You know those moments in life when your expectations are low, and then you’re so pleasantly surprised by how highly they’re exceeded? Like when you saw Mean Girls for the first time, and were expecting a dumb teen movie, but then spent the next ten years of your life quoting it? That’s how I feel about the Carnation Cafe at Disneyland.
We originally only decided to eat there because of how historical it was, and because of its prime Main Street U.S.A real estate. The original Carnation Ice Cream Shoppe and The Flower Mart once stood here, before the spot became the restaurant we know today. The Carnation Cafe retains the name of the flower, and also holds one of Disneyland’s treasures – Chef Oscar – the longest tenured employee at the parks, holding a position since 1955. He’s considered the ambassador of the restaurant, and for good reason. If you can dine at a time that he’s working, meeting him is a treat, and a piece of Disney history.
David and I loved The Carnation Cafe so much on our first go about, that we ended up canceling other dining plans, to eat there a second time. This is something that we never do, mainly because we like to try as many places as possibly, so that we can write reviews on as many places as possible (YOU’RE WELCOME WORLD). It should speak volumes on our high opinion of this place that we decided to dine here twice. We opted for inside seating once, and the patio the other time. Both are charming, and we recommend them both depending on what time of day are reservation is. Our first dinner was earlier, when it was still warm, and the patio doesn’t provide much relief from the heat. The inside is small, quaint, and full of pictures of Walt in the park. Every table has a carnation that the restaurant was named for. The patio is equally wonderful, with cheery red and white striped umbrellas and white wrought patio furniture to give everything a turn-of-the-century look.
Now for the reason everyone’s reading – THE FOOD. This is probably the area that David and I had the lowest expectations going in, mainly because the price point was so low. Our experience in the past had showed us that low price points usually equal low quality at Disney sit-down restaurants. This, however, is the exception to that rule. While I’m not going to make the argument that The Carnation Cafe is five star cuisine, it is delicious affordable homestyle cooking. The menu even has a section of Walt’s favorites to add to the overall charm and nostalgia of the place (because whats a better reason to break your diet, than to know that you’re eating WALT’S favorite fried chicken?!).
They’re famous for their fried pickles, and it’s for good reason. We love that the pickles come in spears, not circles. This is the one item we ordered at both meals. If you’re looking for a lighter option, the romaine salad with shrimp and avocado is a lot like a cobb salad on steroids, and it’s filling, light, and delicious. The sourdough-bacon-cheese melt is not just the best sandwich I had at this particular cafe, but the best I had at Disneyland (I’m looking at you, Monte Cristo). It wouldn’t be right not to order something off the Walt’s favorite section, and we recommend the Chicken Fried Chicken, which we think gives the Plaza Inn a run for its money.
All in all, we love this place. We think its a great place to eat, relax, and talk after a long day at the parks while enjoying the atmosphere, history, and delicious food. We got to watch the ‘Paint the Night’ parade from their patio one night while eating dinner, and it was one of our favorite experiences of the trip. It’s magical moments like this that we all return to Disney parks time and time again.