Review: Lunch at Carnation Cafe in Disneyland

We’re heading back to one of Disneyland’s most historic dining spots — Carnation Cafe!

Carnation Cafe

Carnation Cafe

Carnation Cafe is a great spot to enjoy a yum breakfast (even though some of my very favorites, like Cinnamon Roll French Toast and Croissant Eggs Benedict are no longer around).

But recently, I headed over for lunch to indulge in some of the must-have menu items I’d been hearing about.

Atmosphere

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.

Exterior 2 Carnation Cafe

Carnation Cafe and Patio Seating

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.

Carnation Cafe's Patio

Carnation Cafe’s Patio

Patio Carnation Cafe

Patio Seating

And it made for a lovely place to sit — except during the (very rare) occasional downpour.

Patio 2 Carnation Cafe

Patio Seating from Another Angle

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.

Interior 2 Carnation Cafe

Waiting Area

And if you do get inside while waiting, check out the framed photo of Walt Disney himself hanging in the area.

A Picture of Walt Disney Hanging in Carnation Cafe

A Picture of Walt Disney Hanging in Carnation Cafe

That’s something that makes Disneyland so extra-special — all of the photos of Walt enjoying time in this park.

Atmosphere 3 Carnation Cafe

Waiting Area from Another Angle

Carnation Cafe adjoins Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor inside, and beyond, you’ll also find Candy Palace. So, basically, the universe is telling you not to skip dessert on this one.

Carnation Cafe

View from Carnation Cafe Into Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor

The indoor seating area is simple and homey, with lotsa wood and cheerful calico wallpaper.

Interior Carnation Cafe

Seating Indoors

Carnations adorning each table are a nice, bright touch.

Disneyland's Carnation Cafe Added Indoor Seating This Year

Close Up of Table

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.

Tiffany Lamp Overhead

Tiffany Lamp Overhead

And it gets better…if you’re a lighting looney like I am. I pretty much need this in my house somewhere.

Lighting Carnation Cafe

Ornate Beading on a Lighting Fixture

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.

Eats

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.

Carnation Cafe Lunch and Dinner Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Carnation Cafe Lunch and Dinner Menu — Click to Enlarge

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.

Fried Pickles and Dipping Sauce

Fried Pickles and Dipping Sauce

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.)

Baked Potato Soup

Baked Potato Soup

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!

Baked Potato Soup -- Up Close

Baked Potato Soup — Up Close

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.

Walt's Chili

Walt’s Chili

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!!!

Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken

Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken

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.

Main Street Cheeseburger

Main Street Cheeseburger

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?

Sourdough Bacon Cheese Melt

Sourdough Bacon Cheese Melt

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.

Sourdough Bacon Cheese Melt -- Cross Section

Sourdough Bacon Cheese Melt — Cross Section

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.

Chicken Fried Chicken -- Up Close

Chicken-Fried Chicken

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.

Chicken Fried Chicken

Chicken Fried Chicken — Up Close

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.

Homemade Meatloaf

Homemade Meatloaf

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.

Homemade Meatloaf -- Up Close

Homemade Meatloaf — Up Close

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. :-D

Banana Split

Banana Split — The Perks of Having Gibson Girl Next Door!

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.

German Chocolate Cake

German Chocolate Cake

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.

White Chocolate Raspberry Cake

White Chocolate Raspberry Cake

More than full, we were off to enjoy our afternoon in the Park That Started It All.

Overall

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!

Comments

  1. Rowena says

    Is the fried chicken served at the Carnation Café the same as the fried chicken served at Plaza Inn?

  2. Richard says

    Don’t forget they have an excellent breakfast menu also.

    @Rowena – Nope, it’s not nearly as good as what is served at the Plaza Inn.

  3. Tamera says

    I preferred the old menu. It used to be where we ate every Disney Date Night, but now we hardly ever eat there. It’s also really crowded too, so that’s part of it, but the food just isn’t as good as it was.
    And you can’t just get a bowl of soup for dinner anymore. They only have the little appetizer bowls. :-/

  4. Ronald Wanders says

    @Hannah : ehm… They already do? ^_^

    Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Hollywood Studios serves Fried Dill Pickles on their Appetizer menu.
    They’re quite tasty, but I have no frame of reference to compare them to the DLR version.

  5. Hannah says

    Thanks Ronald. We haven’t eaten there so I had no idea. Can you go there for appetizers or just full meal?

  6. Ronald Wanders says

    @Hannah : I do not know, I only had dinner there one evening and had these as the appetizer. :)
    You could always ask if you’re in the park?
    They don’t have a lounge/bar area like some of the other restaurants do, but for all I know they could be selling them as just the appetizer, rather than as a part of a full meal.

  7. says

    My personal favorite here is the veggie burger! Very unique and tastes amazing though it does tend to fall apart. The fried pickles are really off the hook and also kind of unique.

    Also highly recommend for a great breakfast!

  8. Marmorgan says

    Do they still have the Matterhorn Sundae? Splitting one of those used to be a great date-night treat. :-)

  9. Deneice says

    Was sooooo excited when they added the inside seating back again when the bakery moved. I really missed that option. I still miss the counter seating & watching them make shakes, etc.

    Love the sourdough melt!

  10. JoAnne McMaster says

    I wish they’d change the menu at the restaurants. They have the same things day in and day out. I’d probably eat there more if they’d mix it up a little. But it’s been the same stuff forever. Adding aioli doesn’t make the food any better.

  11. Agnes says

    It’s a pity the German Chocolate Cake wasn’t great, because it looks amazing! It made me think of the seagulls from Finding Nemo: mine! mine! mine!

  12. BelindaB3 says

    My daughter make this a must for our visits. Each time, we sit the gazebo and order Baked Potato Soup with our meals. Sitting in the gazebo is such a festive feeling and that soup is divine!

  13. Ashley Cardoza says

    I was so disappointed. Food was good, great view of the parade,service was okay our server was very busy but we were forgotten numerous times. I think the thing that ruined it for me most was that it was my three year old daughter’s first visit to Disneyland and her birthday and we made sure to tell them on the reservation it was her birthday we had also told our server a few times it was her birthday and it wasn’t even acknowledged we specifically ate at Carnation Cafe because they usually do a cute little birthday celebration and my daughters was not even acknowledged. When we FINALLY got our check she had fallen asleep.

  14. Deb says

    We ate dinner right before closing at Carnation one night. I will NEVER eat there again
    My food tasted like it had some kind of cleaning fluid in it, thought it was just me. Nope. Was up all night with food poisoning that night. I was the only one that ate what I ate and the only one that got food poisoning.

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