Courtesy of Jakob Layman

Southern California's food scene is easily among the best in the country right now, and Disneyland's just minutes from some of the region's tastiest places.

David Landsel
September 11, 2017

Walt Disney most likely did not have this in mind when selecting 160 acres of orange groves and walnut trees in Anaheim, California for what would become one of the world's most-loved (and most visited) theme parks, but one of the best things about choosing the original resort over its more spacious cousin in Florida has to be the fact that Disneyland is so closely tied to the real world. You know, the one that Walt wanted park guests so badly to be able to escape.  

Long ago swept up in Southern California's tightly-gridded sprawl, Disneyland may no longer be a world apart, but being crowded in like this absolutely does have its advantages. For one, getting in and out of the parks is pretty simple, once you master the art—whether you have a car or not, it's possible to duck in and out of the Resort to your heart's content, ensuring that anyone looking for a really good meal need only summon a Lyft or an Uber for a short ride out into, err, civilization. (Just have drivers pick you up at Disney's Grand Californian Resort—the hotel's front driveway is an extremely short walk from both park gates, unless you're staying there, in which case, just head downstairs, you lucky so-and-so.) 

Hungry? Had enough of the crowds? Say goodbye to Mickey and Friends—temporarily, anyway—and hit one of these five very different scenes, all a short ride away.  

Eat your way through Orange County's coolest downtown. Long synonymous with suburbia (and mostly sought-after for its suburban comforts), it sure has taken a long time for the county seat—the historic city of Santa Ana—to come back into fashion as a place to see and be seen, but over the past few years, the city seems to be making up for lost time, adding a public market and numerous new dining and drinking establishments to its walkable downtown area—one ride down here (just a little over $10 with Uber or Lyft, normally) and you're good to go. Start with fresh-roasted coffee and pastries at neighborhood-y Hidden House, then walk over to the 4th Street Market, a hub of happy activity that's not just a place to come eat (or play ping pong on the patio), it also hosts an incubator kitchen designed to help fledgling food businesses come into their own. Looking to do a civilized night out? Grab cocktails at the gorgeous new Vacation before dinner at Playground, one of the county's top spots these days—make sure to book ahead.

One of the country's best Chinese restaurants is in a nearby shopping mall. It won't surprise anyone familiar with Southern California to learn that there's a location of Taiwan's Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung in Orange County's South Coast Plaza. There, just by the Uniqlo, you'll see shoppers lined up, day after day, for juicy xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, typically filled with pork, or, better still, both pork and crab. It may be one of the area's most onerous brunch waits around on the weekends, but it's open all week, serving its simple, accessible menu—besides those dumplings, make sure to try the classic beef noodle soup, a Taiwanese favorite. Tip: Save time and grab seats at the bar, where the full menu is always served.

Get to know Little Saigon. The once-nondescript suburbs of Garden Grove and Westminster have undergone a rather epic, decades-long transformation to become the largest center for Vietnamese culture (and eating!) outside of, well, Vietnam. Just a short drive from the parks—fifteen minutes or so, max, usually—lands you in the middle of what's known around here as Little Saigon, a sprawling commercial area of dated shopping plazas and drive-thru restaurants that's crammed with far too many good Vietnamese restaurants, cafes and bakeries to count. From the simple, traditional soups at Pho 79 to those tasty and cheap sandwiches banh mi pretty much everywhere to a good sit-down meal at the smart, accessible Brodard, not to mention an abundance of good pastry and strong coffee at bakeries like Boulangerie Pierre, it would take you a week or more to do the area any kind of justice—a great introduction, if you can time it right, is to hit the weekends-only, June-September night markets, held at the Asian Garden Mall—an experience unto itself—over on Bolsa Avenue.

Head to downtown Anaheim. (It's a thing!) Just a few short minutes (and, typically, about a $7 Uber ride) from Disneyland, you can find actual locals out and about, shopping for local produce at a very good farmers market, eating their way through one of Southern California's most beautiful new food halls, tasting local beer, hitting yoga classes or just catching a bit of sun in an attractive new park. It has only been around for a couple of years now, but Anaheim's Packing District, which seemed like a hair-brained scheme on paper—could dull old downtown Anaheim really become a thing?—now seems like the smartest idea of all time. Weekends, you'll be jostling the local crowd for space, particularly in the market, but it's always worth a stop—make sure to hit the recently-added Georgia's for good soul food, along with Hans' for homemade ice cream.

Make a quick run to Little Arabia.
You don't need to have a lot of time for a food run to dig into one of Anaheim's most interesting commercial areas. Running up and down Brookhurst Avenue just west of Downtown Disney, this ethnic enclave that's been around for at least a few decades now, seemingly growing bigger each year. Aleppo's Kitchen is a standout, a popular Syrian restaurant that's newer to the strip, but there's all sorts of options—proper Lebanese flatbreads at Al Amir, kebabs at Sahara Falafel. Right at the heart of the action, the long-running Cortina's Italian Market is one of Orange County's favorite places to go for reasonably-priced Italian-American favorites—think pizzas, generous orders of pasta and killer subs. They're very good at take-out, and most Disneyland Resort hotels are barely ten minutes away. Just saying.