During our trips to Disneyland, Mrs. DisneylandTraveler and I have to budget our Disney spending pretty closely. Some trips are a little more tightly funded than others. Over the years we have come to learn a few things. First of all, once we are in Disneyland or DCA, we generally do not like to leave the park to eat somewhere cheaper off property. If we do leave the park during the course of a day to eat, we generally go to Downtown Disney. Now this doesn't include running over to McDonald's for breakfast before we start our day or leaving the park early once or twice and going back to a room and ordering in a pizza. But generally once we are in Disney, we eat Disney. Here are some lessons learned (mostly by trial and error).
Never order a burger at DL or DCA. They tend to be overcooked and dry and this probably has more to do with health and safety than anything else. A juicy medium rare burger in Disneyland is non-existent. Now Disney has tried to cover this in recent years by topping their burgers - chili and bacon at the Hungry Bear, and pastrami of all things at the Village Haus. Many people have said that adding additional toppings to the burgers have improved them. I haven't had the desire to try one and find out after several disappointments.
Most of the dining places that offer burgers also offer a chicken sandwich. Go with the chicken, they generally are better.
Disney has been trying to upscale and diversify their menu options. A lot of research goes into adding something new and different to a menu. If you go to a dining facility that offers something new on their menu, try it. At least Disney thinks they have hit on something people might like - fried green tomato sandwich at the Hungry Bear, flat bread pizza at the Village Haus, stuffed baked potatoes at the Troupador Tavern.
Large portions served at the French Market and Plaza Inn may be worth splitting. Generally these two places serve up very good quick service food.
Just because it's a table service restaurant does not mean the price is outrageous. You can have a reasonably priced meal at the Carnation Cafe, Cafe Orleans, and the Wine Country Trattoria over in DCA. The overall price would not be that much more than one of the better quick service dining places.
The Big Thunder BBQ is expensive running 20 bucks for lunch and 25 for dinner - fixed menu at a fixed price. The thing about Big Thunder is the food is quite good and it is "all you can eat."
The Blue Bayou is expensive but dinner runs about 5 bucks more than lunch so you can save a bit by going during the lunch time hours. If you have never been to the Blue Bayou - go, at least once. It's about as much about the dining experience as it is about the food. Both deliver. I have heard of people going to the Blue Bayou just for desserts. Don't think I would do this. You can also split a plate, but it is costly.
The Riverbelle Terrace serves up great carved sandwiches but they are very expensive at about $13 each. If we go there Mrs. DLT and I will generally split a sandwich.
For quick meals, there is the infamous corn dog - greasy and good and big enough to split. There is also the skewers at the Bengal BBQ - I love the bacon wrapped asparagus. There are hot dogs around but they tend to be overpriced, same with slices of pizza. There are better options. We also avoid the grab and go turkey legs and chimichangas.
We tend to avoid the greasy deep fried food served at the Golden Horseshoe and adjoining Stage Door Cafe. You mostly end up tasting grease.
Both DL and DCA have Mexican dining places - I think the DCA place is better as long as you stay away from the beef which again, tends to be overcooked and dry. I like the chicken tamales myself.
Soup in bread bowls is a popular choice because it is filling and fairly reasonably priced. My issue has always been that the soups are kind of mediocre in taste and generally not served hot enough. The Boudin bread though is very good. Over at the Pacific Wharf in DCA, they serve salads in a bread bowl. My sister loves these, especially the bay shrimp salad.
Disney bakers make some excellent baked goods and treats, same with the candy makers. Some of these goodies are pretty reasonably priced, some are not. Always worth taking a look though.
If you are a coffee drinker, get a cup at the Market House. Free refills all day with receipt.
Meals in Downtown Disney can be pricey as well but several of the restaurants have adjoining walk-up dining service for reasonable prices. This is a pretty nice option.
Well, that's a few thoughts on food. Make a dining plan when you go on a trip. A website like allears.net has all the menus online. With a little planning, your dining at Disneyland can be an enjoyable experience and not a "rip-off" as some people tend to believe.