Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante is a quick service restaurant in Disneyland’s Frontierland that has a Mexican menu. Although it’s technically counter service, much like Plaza Inn, it’s sort of a ‘buffeteria’ style location with higher quality options on actual plates and with real silverware. It’s also priced slightly above other counter service restaurants in Disneyland, but the portion sizes and ambiance make this forgivable.
Beyond just the buffeteria style, Rancho del Zocalo is a lot like the Frontierland version of Plaza Inn. As opposed to the Main Street and Sleeping Beauty Castle view at Plaza Inn, you get a nice open-air Big Thunder Mountain/Frontierland or romantic “star light” view at Rancho del Zocalo. (I’ve been out of the dating game for a while, but if I were looking for a cheap, romantic place at Disneyland to take someone, the inside area at Rancho after dusk would be near the top of my list!) In place of high quality American comfort food that’s fitting of Main Street, you have high quality Mexican (comfort?) food that’s fitting of Frontierland.
Of course, nothing is more important to a restaurant than its food, but that great ambiance is what keeps us coming back to Rancho del Zocalo. This is something Disneyland counter service restaurants seem to nail far better than their Walt Disney World counterparts, and Rancho del Zocalo is no exception.
A quick caveat to this review before we dig in: among our friends who are Disneyland regulars/locals, Rancho del Zocalo is fairly divisive. Living in Southern California, they are exposed to a lot of good, authentic Mexican food, and Rancho del Zocalo lets them down as a result. If you similarly live near a lot of authentic Mexican places, you may feel the same way about Rancho del Zocalo. As is the case with any Disney restaurant with regional dishes or foreign cuisine, the food at Rancho del Zocalo is fairly Americanized. We are not penalizing it for this–we rate Disney restaurants in terms of overall food quality, not authenticity. If ratings were based on authenticity, scores would be fairly low across the board.
With its relatively central location, great ambiance, and quality food, Rancho del Zocalo is one of our go-to picks for Disneyland dining. This review of Rancho del Zocalo encompasses several of our visits to the restaurant (we normally eat here at night when the ambiance is prime but food photos are not so easy).
Let’s take a look at some of the items we’ve tried…
The above and below photos are different versions of the “seasonal” Carne Asada and Tamale platter. I put seasonal in air quotes there because we’ve been to Rancho del Zocalo during various seasons (Halloween, Christmas, spring) and ordered this. It’s a favorite of ours because the portion is quite large for the price. The meal contains carne asada, a chicken tamale, re-fried beans, Mexican rice, and a variety of side toppings.
I can’t really say I’ve ever been blown away by this entree, but it strikes me as a safe choice. The meat is generally neither tough nor tender, the tamale is neither bland nor does it have a kick, and the beans/rice are always fairly standard. Quality-wise, it’s far better than what you’ll find at plenty of other theme park counter service restaurants, and it’s a good value for the money. In terms of authenticity, if even my Midwestern taste buds recognize this as a fairly tame Mexican choice, I’d hazard a guess that Southern Californians or those exposed to authentic Mexican food on a regular basis might balk at its mild flavor. Still, putting aside the authenticity thing, it’s tough to deny this as a good option. It’s large and and tastes pretty good. If this isn’t available when you visit, and you’re wanting something else with a large portion size, order the Carne Asada & Red Chile Enchilada Platter.
Here’s the Baked Fish Tacos. I’m not quite sure what kind of fish this was, but I think it was mahi mahi. Regardless, these tacos were really good. The fish had good flavor and wasn’t overcooked (very impressive for fish at a counter service theme park restaurant), and the chipotle-ranch dressing provided a bit of a spice to the tacos. The slaw was also good, although I could have done without so much of it. This is my favorite entree at Rancho del Zocalo, and one that I’d definitely order again.
I think the Burrito Guadalajara is another great option. It’s delicious, slow-cooked pork (similar chicken and beef options are also available–but I prefer the pork) wrapped in a tortilla and topped with a tomatillo sauce. It’s served with with refried beans, rice and cheese, and various side toppings. This is another one that’s relatively tame, but I don’t mind that. It’s still a great option that I’d get again.
I have no idea what this salad is called–it’s something one of our friends ordered. I believe it was a specially-made item.
One of our favorite things about Rancho del Zocalo is that they regularly have special items (and decor!) for holidays. This is especially true with desserts:
This Pumpkin Flan is available for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Halloween Time at Disneyland. It is absolutely excellent. It has a light, milky flavor that almost reminds me of tres leches cake. Of course, it tastes like pumpkin, too, and the whole thing has great presentation. It’s decently sized for its $5+ price, too.
At Christmas (and now other times of the year, too) the Tres Leches Cake is another great dessert option. The name literally translates to “Three Milks Cake,” and it contains three different types of milks: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. As a result, the cake is nice and moist, and has a great flavor.
Overall, we are fans of Rancho del Zocalo. If you get past the fact that it’s not completely authentic Mexican food (again, few things served in the parks are–they go for mass audience appeal), it’s a really good restaurant serving food that is very high quality for a theme park. If you go in expecting something on par with what you could find at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican spot in the West or Southwest, you will be disappointed. The ambiance adds even more to the experience, and we recommend dining at Rancho del Zocalo after sundown to get the full experience.
Overall Score: 9/10
To read other Disney restaurant reviews from Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland, organized by location, check out our Disney Dining Reviews Index.
What do you think of Rancho del Zocalo? Are you a fan, or is it too lacking in authenticity for you? Ever been here for a special event? If you have any questions or thoughts to share, please post them in the comments. We love hearing from readers!