The eight best things to eat at Disney California’s food and wine festival
Asian fusion, Mexican classics, vegan and state’s signature crops shine at annual spring event
Southern California’s theme parks aren’t known for their culinary excellence, but Disney California Adventure has upped the ante this year with its longest, largest and most ambitious Food & Wine Festival since it launched the spring series in 2006.
The 19-year-old Anaheim theme park has always celebrated the beauty, bounty and industries of California. But this year, more than ever, the park has formed alliances with many of the state’s branded wineries, breweries, dairies, artisan cheese and coffeemakers, chocolatiers, farmers and fine-dining chefs.
This year’s Food & Wine Festival — which launched Feb. 28 and continues through April 21, two days longer than in past years — allows park visitors to visit 13 marketplace booths spread throughout the park, as well as many of its restaurant and cart locations, to sample California-centric food items unique to the festival.
This year’s fest features nearly 50 new food items and nearly as many new cocktails, mocktails, California beers, wines and flights of mimosas and micheladas. There’s an expanded lineup of vegan and vegetarian options, like the Impossible Cheeseburger Mac & Cheese; the Orange County- and Bay Area-inspired black garlic soy-braised pork belly banh mi sandwich; fish tacos fried in San Diego-brewed Karl Strauss beer batter; Pacific Islander-inspired smoked bacon barbecue beef loco moco on rice at the LA Style booth; and a new booth serving Central Valley’s sweet spring watermelon crop.
Besides the food offerings, this spring’s festival will feature behind-the-scenes Disney kitchen tours; weekend wine, beer and spirits seminars; children’s cooking classes and activities; and weekend cooking demonstrations by California chefs and restaurateurs. San Diego’s own Brian Malarkey kicked off the chef series on Saturday and chef Richard Blais of Del Mar will present on March 14.
Park visitors can purchase items separately at each booth or purchase a Sip & Savor pass, priced at $56, which entitles the bearer to choose any eight snack-size food items or non-alcoholic drinks from throughout the festival.
With so many items to choose from, and most of them brand new this year, we asked Disney California Adventure Executive Chef Jeremiah Balogh to help us narrow the list down to some of his “don’t miss” picks as well as some of our own for a total of eight item to sip and savor.
Brunch Fried Chicken & Waffle: Balogh is excited about the brunch-style sandwich with salt-and-pepper fried chicken in a crisp waffle with mimosa-inspired slaw and surprising caviar-like “bubbles” of orange juice. It’s $8 at the Golden Dreams booth.
Grilled shrimp tacos: One of this year’s best surprises is the new Grilled Shrimp Tacos plate. The dish is served refreshingly chilled on gluten-free tortillas that are thin-sliced rounds of crunchy jicama. A spicy chili aioli completes the dish. $8 at the Peppers Cali-ente booth.
Lavender and fig cold brew: Delicious Sumatran cold-brew coffee from Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Co. mixed with a hint of chocolate, fig and lavender cream and a sprinkling of lavender sugar on top. $6.50 at the Golden Dreams booth.
Compressed watermelon: Nope, that’s not ahi — it’s a refreshing and satisfying “filet” of compressed watermelon topped with whipped ricotta cheese, tomatoes and lemon olive oil at the new One in a Melon booth, which replaced the Citrus Grove booth from last year. $7 at the One in a Melon booth.
Bahn mi sandwich: The festival has brought back its popular banh mi sandwich this year, but with a tasty difference. This year, the pork belly has been braised in a rich black garlic soy sauce. It’s garnished with pickled carrots and daikon, sliced jalapeño and cilantro sprig. $8 at the Garlic Kissed booth.
Impossible cheeseburger mac ‘n’ cheese: Every year, the festival’s mac ‘n’ cheese dish is a favorite with park visitors. This year, there are two: a carbonara garlic version with Nueske’s bacon (at the Garlic Kissed booth), and Balogh’s surprising new entry made with crumbles of the plant-based Impossible burger. The vegetarian dish features dehydrated tomato and pickle powders and crispy panko crumbs, which together uncannily re-create the flavors of a cheeseburger without the meat, bun or condiments. $8 at the Nuts About Cheese booth.
Mimosa flight: Tapping into Southern Californians’ passion for boozy brunch, the festival this year has introduced a mimosa trio inspired by California’s ocean, deserts and mountains. There’s the Pacific mimosa with sparkling wine, coconut, blue curaçao and pineapple juice. The Mojave mimosa with sparkling wine, Simply Peach juice drink and raspberry syrup. And the Sierra mimosa, with sparkling wine, lavender and fresh lemon juice. The tasting-size trio is $17, or $15 for each full-size individual drink, at the Uncork California booth.
Caramel-peanut-milk chocolate macaron: And finally, dessert! One of the hits of the festival in past years was the oversize Meyer lemon macaron cookies at the Citrus Grove booth, but with that booth gone this year, an equally satisfying and decadent chocolate version has been introduced. This delicious, Mickey Mouse-shaped cookie is rich, nutty and big enough to satisfy two diners. Definitely a great finish for a culinary tour. $6.50 at the Off the Cob booth.
For tickets and information, visit: disneyland.disney.go.com.
Magic Happens Parade debuts
This spring, Disneyland Resort is offering Southern California residents a three-day, 1-park-per-day pass for as little as $67 per day. All three passes must be used by May 21.
After eating your way through the DCA Food & Wine Festival, spend a day at neighboring Disneyland to catch the new Magic Happens Parade, which also debuted on Feb. 28.
Although Disney’s parades and evening shows have grown increasingly high-tech in recent years, the new Magic Happens parade is unexpectedly retro.
Instead of giant high-definition video screens, the floats have a burnished old-world, nostalgic look. The show emphasizes personal interaction. Teams of dancers walking ahead of and behind the floats take time to interact one-on-one with young parade-watchers along the route. And great effort has gone into the performers costumes, wigs and choreography.
Also notable in the new parade is the balance between animated Disney classics like “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Sword in the Stone” with Disney’s contemporary and multi-ethnic animated films “Moana,” “The Princess and the Frog” and “Coco.”
The floats travel down Main Street U.S.A. and beyond to a catchy, dance-party soundtrack of original music composed by singer-songwriter, Youtuber and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” judge Todrick Hall.
For showtimes and tickets, visit disneyland.disney.go.com.
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.