The Best Food Inside and Near LA’s Amusement Parks

Here are the best bites in and near Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Photo By: Courtesy Disneyland Resort

Photo By: Patina Restaurant Group

Photo By: Courtesy Disneyland Resort

Photo By: Paul Hiffmeyer

Photo By: Deric Mendes

Photo By: Red Sky Production Services

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Photo By: Courtnee Jean Martinez

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Photo By: Universal Studios Hollywood

Photo By: Courtesy of Knott’s Berry Farm

Photo By: Universal Studios Hollywood

Photo By: Courtesy: Universal Studios Hollywood

Photo By: Universal Studios Hollywood

Photo By: Universal Studios Hollywood

Photo By: Universal Studios Hollywood

Photo By: Natalie B. Compton

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At Disneyland: Little Red Wagon

Disney’s corn dogs are legendary. Little Red Wagon, an old-fashioned bright red vehicle on Disneyland’s Main Street, is the place to try one. Designed to resemble an old-fashioned ice truck, Wagon serves only one menu item, the corn dog, which has drawn long lines for ages. The frankfurters are dipped in batter that is made fresh throughout the day, then fried to order. The result? Breading with a crispy golden exterior and a fluffy interior sporting a sweet cornbread-like flavor. At California Adventure, Corn Dog Castle — which has a medieval theme — offers two alternatives to supplement the original: a spicier "hot link," and a vegetarian take made with a stick of cheddar cheese, which melts into gooey glory.

At Disneyland: Cafe Orleans

Retro is all the rage at Disneyland’s Cafe Orleans, where the Monte Cristo sandwich has developed its own cult following. The sandwich is battered and fried, with turkey, ham and Swiss inside, plus powdered sugar and berry purée on top. The restaurant also serves an all-cheese version for vegetarians, with double-crème brie, mozzarella and Swiss as filling. Cafe Orleans is an old-timer with Disney artifacts and the original espresso machine that was used to make Walt’s espresso. If you can’t get in, walk over to Blue Bayou, which serves a slightly revised take on the Monte Cristo for lunch.

At Disney California Adventure: Carthay Circle Restaurant and Lounge

Carthay Circle has two themes in one. For Disneyphiles, the restaurant is a museum – a replica of a landmark theater filled with photographs of Hollywood’s Golden Age, all with a Disney focus. But the food plays more than a supporting role. The restaurant’s chefs buy their veggies from local farms and the Santa Monica farmers’ market, and, respecting the Disney California Adventure Park location, create edible tributes to the Golden State. It’s nearly mandatory to start with the fried biscuits (cheddar, bacon, jalapeño and apricot-honey butter) before moving on to blue-cobia ceviche or Parmesan-potato gnocchi with kumquats and spring garlic. Carthay Circle looks posh with custom millwork and servers sporting bolero-style jackets, and has prices to match. Go downscale at the downstairs lounge, where the same fresh-food focus finds its way onto small plates like deviled eggs and duck confit sliders.

In Downtown Disney: Catal Restaurant

When strolling Downtown Disney, Catal is a near-universal choice for food-focused theme park hoppers. This relatively serene space with soft lighting – some from small tableside lamps – focuses on the simple flavors of the Mediterranean. Choose an air-conditioned indoor table or an alfresco balcony one (nighttime bonus: fireworks views), and you’ll get to sample classic paellas, Catalan specialties and grilled fish, all designed by Patina Group’s Joachim Splichal, including suckling pig, oxtail ragu and steelhead salmon along with good wines, craft beers and cocktails. Children have not only their own menu – half familiar, half healthy – but also their own specialty drinks.

At Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa: Napa Rose

Napa Rose is the hottest culinary ticket at Disneyland, with upscale Californian fare and theme park views. The menu is seasonally focused and made to pair with wine, including vineyard elements subtly woven into the design. Splurge on an a la carte meal or the Vintner’s Table prix fixe. If you can’t get a rez, walk into the Napa Rose Lounge, which has small plates, including the Smiling Tiger salad with lobster fritters, spicy beef and coconut-lime vinaigrette. Sit on the terrace or by the fireplace.

At Disney California Adventure: Wine Country Trattoria

Wine Country Trattoria embraces California’s adoration of wines without getting too fancy or expensive. The casual California Adventure is primarily an Italian restaurant in a Tuscan faux villa, but with Napa sensibility. The menu has familiar red-sauce meals like chicken Parmesan, and they’re lovely. But there are plenty of lighter choices. Settle onto the shaded Mendocino Terrace amid flower and herb gardens, then try any of 25 by-the-glass wines, or a Californian or Italian flight. Maybe share appetizers or salads, like the caprese with tomatoes and mozzarella, then skip straight to the olive oil-lemon cake or seasonal panna cotta. Upstairs, the Alfresco Tasting Terrace offers bar snacks like a cheese and charcuterie board.

Near Disneyland: Aleppo's Kitchen

A quick 15 minutes from Disneyland, Anaheim’s Little Arabia is ideal for fortifying after a day at the park. At the family-owned Aleppo’s Kitchen, with its dining room mural and outdoor patio, Syrian fare draws a loyal coterie of locals. The specialties are kebabs, all Halal and grilled over mesquite, and kibbeh, a bulgur-based dough laced with aromatic spices. Here, kibbeh is presented in a variety of ways, including raw and drizzled with olive oil, or stuffed with meats and nuts then fried. Many favor the cupcake-style version, in which meat, onions and nuts hide inside, and ground pistachios cover the top. Vegetarians and vegans will find plenty, too. Then your whole group can split the just-sweet desserts, maybe a walnut qatayef honey-glazed dumpling.

Near Disneyland: Haven Gastropub

A decade ago, the gastropub Haven quickly became a local Orange fixture for its craft beers, boutique wines and pub foods made with local ingredients. If the housemade, beer-soaked potato chips with fresh herbs and garlic aioli are any indication, Haven is better than ever. Settle into the stone and wood dining room and mediate that theme-park buzz with, say, short rib poutine, a lamb burger, or a steak topped with a bacon-blue cheese compound. The mac and cheese is laced with black truffles along with gruyère, fontina and parmesan cheeses, for those who work up an appetite.

Near Disneyland: Anaheim Packing District

If you can’t agree with fellow travelers about what to eat, all the better. Head downtown to the Anaheim Packing District and you’ll all find what you like. Occupying historic buildings from the early 1900s, the facility is now a hip food court filled with two dozen places to grab a bite – none the type you’d find in a suburban mall. Warm up with Chinese hot pots at Rolling Boil, cool off with shaved ice from I Am, or go for "reinvented" comfort food (The Kroft); chicken, waffles and beer (The Iron Press); or creative grilled cheese sandwiches (Black Sheep). On the weekends, live music plays on the Mezzanine Stage. A park between the structures has an olive grove, gardens and a redwood boardwalk.

Near Disneyland: Fish in a Bottle Sushi & Grill

Though nondescript from the outside, Fish in a Bottle Sushi & Grill serves fresh, inventive Japanese specialties in a calming, upscale dining room. You can get foods you know, sure, and they’ll be good — sushi, sashimi, rolls, chicken katsu and teriyaki-glazed salmon. Creative alternatives are worth a trip, though. Upgrade to a daily special, maybe a popcorn lobster roll, served on a square bed of rice, or the Garlic Love roll, loaded with thin-fried garlic chips. Happy hour extends from 3:30 to 7 p.m. and offers great value, from two salmon pops for $4 to baked green mussels with shichimi togarashi fries ($5) or a premium fire cracker roll ($8), plus discounted spirits.

Near Disneyland: Playground

Disney chefs themselves can be found at Playground in Santa Ana on their days off. A quick half hour from both Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, this market-drive Modern American gastropub takes every single ingredient seriously. Under Chef Jason Quinn’s direction, the sourdough bread is fermented for 14 hours, the butter is churned in-house, the pasta is all fresh and housemade and the presentations are noteworthy. The menu also changes daily, so you never know what the night will hold. Recent dishes include a kurobuta pork belly bun, peri peri octopus, wild mushroom fried rice with black truffle aioli, or maybe a half dozen quail eggs with romesco, Marcona almonds and sweet potato. The beer and wine lists are curated with great care.

Near Disneyland: Pour Vida Latin Flavor

Right in Anaheim, Chef Jimmy Martinez merges his haute training, his Puerto Rican and Mexican heritages, and his Los Angeles environs to bring distinctly Californian tacos to the masses. In a simple, colorful restaurant with outdoor seating, Pour Vida puts forth not only unusual fillings (tempura oyster, mango pork, carrot potato), but also handmade tortillas. Depending on the filling, your tortilla may be made from a secret recipe, or enhanced with spinach or squid ink. The farm-fresh salads are heavy on buzzy light foods like black quinoa and kale, with surprise additions such as smoked-paprika cranberry vinaigrette. A freshly pressed juice is always refreshing, as are any of the handful of the house cocktails.

Near Disneyland: Irenia

Inventine California-inspired Filipino cuisine has brought Irina Restaurant a ton of attention. To great acclaim, Chef Ryan Garlitos – an Orange County native from a Filipino family – is transforming foods of his childhood in an up-and-coming Santa Ana neighborhood. The dining room, a combo of cozy-family and hipster-industrial vibes, is the setting for dishes like dilis, fried baby anchovies. Then move onto bigger specialties like the slow-roasted pork shoulder with pork blood sauce and charred shallots and Anaheim peppers, and the chicken sa gata with confit chicken legs in coconut-lemongrass broth.

At Knott’s Berry Farm: Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant

Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant has been serving up Americana classics since 1934, and it’s downright patriotic to indulge there at least once. Originally a roadside berry stand, then a tea room, the restaurant is now a sprawling, multi-room, themed restaurant in cahoots with the similarly named theme park. Mosey on over and have yourself a bite, without needing to pay a park entry fee. The menu has gotten large — it even features boysenberry cocktails. Still, we recommend choosing the hearty fried chicken dinner, which comes with buttermilk biscuits, a small salad, mashed potatoes with gravy, chicken noodle soup or a cherry-rhubarb side, PLUS a dessert of boysenberry pie or sherbet.

At Knott’s Berry Farm: Cantina

One item vies with the Mrs. Knott’s fried chicken for food travelers’ attention in Buena Vista: the carne asada nachos grande at the theme park’s Cantina. The nachos are available with chicken instead, and Cantina also serves burritos, tacos and a torta sandwich. But only the carne asada nachos grande have a devoted fan following. Order at the counter and indulge at a shaded outdoor table. Speaking of carne asada, you can get the same peppery concoction over fries instead of tortilla chips at La Papa Loca, a venue that specializes in topped ‘taters – curly, waffle and sweet potato. Here, the carne asada version is on the park’s all-day dining plan.

At Knott’s Berry Farm: Boardwalk BBQ

Knott’s Berry Farm decided to up its barbecue game, so in summer of 2017, the park welcomed Boardwalk BBQ, a large counter-service restaurant with (periodic) live three-piece bands. The pulled pork comes from shoulders smoked for up to 10 hours over hickory or a seasonal wood. Once you choose that or tri-tip, pork ribs, rotisserie chicken or hot links, say, they’ll be plated with sides like corn muffins and roasted corn on the cob. Four sauces close the deal. Boysenberry is the big deal here, as this particular fruit was created back in 1932 on KBF property. Still, chefs tinkered to perfect the barbecue sauces, resulting in the boysenberry sauce and a spicy mustard-laced option, plus mild and spicy traditional versions. Pair this hearty meal with a chilled, fruity, housemade Boysenberry Beer, made with wheat ale.

Near Knott’s Berry Farm: Han Yang

A whole Korean neighborhood called Little Seoul thrives less than 10 minutes from Knott’s Berry Farm. You can eat well and inexpensively in many places there, but for locals Han Yang is the choice they hope tourists won’t discover. The menu features only 14 items, and still one dish seems to be on almost every table: galbi tang. It’s a soup made with beef short ribs. The description, which isn’t translated clearly, mentions "juicy tender 'half-cut' ribs" in beef broth with green onions "& dry jujube toppings." These jujubes are dried red dates, a Korean specialty. All meals begin with three small dishes of spicy kimchi and one each of turnips, Napa cabbage and sweet mustard.

Near Knott’s Berry Farm: Aji Limon

If you’ve had enough of theme park fair, head to Aji Limon, a family-owned restaurant that specializes in Peruvian food, yet tosses in some Chinese and Japanese hybrids here and there. Owner Fernando Paz is from Lima, and serves a mean lomo saltado, for which beef chunks are salted before being sautéed with onions and tomato, tossed with fried potatoes, then served with rice. The ceviches stand out, most mixing fish or seafood with sweet potato chunks in a tangy citrus sauce. If you’re bent on exploring the Asian possibilities, look for chicken chow mein, for example, or Japanese-style udon noodles.

At Universal Studios Hollywood: Three Broomsticks

For Harry Potter fans, just the chance to sit down with a cold Butterbeer is enough to make this Wizarding World counter-service tavern worthwhile. Three Broomsticks’ cast-iron chandeliered dining room is more than just a chance to dine where Hermione and Ron might have, though. You can feast on full-on British dishes like beef pasties or fish ‘n’ chips, or opt for the more American barbecue platter for four, a big hit with families. Be sure to get playful with the beverages. Options include pumpkin fizz and gillywater. Adult Muggles might prefer a beer such as Hog’s Head Brew from the pub next door.

At Universal Studios Hollywood: Lard Lad Donuts

Everything is in-your-face honest-funny in Springfield, the Simpsons-themed land inside Universal Studios Hollywood. That includes the name of the doughnut shop, Lard Lad. Though the doughnuts are not made with lard, you can "Get your lard on," as they say, with all kinds of sweets, including The Big Pink, a $6 pink megadoughnut topped with frosting and sprinkles. It’s big enough for two or three people to share. Locals call it the best food bargain in the park. On a hot day, opt for the Brain Freezin' D'oh-Nut Sundaes, if for no other reason than the playful name, or a doughnut-apple fritter, which you could justify as breakfast.

At Universal CityWalk: LudoBird

Now here’s a restaurant sophisticated diners and their food-pedestrian children will both want to try. LudoBird at CityWalk specializes in fried chicken sandwiches that are the artistic creation of Chef Ludo Lefebvre, whose award-winning, trend-setting restaurants have brought him TV fame. To nudge an American favorite up a few notches, he brines the poultry overnight, coating each in buttermilk, Provençal herbs and flour before frying. Once the golden patty is done, it’s topped with vinaigrette-laced coleslaw and pickles, and placed on a brioche bun. There’s a spicy version, too. The honey-lavender biscuit, or even housemade potato chips, make Ludo-worthy sides.

At Universal CityWalk: VooDoo Doughnuts

Almost as outlandish as some of Universal’s rides, the creations at Voodoo Doughnuts have massive followings. This nationally renowned Portland-based purveyor of unusually flavored fried wonders sells its cake-style, yeast-raised and vegan-friendly sweets in its Oregon home base, and in only a couple of other destinations nationwide, including at CityWalk. If the signature Maple Bacon Bar isn’t your thing, opt for one of 50 other varieties. Options during your visit might be Vicious Hibiscus, with a floral bent; Mexican Hot Chocolate, a spicy treat with cinnamon; and, for vegans, the School Daze PB&J, filled with raspberry jelly.

At Universal CityWalk: Dongpo Kitchen

There’s nary a table-service restaurant to be found within Universal Studios Hollywood, yet that doesn’t mean you can’t sit and dine in a civilized manner. Dongpo Kitchen opened outside the park gate at CityWalk in 2016, and it is a sleek, calming antidote to the stimulating theme park atmosphere. Related to a 100+-location China chain with more-upscale cousins elsewhere in the U.S., this indoor-outdoor restaurant specializes in not-too-expensive Sichuan fare. In the tranquil-ish gray dining room with light woods and artistic decorative elements, you can eat urban faves like duck bao, chile-oil dumplings and dan-dan noodles. You can’t go wrong with the Peking duck. The slightly sweet coconut cake is an apt finishing touch.

Near Universal Studios Hollywood: In n Out

It’s quick, it’s iconic and it’s mighty delicious. There are many reasons this California-based burger chain has legions of fans around the world. Their double-double (Animal-style) is legendary, and it’s cheap, quick and the Cahuenga Boulevard location makes it easy to grab on the go after a long day at the park.

Near Universal Studios Hollywood: Din Tai Fung

Dumplings. Shanghai dumplings. If you get excited about a steamed Asian-stuffed pasta pocket, zip over to Glendale’s Din Tai Fung after your Universal theme park adventure. Dumplings may be small, yet we advise you to arrive hungry. A swanky outpost of a Taiwanese chain, with another SoCal restaurant a half hour from Disneyland, this place is dumpling royalty. If you get only one item, make it soup dumplings, also known as xiao long bao. Nip the exterior to allow the clear hot broth to drizzle out of the interior and into your mouth. Then gobble the rest, whether it’s is filled with pork, crab, a combo or pork and truffle. Then you can move onto noodle soups, buns, greens and more.

Near Universal Studios Hollywood: Cascabel

A short mile and a half from Universal Studios Hollywood, in Toluca Lake, Cascabel is a fine place to try out Mexican flavors, LA-style. The dining room, in a 1920s Spanish-style villa, is Southwest-rustic with a rattlesnake theme. In it, Chef Alex Eusebion brings an inventive approach to bold Southwest flavors. Your tacos may be filled with lobster, Brussels sprouts or duck confit. The ceviche may shine with shrimp, scallops or maybe marinated white anchovies. For the main meal, consider a spicy snapper Veracruz with green olives and capers, or short ribs atop Mexican corn bread. Do not skip the guacamole.

Near Universal Studios Hollywood: Olive & Thyme

Toluca Lake is a bedroom community for Universal employees, and you may find them grabbing quick wholesome meals at Olive & Thyme, an all-day cafe and market with the ethereal feel of a Hamptons sweet shop. Menu items have that common farm-to-table branding so dear to locavores. One breakfast item is the Forager Panini, for example, and you can be assured both its sausage and mushrooms were selected with care. Coffee drinks, beer and wine, plus fresh fruit agua fresca, are among the beverage options.

Near Universal Studios Hollywood: Pizzeria Mozza

A 20-minute drive is short in Los Angeles, and will be worth every traffic-stressed minute once you receive your wood-fired pie at this temple to all things pizza. The pizzas are crafted by Nancy Silverton, and they’re available super-simple and cheffed up, using uncommon toppings like squash blossoms, goat cheese or spaghetti squash. The front room fills up with Hollywood bigwigs, but a quieter back dining area serves all the same foods to the less glamorous.