his year’s Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival is an array of delicious riches. I went through every marketplace that is a part of this year’s festival, and tried every mouthwatering dish (here’s all the photos from this gastronomical voyage). Visiting the signature, regionally-specific marketplaces was so time consuming that I didn’t get to try any of the other aspects of this festival (there are many: In addition to the wine tasting and food-making seminars, there are also signature dishes available at many of the regular Disney California Adventure restaurants), so I’ll just have to go back.
Still, if you’re visiting Disney California Adventure Food and Wine, you’ll probably want to try the cuisine at each of the 7 marketplaces, all themed to a different aspect of California cooking. And with that in mind, I present my five favorite dishes at this year’s Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival:
5. White cheddar ale and bacon soup, served in a Boudin sourdough mini-boule.
This dish, available at the By the Bay marketplace (one of the overall best marketplaces at the festival), has everything. The soup itself is thick and creamy, with a great flavor profile (the little bacon chunks make a huge difference). But the big bonus is the tiny sourdough bread bowl that the soup comes in (baked by San Francisco mainstay, The Boudin Bakery). This is basically a second little meal in and of itself, and it is just as amazing as the soup. I loved walking around afterwards—it fueled my journey to the next marketplace.
4. Pork belly bao steamed bun with pickled vegetables.
Baos are Cantonese steamed buns that are very popular at Los Angeles eateries (hence they’re placement at the LA Style marketplace) and this one is utterly amazing. The bun itself is soft and fluffy, with an unbelievable texture. And the pork belly is absolutely delightful–a large, meaty, flavorful bite, adorned with pickled vegetables that add garnish and additional dimension. In short: this is one of the best things I’ve had in recent memory. It’s that good.
3. Apple bacon whoopie pie with maple cream cheese icing and bacon brittle.
Honestly, picking the best dessert from this year’s festival was a real challenge, since so many of the marketplaces had such memorable offerings. Still, a victor had to be crowned, and the very best dessert I had was this apple bacon whoopie pie with maple cream cheese icing and bacon brittle, from the Gold Rush marketplace. While this might sound like an odd choice, it’s only odd until you bite into the layered confection and you taste it, because this is the real deal. The flavor is sharp but never overpowering, basically tasting like a dessert version of your favorite Saturday morning breakfast. This is the biggest and best compliment I can give it; it tastes totally familiar and yet completely new.
2. Chilled shrimp and snow crab cocktail.
When you pick up this amazingly refreshing chilled shrimp and snow crab cocktail, you are immediately struck by the fact that a giant crab claw is sticking out of the top (with a handy slice of lemon). This wonderful dish, from the By the Bay marketplace, is refreshing and bold, especially on a sunny spring day. The cocktail sauce is more of a soup, with a spicy kick, and the shrimp and crab meat are plentiful and delicious.
1. Triple cheese mac with smoked chicken featuring fontina, cheddar and gouda cheeses.
And the gold prize goes to … this amazing triple cheese mac, from the Gold Rush marketplace. Sometimes people try to make mac and cheese fancy, and the dish loses its appeal because the inherent power of mac and cheese lies in its simplicity. There’s something profound about mac and cheese, about how simply eating it hits you with a rush of nostalgia, of consuming it as a child, combined with the pure pleasure of eating it as an adult (that gooey, gooey cheese). What makes this dish so great is that it’s a twist on the classic mac and cheese, but not too much of a twist. The three different cheeses complement each other brilliantly, and the smoked chicken makes for a great addition. (It’s somehow perfectly flavored; not too much, not too little, and you can taste the smokiness as well.) This is the kind of dish that I would recommend you get twice: once when you first walk into Disney California Adventure, and another time just before you leave. It’s that good.