Carnation Café is a table service restaurant located on Main Street in Disneyland. Disneyland’s Carnation Café serves American cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in an open-air seating area on Main Street. Carnation Cafe was recently refurbished and expanded, and we’ve dined here both before and after the refurb. Like many locations in Disneyland, Carnation Café has rich history.
It is located in the same location where the Carnation Ice Cream Shoppe and the Flower Mart once stood. Advance reservations can be arranged for this restaurant by calling Disney Dining at (714) 781-DINE; reservations are recommended here due to the restaurant’s size, it’s popularity among Disneyland fans, and its prices. Reservations are more likely to be useful for breakfast than for lunch or dinner here, but you should make reservations for any meal here, if you know in advance that you want to eat here. We did not make reservations, and we were seated immediately, but your luck may not be as good as ours!
This review details the lunch menu at Carnation Café. You can view the current menu here. Carnation Café also serves breakfast, and we had heard a number of great things about the breakfast menu. Likewise, the lunch menu is very solid and the prices are very reasonable. Overall, Carnation Café is probably one of the best dining options at Disneyland Resort. For its price point, you absolutely cannot go wrong or do better.
Before you get too excited, this first item is not currently on the menu. I’m preserving it in this review because I suspect it will return at some point, but for now, you might want to skip the next two paragraphs…
Miraculous might seem like an odd word-choice for a steak sandwich, but this sandwich was exactly that. Called the Café Steak Melt on the menu, it was quite possibly the best sandwich I’ve ever had at Disney. It was moist and juicy, cheesy, and incredibly filling. The combination of the cheese roll and the pepper-jack cheese really hit the spot for me. At only $11.99, it was just a bit more expensive than a counter service option, and was much better-tasting. I think the Steak Melt has dethroned the excellent sandwiches at Sunshine Seasons as my favorite “budget” Disney sandwich. It was really that good.
Sarah was not quite as impressed, saying it was too greasy (it wasn’t!). Since making this statement, Sarah has been shunned by her family, and had her Disney-fanboy card revoked. How can you not like the Café Steak Melt? I can see not liking the Blue Bayou Monte Cristo (a sandwich that has a cult-like following among Disneyland regulars), as that thing is just plain gross if you’re not used to fried foods. But the Café Steak Melt?! That sandwich is fun for the whole family. It really is the stuff of legends!
Now for items from the current menu…
On our first visit, Sarah had some healthy (well, healthier, at least) deli sandwich (which remains on the current menu), which was okay, but not nearly as good as the fabled Café Steak Melt. It was merely a good and healthy deli sandwich. If you like deli sandwiches, I suppose it’s a good option, but I would definitely opt for the Steak Melt instead. Someday, I predict school children will read tales of the heroic Steak Melt saving Disneyland. (Remember, I said it was the stuff of legends!) If neither of these plates sound good, consider the Loaded Baked Potato Soup, which is one of the more popular menu items.
I mentioned some history associated with Carnation Café at the start of this post. The former tenants of the space are not the only elements of history at the Café! Chef Oscar Martinez is probably one of the most well-known Cast Members at Disneyland, and is the only Disneyland Cast Member to have received a 55 years of service pin (soon, a 60 years pin!).
It is rumored that he is soon retiring, and as one of the people who is responsible for making the Carnation Café great, he will be missed. If you happen to see him while you’re there, be sure to say hello to him!
Oscar and Sarah at his temporary home (Jolly Holiday Bakery) while Carnation Cafe was being refurbished.
For dessert, we ordered the Mickey Mouse Demitasse. Since this was served in a nice-looking souvenir mug (and not on the menu since it was a new seasonal offering), we felt the need to ask its price before ordering it.
Expecting it to be $16.99 or more since it was served in a beautiful souvenir cup, we were quite surprised to learn that it was only $6.99!
It was delicious and richly flavored, albeit somewhat small. The mug alone looked like it would cost more than $6.99 in the Emporium, so we were quite pleased with the purchase. If you’re not heading to Disneyland during the holiday months, you really can’t go wrong with anything on their dessert menu (it seems). While we were there, we saw other guests with the Matterhorn Sundae, banana splits and apple pie á la mode. Of those, the Matterhorn Sundae looked the best. That’s definitely what we’re getting next time!
On our next visit to Carnation Cafe, we tried several of the new items. The first of these was the Fried Pickles with Dipping Sauce. This wasn’t something we normally would have tried, but we were with our friends Kate and Henry Work, and they live on the edge. We were pleasantly surprised by these. The creamy house dipping sauce was excellent, and the pickles were lightly battered; enough to give them some extra flavor, but not to totally transform the taste of the pickles into “something else.” Like I said, we were both surprised by these pickles–definitely something we’d order again!
Months before this trip, I decided that I wanted the Green Chile Cheeseburger. It has fried egg on it, and I absolutely love burgers with fried egg. Unfortunately, Sarah also wanted this burger, and we try not to order the same thing, so I let her get that and I got the Chicken-Fried Chicken.
If you’re a healthy eater like I am, you’ll definitely want to order something lean, like this chicken! 😉 Obviously, I’m kidding about the healthy part, but in the fried chicken’s defense, it does come with vegetables! This fried chicken was excellent. It reminded me of the Plaza Inn fried chicken, except slightly higher quality and with some excellent milk gravy. The mashed potatoes were only okay, but otherwise, this entree was incredible! You won’t want to eat every meal like this (unless your Disney “dream” is to have a heart attack on vacation), but it’s a great lunch option after a healthy breakfast.
Sarah got the aforementioned Green Chile Burger. From the homemade brioche bun to the cheese to the burger itself, this burger was incredible. I could have done without the chile, but since it was Sarah’s burger, I didn’t have that option. It was one of the best Disney burgers I’ve ever tasted, and it’s another item that we’d both highly recommend.
Kate or Henry had the Main Street Cheeseburger, which is pictured above. I don’t recall their specific remarks about this burger, but they also had high praise for Carnation Cafe post-refurbishment, so I’d assume this burger scored well with them, too.
This Sourdough Bacon-Cheese Melt is off the hook. It’s juicy, flavorful, and doesn’t seem too greasy or “heavy.” I’m sure it’s far from a healthy option, but it’s worth the splurge.
So, so good, and only slightly more expensive than a counter service burger! I’d fight 100 duck-sized horses to taste this again.
This Homemade Meatloaf is another ridiculously good option that also offers great value for money at less than $15. Noted meat(loaf) head Guy Selga ordered this on our recent visit, and he had only the highest praise for it. I tried it and concur–very good, and I’m not normally one for meatloaf.
Sarah (again) played it safe, getting the deli sandwich. You’ll notice it looks different than the one she had on our first visit, but it’s pretty similar. There are much better options on the menu if you don’t want to stay healthy.
Desserts change daily and are brought around on a little cart, really upping the temptation to give in and get one. I didn’t even get to try this before Sarah was finished.
I did, however, have a cherry malt, and it was exceptional–and large! Know what the difference between a shake and a malt is? Neither did we, but that didn’t stop our table from engaging in some friendly debate and speculation before ultimately turning to the Google machine.
Overall, Carnation Cafe is a restaurant at which you must eat while at Disneyland. It has attained legendary status to us. Many Walt Disney World fans rave about the Plaza Restaurant located on Main Street, USA in Florida’s Magic Kingdom as being a great “counter service alternative,” but we weren’t so impressed with that restaurant. The true top “counter service alternative” is clearly Disneyland’s Carnation Cafe. For the price, you absolutely cannot go wrong eating here. While Disneyland does have a lot of nice counter service options, skip one of them to eat here. You won’t be sorry. In fact, we love Carnation Cafe so much that we recommend eating here on the first day of your trip so that you have the option of visiting the restaurant again on a subsequent day. It has an all-star menu, so it might be wise to dine here more than once!