food quality, value, and theme–with an emphasis on food quality. Below is a brief synopsis why each restaurant is a great pick, along with what specific items we recommend from the various restaurants. Click on the restaurant name to read our full review…
10. Cozy Cone Motel – Cozy Cone Motel is a love/hate kind of place. While the Bacon Mac & Cheese Cone is a guilty pleasure of mine, the ordering set-up here is mind-numbingly frustrating, and ordering moves incredibly slow at the most popular cones. However, they do score a few points for staying true to theme…and for having soft serve ice cream.
9. Smokejumpers Grill – Formerly Taste Pilots’ Grill, Smokejumpers is on here for one reason and one reason only: the toppings bar. Otherwise ordinary burgers and sandwiches are helped out immensely by the fact that you can pile them high with tomato, lettuce, onions, etc. to make a veritable burger salad. Located near Soarin’ and the front of the park, this location is often busy, but ample seating (filled with cool details) inside plus outside seating helps it handle the crowds.
8. Corn Dog Castle – A culinary institution, Corn Dog Castle has been hailed by some as one of the best restaurants in California, and its repeated snubbing by the Michelin and AAA is blatant discrimination. Serving 3 variations of corn dogs, this is a great place to stop for an afternoon snack or a light meal. I highly recommend making a stop here, as then you’ll be able to regale your grand-children with tales of when you visited “America’s Castle” before King Bricker turned it into his official royal palace. 😉
7. Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta – A decent restaurant with good variety, some of which is superior to the standard theme park fare, Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta stumbles because some of its food sits under heat lamps too long. Additionally, it used to serve rather good flatbreads, but has since changed over to regular pizza, none of which is all that good. The pasta is a bit better, but still nothing exceptional. The best thing about the place is the shared outdoor seating and concert space it shares with Paradise Garden Grill, the #2 restaurant on the list.
6. Flo’s V8 Cafe – Oh, how the mighty have fallen. On our original list, Flo’s ranked as the #3 counter service restaurant in all of Disneyland Resort. Now, it can’t even crack the top 5 at Disney California Adventure. Flo’s was a victim of its own success. When it first came onto the scene, it had an ambitious menu that fit well within the theme of Cars Land. While it still draws crowds (due to its location near Radiator Springs Racers), the menu has been dumbed down and portion sizes are dramatically smaller. The food is okay, but the value for money is pretty sad. Theme is still great, and we love hanging out on the back patio at night while soaking up the wonderful ambiance of Cars Land.
5. Cocina Cucamonga – You probably won’t hear anyone calling this their favorite restaurant at Disney California Adventure, but Cocina Cucamonga has a few things going for it that quietly put it in the top 5. Namely, hearty portions, reasonable quality, and decent variety. The chicken (pictured above) is my favorite, and it’s potentially big enough to split. It’s not going to win any awards for offering authentic Mexican cuisine, nor are there any standout options that you’ll crave when you return home, but it gets the job done in terms of value for money and quality.
4. Lucky Fortune Cookery – By contrast, Lucky Fortune Cookery does have something you’ll find yourself craving. Well, it does for me, at least. That’s right, I’m talking about the Chicken with Thai Coconut Curry. Legend has it that this is Drew Carey only agreed to be in Superstar Limo on the condition that this glorious bowl would be flown to him everyday for a period of 5 years. Rumors also swirl that Steve Jobs consumed a bowl to serve as his inspiration for the original iPod. Once you try it, you’ll see why. Beyond this cult following (which might actually just be me), Lucky Fortune Cookery scores big points for large portion sizes.
*3. Whitewater Snacks – It might seem like a cop out that 2 of the top 3 aren’t actually counter service restaurants in DCA, but I think both are fair exceptions. Located in the Grand Californian Hotel that is attached to Disney California Adventure, this is basically in the park, and it’s a nice way to get away from the chaos of the park. The menu is somewhat limited, but it has the best burger at Disneyland Resort, some great nachos, and a couple other solid choices. That, plus the Coke Freestyle machine (free refills!) and the secluded location help it overcome the relatively bland decor and the rest of the menu.
2. Paradise Garden Grill – The easy choice for the top “true” counter service restaurant within Disney California Adventure, this is probably the restaurant at which we dine most in California after our local In-N-Out Burger. Paradise Garden Grill scores serious points for relatively inventive & customizable choices, solid portion sizes, and high quality food. Beyond that, we love dining in the outdoor seating area under the popcorn lights, listening to the live band perform. If the menu doesn’t appeal to everyone in your party, there’s always Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta right next door, too!
*1. Cove Bar – If the Cove Bar Lobster Nachos ran for President, I think they’d have a decent shot at winning. (They’d likely do a better job than some of the current candidates!) Given that consuming these life-changing nachos is distinctly patriotic and everyone’s civic duty as…theme park goers(?)…I’m confident in putting Cove Bar at #1 on this list. Sure, it’s not true counter service, but it’s not true table service, either. Given that the food menu is in line with counter service prices, despite much better quality, I think it deserves serious consideration when you’re planning your counter service meals at Disney California Adventure.
And that’s the list! I know what you are undoubtedly thinking: “how am I possibly supposed to take this list seriously when you omit national treasures like Schmoozies and Award Wieners?!” Fair point. Well those gems didn’t make the list, it’s either because they are such transcendent dining options that they belong on a separate list unto themselves…or because they aren’t worthy. (Schmoozies actually does have some great smoothies, but they aren’t full meals. By contrast, I gave up on my attempt to sample the entire Award Wieners menu for review purposes because I don’t hate my body that much.)
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, whether you should stay off-site or on-site in a Disney hotel, where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
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What are your favorite restaurants at DCA? Least favorites? Anything you’d like to try? Questions or other comments about the list? Share in the comments!
I agree with Flos. First time I ate there it was pretty good, then just Ok, then mediocre.
I also miss the flatbread pizzas, the new pizza is so meh.
If they had more stuff on the toppings bar, Smokejumpers would be better. Also, they could bring back some of the old faves.
* @ WDW- Cosmic Ray’s , Tortuga Tavern and Pecos Bills have such things as mushrooms, guacamole, shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, roasted corn, pico de gallo, verde sauce, jalapenos, banana peppers, chipotle ranch salad dressing, red onion, and limes.
Totally agree. If the toppings bar were Pecos Bill quality, Smokejumpers would probably move up a couple of spots.
White Water Snack is a little secret place that we love and go to every trip, multiple times when we stay at the Grand. The fact that most people do not know about it, makes it better 🙂 Great list!
Agree with most of your list, Boardwalk pizza was great, with the flatbreads, but they basically became Pizza Port 2.0 with that change, have not been back since, hopefully they go back.
Now I am in the mood for a spicy corn dog, great…..
“Pizza Port 2.0” <- Now you're going to give me nightmares.
Very excited to see your update of the Disneyland list! I’m honeymooning at Disney in early early May and while I love Disney, my fiancee just really likes it. I’m trying to make it as great for him as it is for me, mostly by making sure we hit the best food spots we can!
This is a little off-topic, but we’re financing a gooooooood portion of our honeymoon through wedding/shower gifts in the form of Disneyland gift cards. While we’re planning, we’ve gotten a little confused about exactly which eateries they can be used at. Some places say none of the food carts take them; some say all of the food carts except for the fruit stands accept them. Anyone have any further, solid guidance on this? I’d consult the Disney website but I’ve had bad luck there–lots of outdated information, which is surprising, given I’m SURE they could afford staffing website maintenance!
Unfortunately, I do not know. I think that would depend upon the size and scale of the ODV. If it’s something like Cozy Cone, yes. If it’s just a little cart with Coke, no. Those are *total* guesses, though.
Not sure if this is really your style, but it would be cool to see a list of the best vegetarian food (if any) in the Disney parks! Thoughts?
The Cocina Cucamonga has a spectacularly yummy & very large (big enough to share between 2 adults) Veggie Burrito that is fantastic value for money! Great chunks of veggies in there – I was really impressed, and have had it numerous times. I’m not a veggetarian, so can’t suggest other veggie options, but I highly recommend this one!
Unfortunately, that’s not a post I could write. Hopefully others can chime in with ideas!
I would include a special mention of the Viva Navidad menu at Paradise Garden Grill. The torta al pastor is one of my favorite food items at DCA!
Yep, totally agree. Although they need to bring back the Manzana Lift that they had the first year. That stuff is the bomb!
My first visit Boardwalk still had the flatbread pizzas, and they were pretty great. Not sure why they got rid of them. I was also disappointed by Flo’s.
I’m surprised the Pacific Wharf wasn’t on the list. I had heard great things about it before I finally tried it last summer it exceeded my expectations. Pretty limited menu, sure, but one of the better meals we had while we were there. The bread bowls were great!
The menu at Pacific Wharf is just *so* small. I debated putting it on the list, but that made it really difficult.