We’re heading back to one of Disneyland’s most historic dining spots — Carnation Cafe!
But recently, I headed over for lunch to indulge in some of the must-have menu items I’d been hearing about.
Carnation Cafe occupies prime real estate on Main Street USA. And if it looks like it’s always been here, well…it has. Carnation Cafe, in some form or another, has been serving guests for 60 years, since the park first opened in 1955.
If you’re a Disneyland veteran, then you remember a time in the not-too-distant past that Carnation Cafe only featured outdoor seating. See that Gazebo area? That used to be the entrance to the patio.
And it made for a lovely place to sit — except during the (very rare) occasional downpour.
But when Blue Ribbon Bakery was shuttered to make way for Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe, Carnation Cafe gained some much needed additional seating — and it was indoors. While the patio is nice, options are always appreciated.
The sparse waiting area definitely feels small and inadequate at this popular spot. Be prepared to wait outside if you’ve visiting during a prime dining time.
And if you do get inside while waiting, check out the framed photo of Walt Disney himself hanging in the area.
That’s something that makes Disneyland so extra-special — all of the photos of Walt enjoying time in this park.
The indoor seating area is simple and homey, with lotsa wood and cheerful calico wallpaper.
Carnations adorning each table are a nice, bright touch.
I was kind of enamored with these light fixtures, too. Great detail, and a true “old-timey” vibe. (I know — my decorating vocabulary is wowing you, isn’t it? ;-D) But seriously, fringe and beads.
And it gets better…if you’re a lighting looney like I am. I pretty much need this in my house somewhere.
I had heard so many good things about this menu, I couldn’t wait to try a few things for myself! Time to check it out.
You’ll find the same menu for lunch and dinner. While the menu isn’t huge, they all sounded fantastic…it was hard to choose.
And so we didn’t! HA!
We began with the iconic Fried Pickles and Dipping Sauce. The fried pickles here are spears, and they’re covered with a crunchy Panko Breading. If you’re a fried pickle person, these are some of the best you’re going to find anywhere.
Next, I had to sample one of Carnation Cafe’s most famous dishes — the Baked Potato Soup. (You can grab the recipe here if you’re intrigued.)
Disneylanders have loved this forever, and rightly so. It’s a super-thick chowder packed with not-so-healthy goodies and served with generous toppings of Bacon, Cheddar, Monterey Jack Cheese, Sour Cream, and Chives. It’s an indulgence, for sure, but it’s a must-have nonetheless!
You’ll find many nods to Walt Disney himself on the menu at Carnation Cafe, but one of the most well-known is Walt’s Chili. Walt’s version includes beans and beef, and is topped with a garnish of Tomatoes, Cheese, and Sour Cream. It’s honestly probably not going to the best chili you’ve ever had — the flavor is rather bland. But if you’re a Disney history buff — or a Walt history buff — it’s probably on your bucket list.
A couple of Entree Salads offer somewhat-lighter-for-you fare, and my friend decided to give the Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken a try.
The generous (it was pretty huge!) salad includes Spinach, Grilled Chicken, Boiled Eggs, Portobello Mushrooms, Feta Cheese, and Pickled Onions. It’s served with a Golden Balsamic-Mustard Seed Vinaigrette.
It got high marks at the table, and was super fresh. But, whatever — imagine how much ice cream you’re going to earn by eating this for lunch!!!
But our party also decided that we had to enjoy a couple of Carnation Cafe’s Specialties. The Main Street Cheeseburger is an Angus Chuck Patty covered with melted Tillamook Cheddar (YUM!!!!! I love me some Tillamook!). Top it with a generous supply of Tomato, Lettuce, and Onion, and the whole thing comes together on a Brioche Bun. This is definitely your choice for a relatively picky eater or if you happen to be craving a traditional burger. It was good, but not something I need to go back for again and again.
If you prefer your burger on thickly sliced toast, be sure to try the Sourdough Bacon Cheese Melt. Everything about this is appealing, right? Don’t you want to dive in?
OK, here are the details. Spicy House Sauce is spread over toasted Sourdough Bread. And the Angus Chuck Patty is garnished here with Pepper Jack Cheese for an extra kick, along with Grilled Onions and Bacon. It’s classic, with a twist. And very, very yum. If you’re having a burger craving and are willing to step slightly outside the box, this is your choice.
All of the sandwiches on this portion of the menu come with a side of Fresh Fruit or Seasoned Fries. If you don’t choose when you order, they’ll bring you fries. FYI.
Since I was in town to celebrate Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary, I wanted to pay homage to Walt Disney himself in one more way — by sampling a few of his personal favorites!
Chicken-Fried Chicken was first on the list. The Buttermilk Fried Chicken Breast is served with Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Seasonal Vegetables, and a soft freshly-baked Yeast Roll.
An ample serving of Gravy ties everything together. And, basically, on this plate, that’s the main thing you want to pay attention to. This was a gorgeous, surprisingly spicy gravy! It tasted just as good as it looked. This was the one on the table I couldn’t stop eating.
Homemade Meatloaf is another of Walt’s Favorites, and Carnation Cafe’s version is very traditional. It’s a mix of beef and pork topped with ketchup glaze and mushroom gravy.
Served with the same sides as the chicken, it’s another homestyle, filling, comfort-food favorite. The flavor was just as traditional, though (read: standard), so if you have to choose a Walt’s Favorite, go with that fab chicken.
OK, you’re totally not full yet, right? Time to dive into the freshly-made desserts.
First up — you can’t have an ice cream parlor right next door without taking advantage of it! We decided that a Banana Split would fit the bill nicely. I’m not a huge banana split fan, honestly, but if you are, this one is as traditional as you can get. It will be exactly what you’re expecting.
We also went for two of Carnation’s beautiful Layer Cakes. The German Chocolate Cake featured the characteristic Pecan-Coconut Filling, sandwiched between layers of deep Chocolate Cake. Topping the whole thing was a sweet Milk Chocolate Buttercream.
Overall on this one, the pecan-coconut filling/frosting was the best part. The chocolate buttercream was pretty blah, and the cake layers didn’t wow. But luckily there was more of the best part than anything else.
A White Chocolate Raspberry Cake featured fresh Raspberries, Whipped Cream, and a White Chocolate Buttercream. Again, the buttercream here was cold and hard — brick-like almost — like a cake you get from the freezer section of your grocery store. Kind of ruined the whole dessert, sadly. It’s pretty, but not worth it.
More than full, we were off to enjoy our afternoon in the Park That Started It All.
You know how much I love Disneyland food as a whole, but there truly is something “extra” about Carnation Cafe. To know that you’re enjoying a meal where Walt Disney once dined is something special. Also, don’t forget to seek out the chance to meet Chef Oscar while you’re here. He’s been here since the beginning, and he’s truly an icon. Chef Oscar is not working full-time in the kitchen anymore, but he’s a beloved ambassador who’s often in the dining room greeting guests.
The food here at Carnation Cafe is 80/20 — 80% standard and 20% standout. There are several dishes that will always, always be fantastic and should be on your do-not-miss list, but the rest could come and go and we wouldn’t even notice. So pay attention and order well!
Will you be making a pilgrimage to Carnation Cafe to try a few of Walt’s Favorites? Leave a comment below and let us know which dish is tempting you the most!