Smokejumpers Grill is a counter service restaurant in the Grizzly Peak Airfield area of Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort. This restaurant replaces Taste Pilots’ Grill, and is the counter service restaurant in the park with a safe menu of standard burgers that will appeal to a broad cross-selection of guests.
The restaurant is themed and decorated to the smokejumpers who have protected California National Park Service (and other) areas since the 1930s. Like most Disneyland Resort restaurants, Taste Pilots’ Grill accepts Disneyland Annual Passes for discounts ranging from 10 to 15%. We previously were not too kind to Taste Pilots’ Grill, lamenting that its menu was totally uninspired. We’ll get to the food at Smokejumpers Grill later in the review, but let’s start by checking out the new-look of the restaurant.
Theme-wise, Smokejumpers Grill is designed to look like a hanger from maybe the 1940s or so that is owned by Herb and Millie and opened to pay tribute to, and serve, the local Bearpaw Basin Smokejumpers. You can read more about this backstory in the photo below. This backstory is a clever way to side-step having the inside be a virtual museum honoring the smokejumpers while also being a hangar–if it were an active hangar, it probably wouldn’t go to such great lengths to tribute smokejumpers, unless the smokejumpers there were serious narcissists! Besides the smokejumping motif, this is actually somewhat similar in base structure to the previous backstory in this location (you can read more about Imagineering’s backstory for Condor Flats here).
It seems as if the conversion from Condor Flats to Grizzly Peak Airfield is a continuation of the “hip” layer being removed as part of the Disney California Adventure overhaul. Imagineering continues to do a pretty good job with this…
To start, before we get too far discussing “smokejumpers,” raise your hand if you knew what a smokejumper was before Disney announced this restaurant. If you raised your hand, congrats, you’re smarter than the rest of us…but consider the fact that you also raised your hand to text you read on a computer that probably cannot see you. So perhaps you’re not so smart after all.
For the rest of you, smokejumpers are quickly-deployed, self-sufficient firefighters who parachute into a fire during its initial stages to attempt controlling it. Smokejumping began in the 1930s and has a storied history, with this type of firefighters being utilized by a range of organizations from the National Forest Service to National Parks and beyond. California has a lot of these locations, so naturally, it has a history with smokejumpers.
I said that the previous restaurant here was thematically good, but didn’t go far enough with the details: “Condor Flats is one of my favorite lands, and I think it has so much unrealized potential, which describes how I feel about Taste Pilots’ Grill’s theming. There are some scattered details around the restaurant, but I’d still love to see more.”
Well, I’m happy to report that this problem has been fully remedied, as the new restaurant is a treasure trove of detail, on par in terms of depth and things to discover as the adjacent Buena Vista Street. In fact, although it’s going to be a part of Grizzly Peak, it feels like it shares some bloodlines with Buena Vista Street (albeit thematically different ones), in that both rose out of the ashes of areas of Disney’s California Adventure 1.0 to be far greater areas with a ton of depth in the details.
That Imagineering managed to accomplish so much detail in Smokejumpers Grill is sort of astounding. Although they have a “rich history” in California, I can’t imagine it’s very easy to find antiques that pertain to smokejumpers.In this regard, Smokejumper Grill is actually more impressive than Buena Vista Street. Whereas Imagineering probably could have gone into any random antiques shop to find decor to round out Buena Vista Street as it had a fairly broad theme, the same is not true of this spot. I chuckle to myself as I think of the one smokejumper collector out there who has probably been outbid time and time again on eBay recently by Imagineering, cursing himself as he suddenly has competition for things that can’t be too readily available.
The solution here was to integrate real world items pertaining to real world smokejumpers (such as photos, patches, articles, etc.) with things designed by Imagineering (the aforementioned Bearpaw Basin Smokejumpers are “Imagineered”) along with items from the areas the smokejumpers would have protected (photos, paintings, souvenirs, etc. from National Parks and other real world places). I’m a huge fan of the history of the National Parks, so all of this is right up my alley, instantly making Smokejumpers Grill one of my favorite spots in Disney California Adventure. The ambiance is rounded out by a great background music loop (listen for the Country Bear Jamboree tribute!), some nods to Walt Disney, and other fun Easter Eggs. The end result, thematically, is a home run.
Then…there’s the food. Unfortunately, not a whole lot has changed from the previous menu at Taste Pilots’ Grill. In that review, I complained over the loss of the more ambitious menu there, and it’s really a shame it hasn’t returned. The only difference in terms of the menu that I noticed was the Blue Cheese Burger being removed. No big loss there.
During our meal, noted Omnibustarian Guy Selga tried the Bacon Cheddar Cheeseburger, which he said tasted exactly like a regular Disneyland burger–nothing special. I tried his onion rings, which were surprisingly good, but still nothing amazing or worth going out of your way to get.
His wife had the Grill Chicken & Feta Salad, which she enjoyed, noting that it tasted fresh. They commented that the salad was on par with one available at French Market, and anything on par with something at French Market is reasonably high praise.
My Grilled Chicken & Jack Sandwich was perfectly serviceable, with the aioli dressing giving it a nice flavor.
By itself, it would have been pretty plain, but fortunately, the toppings bar is there to dress it up.
I also had a vanilla shake, which was surprisingly good, and a solid size.
Smokejumpers Grill’s saving grace in terms of food is this toppings bar. It’s not as large as the bars at Cosmic Ray’s or Pecos Bill in Walt Disney World, but it has the key toppings such as lettuce (and not that cheap iceberg junk), tomatoes, onions, and long dill slices. I might have “accidentally dropped a few extra dill slices next to my chicken sandwich when I dined here. This toppings bar is solid, and really does a lot to improve the food, both from a perspective of flavor and size. No need to worry about the Cast Member behind the counter skimping and only giving you two-half onion slices–you can go nuts and truly build a filling burger. This really cannot be overlooked, even if it only partially redeems the food.
Overall, I’m really disappointed that Smokejumpers Grill didn’t do more to improve the menu. Even just one “anchor” menu item to make this place worthwhile would have gone a long way to changing my opinion, but as it stands, it’s just so bland. There’s not much here you can’t find anywhere else (well, besides in Disney California Adventure, where it’s inexplicably the only burger place) at Disneyland Resort. It’s a totally uninspired menu. I realize theme parks need “safe” restaurants for the vast majority of guests who won’t step outside their comfort zones, but there’s nothing that says those safe options can’t be delicious. In this regard, Smokejumpers Grill fails. Thematically, it has done a total 180, and is no longer a counter service spot in a vast hangar with a few decorations. It literally has details on top of details, and those details are of the coolest variety (in my humble opinion). I will admit that I’m absolutely biased to the subject matter of Smokejumpers Grill, but even setting that aside, I think Imagineering hit a home run with this one. It makes me more excited for the rest of Grizzly Peak Airfield, and it also means I will (sadly) find myself eating here more often. Oh well, there are worse places at Disneyland Resort, I suppose, and at least there’s that awesome toppings bar!
What do you think of Smokejumpers Grill? Does the reskin look cool to you? Do you wish they would have done more with the menu, or is that toppings bar enough for you? Share your thoughts in the comments!