As a longtime annual pass-holder, dining inside Disneyland's two theme parks never crosses my mind. For those who desire more than your average pizza, fries and burgers, Disneyland concessions don't cut it.
But menu makeovers debuting throughout the park and resort area could be a game-changer for finicky theme park foodies. Items like bacon-and-fennel-topped flatbreads, premium beef burgers and sausages, handcraft beers, rum cocktails and decadent desserts are landing on Disneyland Resort menus.
If I'm forced to eat during a park visit, my go-to choices are chili dogs or corn dogs sold at Award Wieners or the Little Red Wagon. For a classier meal, my family and I walk outside the park to dine at Napa Rose in the Grand Californian Hotel.
But now we can add a few more places to our short list: Village Haus and Hungry Bear restaurants in Disneyland.
The counter-service eateries have upgraded their menus to focus on layers of flavor. Revamped meal offerings include specialty burgers, flatbreads and salads packed with premium ingredients. (For the less adventurous, including children, you can still get a plain cheeseburger and pepperoni pizza.)
"It's about time they switched things up," Disneyland annual pass-holder Amber Cooper said of the new foods.
Disneyland executive chefs Bill Orton and Chris Maggetti worked together for months to enhance the food offerings at Village Haus in Fantasyland and the Hungry Bear Restaurant near Splash Mountain to impress foodies like Cooper.
"Upgrading of the (food) quality is the prime goal we have," Orton said during a recent phone interview.
And so far, the response has been favorable.
"The new food at Hungry Bear is fabulous," said Cooper, 35, of Anaheim. "The sandwich I had was huge – enough for two people to easily share. The sweet potato fries are a nice break from the regular French fries found throughout the park. The cupcakes with honeybees are not only cute, but super yummy too."
Among the top sellers at the Village Haus is a meat-heavy pastrami and beef Angus burger and a BLT-style flatbread pizza topped with bacon, arugula and fennel.
"They can't keep up with those BLTs," Maggetti said of the popularity of the flatbread pizza.
The food changes don't stop at these two restaurants.
A billion-dollar makeover at Disney California Adventure will also include rethemed restaurants with bolder flavors and healthier dishes as well a new specialty beer stand.
Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta (formerly Pizza Oom Mow Mow), scheduled to open July 1, will serve flatbread with pesto, artichokes, mozzarella, ricotta-salata and Pecorino Romano cheeses. The latter is a sharp sheep's milk variety considered to be one of the oldest cheeses in Italy. The fast-casual Italian eatery will also have an exhibition kitchen, where park visitors can watch flatbread pizzas being pulled from ovens.
Nearby, Paradise Garden Grill (formerly Burger Invasion) will feature a menu of healthy Mediterranean-inspired foods such as pitas, salads, and kabobs.
"We're excited about those two restaurants," Maggetti said. "That whole area is going to be so alive."
Taking advantage of the handcraft brew craze, Disney officials confirm they are adding a beer and pretzel kiosk July 1 in Paradise Pier.
Dubbed Bayside Brews, the California Adventure food stand will serve warm, salted pretzels and various types of domestic and specialty brews, including Sierra Nevada and Karl Strauss beers. The latter is also available at a beer truck at Pacific Wharf.
The Corn Dog Castle, whose menu remains unchanged, will also return in late spring at Paradise Pier.
On May 25, Disneyland Hotel plans to open Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sam's – a Tiki-themed restaurant and bar. The new dining venues are part of a larger makeover of the hotel grounds.
"I can't wait to go to Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sam's! The food and drinks sound very unique and fun," Cooper said.
The restaurant and bar replacing Hook's Pointe seafood restaurant and Lost Bar cocktail lounge are expected to be a big draw for young adults looking for a late-night hangout within the resort. The food and drinks will match the Tahitian décor with menu items such as rum-soaked fruit cocktails, tamarind-glazed pork shanks and Kalua pork flatbread.
Disney fan Patrick Jandorf predicts lines out the door once the new bar and restaurant debuts.
"There aren't too many things for people to do after the parks close," Jandorf said. "Glow Fest and Electronica have proved that twentysomethings with disposable income love to spend money on drinks at Disneyland if the atmosphere is fun."