Disneyland is called the Happiest Place on Earth for good reason. No matter your age, you can let your hair down and remember what it’s like to be a kid again with its fantasy worlds, spectacular attractions, embroidered mouse ears, larger-than-life characters, and last but not least, delicious eats. When it comes to food, Disneyland does not disappoint — there’s not a chance that you’ll leave the park hungry, though you’ll likely leave with a lot less money in your wallet. Hey, it might be tasty, but nobody said it was cheap to eat pretzels and beignets shaped like the world’s most famous mouse.
But while you happily gobble up ginormous turkey legs and suck down refreshing Dole Whips as you stroll down Main Street, you’ve probably never stopped to think about the story behind some of the most iconic Disneyland fare — and when an amusement park has been around for over 60 years, there’s bound to be a few things about its history that you don’t know. Here’s what you might not know about the dining scene at Disneyland.
A snack food favorite was born there
Casa de Fritos debuted at the park not long after Disneyland opened in 1955. The vaguely Mexican restaurant, sponsored by Frito-Lay, unsurprisingly featured a whole lot of Fritos corn chips, with dishes like Frito chili pie and Frito tamale special gracing the menu. While Fritos came with every meal, your typical tortilla chips did not — until the restaurant’s tortilla salesman noticed stale tortillas tossed into the garbage. He advised the cooks to fry those babies up in oil rather than letting them go to waste, and they did. This unofficial menu item was a hit, though at this point they weren’t the nacho cheese chips we all know and love. It wasn’t until Frito-Lay’s Arch West visited the eatery and stumbled upon the new addition to the menu that they were christened Doritos — which loosely translates to "little golden things" — and began mass production of the chips in 1966. It wasn’t until 1974 that nacho cheese flavor hit the market, but had that tortilla salesman never tipped off the Casa de Fritos cooks, we might have never had Doritos in our lives.
Are the turkey legs really emu?
Considering how freakishly large Disneyland’s famous turkey legs are, it’s not too surprising that there’s a rumor floating around that they’re actually emu legs. So, what kind of meat are you really eating?
Sorry, emu meat-lovers — you’re going to have to look elsewhere for your fix. Believe it or not, you’re sinking your teeth into the very same bird that’s front and center on your Thanksgiving table. Well, maybe not exactly the same bird… you may have noticed a disparity between the size of the turkeys you typically buy at the grocery store and the ginormous legs at Disneyland. The reason they seem so much larger than anything we roast at home is because they come from toms, or male turkeys, which can weigh in at a whopping 50 pounds. Compare that to the puny 12-pounder you’re accustomed to and it’s no wonder the emu rumor got started.
And for the emu-curious, according to Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern, an emu leg would taste beefier than a turkey leg, with the flavor of roasted veal, and have a metallic quality to it. Yum?
There’s an astoundingly expensive members-only dining experience
Although Disneyland’s Club 33 isn’t such a secret anymore thanks to insider Instagram, this members-only dining experience continues to be super exclusive and astonishingly expensive. Located behind a relatively inconspicuous door at 33 Orleans Street in New Orleans Square, the jazz lounge and restaurant is the only place in the park that serves alcohol. The question is, how much are you willing to pay for a glass of wine?
According to Insider, members reported in 2016 that once you get past the invite-only, sometimes years-long waiting list, the initiation fee ranges from $25,000 to $100,000. And don’t forget the annual fee of $12,500 to $35,000 thereafter.
If you think all that cash entitles you to a free dinner, think again. LA Weekly reported in 2013 that the privilege of dining at Club 33 will cost you about $100 per person, not to mention that cost to get into the park, because no, that’s not included either. But hey, park admission is probably the least of your worries when you just dropped $100,000 to join a secret club.
The other wildly expensive dinner option
If the exorbitantly expensive Club 33 is a bit out of reach, Disneyland has another dining option for you: 21 Royal. Also located in New Orleans Square, this private dinner for 12 is only $15,000. And before you get excited thinking that dinner for two would only run you $2,500, you should know that you must pay for a total buyout, regardless of how many guests you have. The good news is that this time park admission is included. Score?
According to LA Weekly, a 21 Royal experience includes a cocktail hour complete with your own sommelier, and a seven-course dinner that ends with dessert on the balcony while watching the always-spectacular fireworks show (which honestly makes this worth the price alone — have you seen their fireworks shows?!). And because Disneyland is super reasonable, along with park admission that $15,000 price tag also includes tax, tip, and valet parking.
You can get your Dole Whip faster — and make it even tastier
If there’s one thing park-goers absolutely must have during a visit to Disneyland, it’s a Dole Whip. The pineapple-flavored soft serve has developed a cult following, causing long lines to form at the one and only location in the park where you can get your hands on the refreshing treat. But what if we told you there was a way to bypass that line?
Instead of waiting in the Tiki Juice Bar line, use a bit of insider information and head right into the Enchanted Tiki Room. Even if you don’t want to stay for the singing bird show (but why wouldn’t you?), you can order a Dole Whip inside where the line is usually significantly shorter.
One more hack you need to know: To turn your Dole Whip into a sweet and spicy affair, ask for a packet of Tajin when you place your order. The lime and chili flavored seasoning will completely transform your treat, and — are you ready for this? — it’s free.
Secret menu items you need to know
There’s no shortage of food favorites at the Happiest Place on Earth, what with the turkey legs, churros, Dole Whips, and so much more. But everyone loves a secret menu, so it comes as no surprise that Disneyland has its own array of eats for those in the know. (Note that secret menu items are subject to availability of ingredients.)
- If you love In-N-Out‘s animal-style burger, grab an alien-style Galactic Burger at Tomorrowland’s Galactic Grill. Your burger will come topped with a mouthwatering combination of cheese, grilled onions, thousand island, and — wait for it — french fries.
- At The Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland you can get your hands on ice cream nachos, which is made up of waffle cone "chips" topped with three scoops of ice cream (mint chip, strawberry, and vanilla), along with all the classic sundae toppings — yes, there’s even a cherry on top.
- If you just have to have some basic mozzarella sticks, head to Frontierland’s Stage Door Cafe to satisfy your craving. Fried cheese always hits the spot.
More secret menu items
Can’t get enough of the secret menu items? These mouthwatering dishes are definitely worth seeking out.
- If you need more Mickey-shaped foods in your life, head to Main Street Refreshment Corner for a chili mac and cheese bread bowl, complete with Mickey ears. It’s exactly what it sounds like — half chili, half mac and cheese, and totally delicious.
- As long as you’re at the Main Street Refreshment Corner, grab the Firefly Nachos — corn chips, chili, cheese, and jalapeños, served in a chip bag. It’s basically Disneyland’s version of a walking taco.
- Snag an order of loaded Buffalo tots at the River Belle Terrace in Frontierland. These bad boys come loaded with pimento cheese sauce, spicy buffalo sauce, Gorgonzola cheese crumbles, and pickled onions.
- Bring your appetite for the monstrous Zocalo Burrito at Frontierland’s Rancho del Zocalo. This beast comes stuffed with every ingredient in the food prep line: chicken, beef, carnitas, beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole, and is topped with tomatillo and guajillo sauces.
You could once get your favorite fries at the park
Once upon a time, the Happiest Place on Earth was an even happier place. How could that be? Well, years ago Disneyland served McDonald’s french fries, and no matter how you feel about the Golden Arches, you have to admit that their fries are the best.
From 1998 to 2008, park-goers could feast on McDonald’s fries from the Westward Ho Conestoga Wagon, located outside of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride. How french fries tied in with Frontierland we’re not really clear, but the wagon’s menu did inexplicably describe the salty snack as "manly enough for his hunger and delicate enough for her taste."
According to the Los Angeles Times, the fries were eventually eliminated from the park as Disneyland strived to offer healthier options for children, though it should be noted that guests can still get french fries at the park — they just (sadly) aren’t McDonald’s.
What you won’t find in the park
Though it seems like there are endless possibilities when it comes to the food and drinks at Disneyland, there are a few items that you’ll never be able to buy in the park.
- Gum: You can search high and low for a pack of gum, but not a single vendor sells it. The reasoning is simple — gum makes a mess, and Walt Disney didn’t want guests to experience stepping in discarded gum.
- Alcohol: Unless you’re a high-roller bellying up to the bar at the exclusive Club 33, you’re out of luck with the booze. This is yet another instance of Walt Disney wanting to ensure that the park remained a family affair, not a bar crawl. If you must, hop over to California Adventure for your fix.
- Pepsi: It’s all Coke, all the time at Disneyland. Pepsi-lovers won’t find a trace of their beloved soda in the park, thanks to the exclusive partnership with Coca-Cola. Nothing’s stopping you from bringing it in, though.