11 top picks from Disney California’s Food & Wine Festival
With more than 60 new food and drink items at the annual spring event, a little homework can narrow down your menu
The Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, a two-month celebration of California cuisine at Disneyland’s sister theme park in Anaheim, has returned this month with more than 60 new food and drink items for visitors to try.
So I tried them. Not every item, mind you, but I asked more than a dozen park employees, as well as festival booth workers, for their recommendations. Then throughout the day I asked other festivaloers for their picks and pans to reduce my overall caloric consumption, and I still had a few duds (skip the artichoke pizzetta). It’s definitely worth doing a bit of research to get the tastiest bites and the best bang for your buck this year.
Since its founding in 2006, the festival has grown to become one of the most popular annual attractions at the Golden State-themed park. In its first year, there were just two booths offering bite-size portions of seasonal food items. Today, there are 12 booths where visitors can buy sample-size items, as well as 10 food stands and restaurants throughout the park offering festival food and drinks, though not all in bite-size or low-priced portions.
Park visitors can purchase individual food and drink items for $5 and up or buy a Sip & Savor Pass for $59, which allows users to try a mix of eight food or nonalcoholic drink items at most venues. This year’s festival runs through April 25.
The festival celebrates the bounty of California’s produce, beers, wines and its multiethnic cuisines. There are individual booths dedicated to major state crops including avocados, berries, garlic, artichokes, peppers, nuts and cheese. There’s also the Uncork California wine garden, serving state-produced varietals, and the California Craft Brews garden celebrating craft beers from San Diego (Ballast Point and Harland Brewing) and far beyond.
A few years back, the festival introduced a few vegan items made with plant-based Impossible Burger protein. It was so popular with park visitors that DCA is going big with plant-based items this year. Besides a bevy of vegetarian and vegan offerings sprinkled throughout the festival booths, the park’s Paradise Garden Grill restaurant has switched to an all-plant-based menu for 2023.
On opening weekend (March 3-5), DCA was packed with visitors who clearly came to eat. Lines at the festival booths were lengthy by 10 a.m. — a half-hour before they opened — and they stayed long throughout the day.
To help make festival-going a bit easier, here are my picks for my favorite new bites of 2023 and a few tips on how to beat the lines.
Best bites at the festival
While every food item and most of the drinks this year are new, longtime festgoers will recognize some favorite dishes of the past that have been changed up with fresh new flavors and toppings.
Smoked Honey-Habanero Chicken Wings — Best of the fest this year is this large portion of four to five seasoned drumettes and wings in a finger-licking, not-too-hot sauce. Cluck-A-Doodle-Moo booth.
Impossible Gyro Fries — Running a close second is this hearty Greek-style portion of plant-based Impossible Beef served with waffle fries, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes with tzatziki and cauliflower cheese sauces and a wedge of pita bread. Paradise Garden Grill.
Impossible Al Pastor Taco — One of the best vegan items I’ve tried at the DCA fest features well-seasoned Impossible Pork with bites of grilled pineapple and a spicy avocado tomatillo sauce on a warm flour tortilla. Avocado Time booth.
Grilled Peach Toast — This delightful mix of flavors starts with toasted sourdough bread, topped with ricotta-mascarpone cheese spread, arugula salad and grilled peaches. Pacific Wharf Café.
Impossible Nacho Mac & Cheese — Mac ‘n’ cheese has been a best-seller at the festival each year, though the recipes are always changing. As in past years, there are two different mac ‘n’ cheese offerings. I most enjoyed the Impossible Nacho Mac & Cheese, which comes with olives, jalapeños and guacamole, and it’s quite a large portion. Avocado Time booth. But for meat lovers, there’s also the decadent Carbonara-Garlic Mac & Cheese featuring Nueske’s Peppered Bacon and Parmesan cheese. Garlic Kissed booth.
Petite Burrata — Burrata cheese, zesty pesto sauce, freeze-dried balsamic, tomatoes and olive jam are served on a slice of grilled ciabatta bread. The flavors were great, but my ciabatta was a bit soggy. Nuts About Cheese booth.
Mickey Mouse-Shaped Macaron — This yummy, oversize French-inspired macaron sandwich cookie is filled with caramel ganache and topped with peanuts and Snickers candy bar pieces. Nuts About Cheese booth.
Kenny’s Family Cheesecake — Freshness is the best element of this miniature cheesecake on graham-cracker crust topped with a mixed berry compote. Berry Patch stand.
What to drink
Beer and wine prices are on the high side at DCA. But there are lots of nonalcoholic cocktails, coffee and fruit drinks. Here are some good bets:
Horchata Cold Brew — Cold brew coffee mixed with horchata, a Mexican rice and cinnamon drink. Of this year’s sweet drinks, it’s the best. Cappucino Cart, Pacific Wharf.
Central California Cooler — This fruit juice blend includes apple, orange and lemon juices mixed with pureed peaches. It’s less sweet than many of the drinks this year. Golden Dreams booth.
Apple Tequila Colada — I’m sugar-averse when it comes to cocktails, but the tartness of the tequila and bite of Aperol balance the sweetness of the coconut cream and apricot puree. D’LISH booth.
Beating the lines
Just like at the county fair, many parkgoers come primarily to try new food items during the festival season. The lines can get very long during the lunch and dinner hours, so here are my tips for reducing the wait.
Use the free Tasting Passport to map out what you’re going to order in advance, then go to any festival booth and order and pay for all of the items at the same time. Then you can bypass the purchase line at each booth and go straight to the food pick-up window with your receipt. The attendant will cross off the item you’re picking up, then return it to you so you can take it other booths.
Start your tasting day deep into the park at Paradise Garden Grill and work your way back to Buena Vista Square. The lines are always longest the closer you get to the park entrance.
Buy the Sip & Savor Pass. You may not save a lot of dollars this way, but the pass can be worn around your neck on a lanyard and is cash-free. Just snap a tab off the plastic pass at the cashier’s station when you order.
For more, visit disneyland.disney.go.com.
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