= Cara's Favorite
Disney princesses character dining (breakfast and lunch only). Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you’re keen on dining with the princesses then this is the place. A cute and sassy Ariel is the star (in fact, you’ll meet her for a photo op at the entry) in this light-filled restaurant featuring an under-the-sea theme and views of Paradise Pier. At breakfast and lunch only, an assembly of Disney princesses mingle with diners, pose for photos, and sign autograph books for the little ones while music from The Little Mermaid plays in the background.
Lunch and dinner are three-course, prix fixe meals beginning with pull-apart sourdough bread and a tasty, family style antipasto tower and green salad followed by your choice of an entrée. A chicken breast meal, airplane-style cut with the drumette attached, is not only crispy skinned and golden brown but also tender and juicy with a light and creamy pineapple chutney, a side of vegetable medley, and memorable cheddar mashed potatoes. The pasta choice, while a bit too al dente, is tasty with Italian sausage and a rich ragù sauce. Perhaps the best option is the simply prepared, ever-changing sustainable fish, nicely grilled and served with pineapple chutney, wild rice, and grilled asparagus. Dessert is where this meal falls flat with a family-style platter filled with gooey, neon-colored cupcakes, M&M’s-studded cookies, a too-sweet white chocolate conch shell, and an overly dense chocolate cake.
Cara's Tip: There’s outdoor seating if you so desire with fantastic views of Paradise Pier. For those dining in the evening hours a World of Color Dinner Package can be purchased including dinner and a ticket to a reserved viewing area for the show. Book your meal about two and a half hours prior to show time in order to finish dinner and still arrive in time for a good viewing spot.
Upstairs is the open-air Cove Bar with great views of the World of Color show ($10 cover charge), fun cocktails, and tasty appetizers such as fish tacos, lobster nachos, spinach and artichoke dip, buffalo wings, citrus-marinated shrimp cocktail, tri-tip sliders, and barbecue chicken pizza. But take note that you’ll need to show up mighty early for a seat to the show.
Contemporary Southern Californian cuisine. Lunch and dinner.
Housed in a replica of the original Carthay Circle Theatre where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937, this lavish, second-story restaurant exudes classic luxury with an emphasis on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. No dowdy décor here. Instead there’s a masculine, old-Hollywood look with heavy drapery, hardwood flooring, rich wood paneling, a frescoed Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ceiling, inlaid tables (sans tablecloths), loads of banquettes, and candelabra-style chandeliers. The first restaurant in the world to open its doors with 92 sommeliers, here you’ll find 250 international wines on its prestigious menu with thirty available by the glass in both the restaurant and downstairs lounge. The problem is that it is sometimes hit or miss here when it comes to the cuisine.
The Carthay house biscuits reveal a center of melting white cheddar, bacon, and spicy jalapeno accompanied by yummy apricot honey butter; honestly it's perhaps the best thing on the menu. Running a close second are the exceptional roasted Spanish pimientos stuffed with golden raisins, Mahon cheese, pine nuts with hints of Sherry vinaigrette. As for Carthay Circle’s Firecracker Duck Wings, they do have a cult following and do manage to live up to their reputation—slightly crunchy, superbly tender, and enlivened with an aggressively spiced glaze of soy and Sriracha. Or for a lighter starter perhaps the ceviche with a sauce composed of tomatillo and cilantro spiked with avocado, just the way I like it, not loaded down with tomato sauce. If you order the salad—mine was a summer choice with perfectly tender green beans and fresh peas made bitter with frisee and radicchio and slivers of fennel—ask that they dress it with about half the lemony vinaigrette and you will be pleased.
While the pan-roasted Skuna Bay salmon came with a great sesame and soy crust and sides of Forbidden black rice and a red curry sauce, on two attempts it was so over-salted as to be almost inedible.
As for dessert, try the Valrhona milk chocolate crème brûlée tart with a cookie crust with chocolate sauce swirled on the side dotted with fresh berries, but be prepared for it to be overwhelmingly rich.
For intimate dining worlds away from the theme parks you MUST request to be seated in either the Hyperion or the Buena Vista room, single-table private rooms seating up to five and waited on by the upper echelon of wait staff—a true treat for any diner. However, no matter how posh this restaurant is purported to be it’s still in a theme park and thus subject to those who ignore the business casual dress code and believe shorts, Mickey Mouse ears, and tennis shoes are de riguer. More polished wait staff assistants would be an immense improvement, too; I had to ask with each and every course for a new set of flatware. But if you seek the bliss of a quiet respite and the promise of food a few notches above that of the usual run-of-the-mill park restaurants, then Carthay Circle is a perfect choice.
Cara's Tip: Choose an outdoor terrace seat if you want to catch the action on Buena Vista Street or have a primo view of the Disneyland fireworks show, but realize that the tradeoff is missing the ambience of the inside dining room. World of Color Dinner Packages are also available here.
If you are looking for a lighter meal head to the restaurant’s lounge where signature classic cocktails match with small plate appetizers
Italian cuisine. Lunch and dinner.
Not the very best restaurant around but one that offers atmospheric al fresco dining in a Tuscan villa setting and acceptable Italian fare. Perhaps best on the menu is a flavorful roasted chicken breast crusted with herb-infused breadcrumbs served with a light white wine sauce tossed with pasta studded with asparagus and red peppers. Or choose the beef filet made extra flavorful with blue cheese butter and the addition of golden brown roasted potatoes and crisp-tender green beans. You can book a World of Color prix fixe dinner package that includes a ticket to a reserved viewing area for the show which comes with either soup or salad, your choice of six entrées, and a nice dessert platter. But book your meal for about two and a half hours prior to show time in order to finish dinner and still arrive in time for a good viewing spot.
Cara's Tip: If you are in the mood to nosh then forget the full meal and enjoy a nice glass of Californian wine along with a fritto misto platter of fried calamari, mussels, green beans, and artichoke hearts served with a piquant pepperoncini aioli. Or take a seat on the patio at the restaurant’s Mendicino Terrace where a cheese platter and a nice glass of vino from their global list are available.