Disney dining can be a curious thing, and at times it can almost seem like a tale of two dining experiences. On the one hand, you can easily find your fair share of cheeseburgers, pizza, plastic cheese, chicken fingers, and corndogs. On the other hand, Disney is no stranger to cranking out solid signature dining restaurants with top-notch service and dishes that would rival many fine-dining restaurants around the world.
Our recent visit to Buena Vista Street in Disney’s California Adventure, the newest extension of Downtown Disney to reopen on November 19th, was a perfect example of this juxtaposition. After chowing down on our beloved corndogs over at Award Wieners and eating a rather…sad…cheeseburger at Smokejumpers Grill, we sat down at Carthay Circle Lounge Alfresco Dining for a “total 180.”
Arrival & Checking In
Carthay Circle Lounge is using a mobile waitlist system to accommodate guests. As of this writing, they are not accepting advance reservations. (NOTE: As of November 25th, Carthay Circle Lounge is now accepting reservations). The waitlist system is used when the restaurant is at capacity, giving guests the opportunity to explore more of Buena Vista Street while they wait for a table to become available.
In our experience, Carthay Circle Lounge is the must-do experience for many guests visiting Buena Vista Street, meaning the waitlist fills up FAST. If you want to dine here on your next visit, make sure you speak to a Cast Member outside Carthay as soon as you arrive to see where they’re at with availability.
Orange County, where Disneyland is located, is currently in California’s most restrictive reopening tier. That means that all dining MUST be outdoors.
While we were being brought to our table, we were able to briefly take in the festive holiday decorations that were still on display at Carthay Circle.
When we were sat at our table outside, we were told by a Cast Member that our face masks must be kept on until our drinks were brought to the table. This is a very different experience than what we’ve had dining at Downtown Disney or in Disney World, where you may remove your face mask once seated. We were also told that when our food was cleared from our table, we were required to put our face masks back on. Disneyland ain’t playing around in their theme parks when it comes to safety.
Carthay Circle Lounge’s menu features some returning items as well as a few new dishes! Fans of the Lounge will recognize dishes like their Vietnamese Twice-cooked Beef Tacos, but if you’re feeling like trying something different, you certainly won’t have much trouble finding new additions to the menu. This menu, curated by Chefs Andrew Sutton and Alex Flores, is comprised of small plates of Mediterranean-Californian light types of food.
In a time when so many restaurants are cutting back on their menu and slashing items (albeit temporarily), it was a nice change of pace to visit a restaurant that was actually ADDING menu items in 2020! That said, we would learn awfully quick what they mean by “small” plates.
Due to current regulations, any alcoholic beverage purchase must be made in conjunction with an adult meal. Speaking of alcoholic beverages, there was an entire separate cocktail menu that looks largely unchanged from our last visit to Carthay Circle Lounge.
Their drink menu is broken into sections with clever names such as “Ensemble Cast”…
…as well as “Golden Age” and “Curtain Call.”
Aside from cocktails, Carthay Circle Lounge features a healthy dose of both white and red wine.
This location still has a lovely selection of California wines…
…as well as select California beer and cider.
It took us much longer to decide what to drink than it took us to decide what to eat. But hey, when in Rome, one needs to carefully consider what to order off the cocktail menu, right?
Carthay Circle Lounge’s drink menu is largely the same, so just about all of your classic favorites have returned! On this visit, we ordered the Ginger Rogers and a Carthay Old Fashioned.
The Ginger Rogers is made with Plymouth Gin, Luxardo Apricot Liqueur, Dry Vermouth, and a hint of lemon juice for $15.50. This is kind of like a jazzed up gin martini and was surprisingly light and fresh. The lemon flavor really came through, and while there were also hints of apricot, that flavor was much more subtle.
We think this could be a great introductory cocktail if you’re not sure what to get but aren’t looking for anything too strong or overwhelming. Don’t get us wrong — it’s a drink served straight-up so it packs a punch, it just doesn’t make you scrunch up your face at first sip.
The Carthay Old Fashioned, on the other hand, was exactly what we expected out of a well-made Old Fashioned. Made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Angostura and Orange Bitters, and a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry with an Orange Peel for $17.50, this was definitely the stronger of the two beverages. This one is served with a purified ice sphere to be a little extra (they actually keep your drink cooler longer without diluting the drink as quickly).
For appetizers, we ordered two new menu items: the Baked Bay Scallops and the Moroccan Roasted Chicken Meatballs. The Scallops were definitely one of the stars of the evening!
Very light but flavorful, this dish comprised of small scallops on a bed of corn and potato chowder. There wasn’t much chowder (this was a small dish, after all), and we would have certainly welcomed more! The plating was really fun, as the scallops were served in a large shell! Still, at $16 we could have used a MUCH larger portion, but that would have defeated the purpose of “small plates” now, wouldn’t it?
The Moroccan Roasted Chicken Meatballs were another tasty appetizer if you’re looking for something a little different. The meatballs themselves had a nice little kick to them, almost like a curry flavor, but they were not what we would necessarily call “spicy.” Rather, they were more “spiced.”
The creamy tzatziki sauce balanced well with the “zesty-ness” of the meatballs. The pomegranate relish was a mix of pomegranate seeds, tomatoes, and cucumber. It was a nice fresh component when mixed with a bite of the meatballs. This dish was comprised of two meatballs that were a bit on the smaller side, but again, Carthay Circle Lounge’s entire menu is made up of small plates. This dish was also $16, making us question how much food we could have gotten elsewhere.
Time for the main course! The term “main course” is a little loose when you’re ordering off a menu of small plates, as our Roasted Colorado Lamb was nearly the same size as our previous two dishes but for a whole $10 more at $26.
For $26, you don’t get much food at all, but what WAS on our plate almost made us forget we were spending probably $3-4 per bite. This dish was small but mighty. The lamb was cooked perfectly and sat on a bed of delicious hummus that paired incredibly well with the meat. Nestled on top the hummus was a scoop of slow-cooked, well-seasoned garbanzo beans (AKA the beans that make up hummus before it’s blended into hummus!).
That chop is topped with house-made spicy Calabrian Chili Harissa that had a pretty decent kick to it. If you’re heat averse, maybe ask for it on the side so you can try it on your own terms.
Again, we’d love to have gotten a better scale photo here so you can get a sense — this plate of food was not large by any means. It was a little larger than an average EPCOT Food and Wine serving size. For $26 bucks. It was good but, 26 dollars good?
And what would a trip to Carthay Circle Lounge be without some dessert? The options at the moment are pretty bland, to be honest. You can choose from two ice cream sundaes or a cheese plate. This spot wasn’t big on dessert originally, so it was still nice to have something sweet to select at the end of our meal. Their seasonal Pumpkin Ice Cream Sundae was perhaps the perfect way to cap off the evening given the choices. Sure, for $14 we might have been able to recreate this sundae at home several times over, but as is the case with Disney dining, you’re paying for much more than what comes served on your plate.
This sundae includes layers of pumpkin ice cream, chocolate sauce, and graham crackers, all topped with pumpkin seeds and a giant chocolate curl. You know we had to try at least ONE more pumpkin-flavored treat at a Disney park before they go away, right?! 🙂
Even those averse to pumpkin might find this sundae to be delicious! The addition of the graham crackers and pumpkin seeds add a perfect amount of crunch to this dish, and the chocolate sauce pairs oh so well with the ice cream (as one would expect). It WAS just a sundae, but at least it was a pretty good sundae.
Nosh Or Not?
Stop by Carthay Circle Lounge Alfresco Dining if:
- You’re seeking top-notch food and fancy cocktails on your visit to Buena Vista Street and would rather skip the typical greasy food you can expect at Smokejumpers Grill or Award Wieners. This is definitely the fanciest meal on the block.
- You’re enjoying a date night and looking for something a little more romantic.
- It’s been a while since you’ve enjoyed sit-down dining in a Disneyland theme park, which for all of us has been at least eight months! The service was something we really can’t put a price on, and we would definitely return solely to chat with these Cast Members again.
Consider skipping the Lounge if:
- You’re HUNGRY. You’ll have to order several small plates to add up to what a normal-sized lunch or dinner might look like.
- You don’t want to break the bank. These small dishes range in price from $12-26, so even the lightest of meals for a family of four will easily cross the triple-digit threshold. Even date night with drinks included will add up quicker than most other dining options currently available at Downtown Disney.
- You’re on a tight schedule. The whole point of a lounge is to, well…LOUNGE! The laid back atmosphere makes for a longer pit stop at Carthay Circle Lounge, so if you’re trying to experience everything that Buena Vista Street currently has to offer, this may take up a good chunk of time.
It’s been quite some time since we’ve been able to sit down at a table service restaurant in a Disneyland theme park, and we must say, Carthay Circle Lounge Alfresco Dining made us feel MORE than welcomed back with arms wide open. The service was STELLAR and we could tell that each and every Cast Member was thrilled to interact with guests again.
We greatly enjoyed our visit here and will certainly return soon for drinks at the lounge again. This location has an exceptionally good cocktail menu and they’re a lot easier to swallow (literally) than the VERY pricey and VERY small bites you can find on the food menu. For our money, we’d rather enjoy a few drinks before enjoying a hand-dipped Corndog across the street at Award Wieners. If you’ve got money to burn and enjoy the care and quality put into the small plates, by all means. The food was delicious, but just rather TOO small for our liking. Basically, don’t show up here starving. 🙂
The signature restaurant Carthay Circle is one of those quintessential Disneyland dining experiences you should try at least once. But while we wait for the actual restaurant to reopen, the Lounge with its new small plates menu is a worthwhile “placeholder,” for a lack of a better term. The outdoor-only seating made what could be seen as the “stuffiness” of Carthay Circle much more approachable. Disney clearly put a ton of thought into how they can make Carthay Circle Lounge Alfresco Dining a flagship dining experience in its own right, and we think they passed the test with flying colors!
Are you planning on visiting Buena Vista Street soon? Let us know in the comments!