People say it's the happiest place on Earth...but no happy day is complete without a delicious gluten free meal, right? I decided to find out for myself when my family visited Disneyland for a few days last week.
How can a celiac make sure their meals are just as magical as the scenery? And where can you find the best gluten free grub? Here are my favorite Disneyland finds!
My mom and I packed enough food so that we would only dine out for dinner each day. By 3:30 on the day we arrived, though, we were already starving - so we decided to throw a fiesta for our taste buds at Tortilla Jo's.
Tortilla Jo's is located in Downtown Disney, which makes it very convenient for people who are staying at any of the Disney hotels. While it - like most Disney restaurants - becomes a madhouse after 5, when we walked in at 3:30, Tortilla Jo's was nice and nearly empty.
Though I forgot to take a picture of the menu (food blogger fail), you can see all of the options on Disney's website. One part I loved? Gluten free options are indicated right on the regular menu! Some of the meals that sounded best to me included tacos, enchiladas of various types (from veggie to chicken), soups and combo plates.
Since my server didn't seem extremely knowledgeable about celiac disease, I asked to speak to one of the chefs. When he came out, he confirmed that the chips and salsa were gluten free and fried in a separate fryer (score!), and said that my top choice - veggie enchiladas with cilantro rice and black beans but no cheese - would have no chance to touch gluten. He did warn me that the red rice, which is offered with some dishes, uses a paste that could contain minute traces of gluten - so avoid that!
My mom, also gluten free, ended up ordering a chicken enchilada and chicken taco with white rice (instead of red) and sauteed veggies rather than black beans. The gluten-eaters were equally excited for their chicken enchiladas with rice, beans and sweet corn.
Probably because the restaurant wasn't busy at the time, our food emerged after only 15-20 minutes. (Not that we minded - their chips tasted light and not greasy while the salsa was spicy without setting your taste buds on fire). When our food arrived, the plates were steaming hot and we immediately dug in.
Honestly? This is one of the best meals - and definitely the best Mexican meal - I've eaten since my celiac diagnosis. The beans were creamy while the rice tasted fluffy and super fresh thanks to the cilantro. As for the enchiladas, I was in heaven! The sauteed vegetables - a mixture of squash, zucchini, tomato and corn - tasted soft without being mushy. The red sauce gave my taste buds a little kick of spice and the corn tortilla tied all of the ingredients together.
My family equally loved their dishes. My mom enjoyed that her green sauce wasn't spicy and the restaurant obviously used very high quality chicken. My dad and sister gushed over the corn - which they said tasted creamy and sweet, like it had just been scraped off the cob. Overall, we all agreed that the food tasted super fresh and light.
And, when we ate our leftover enchiladas the next night, they tasted even better than the first time - a true stamp of a delicious meal.
Flo's V8 Cafe:
The next night at Disneyland, I wanted to eat a home-style meal. I'd read many positive reviews online about the new Flo's V8 Cafe in Cars Land, so I dragged the family there around 3:30 on Thursday.
At first glance, Flo's V8 Cafe is charming. It's decorated like an old gas station and diner with plenty of classic touches like old car parts framed in the wall, black and white checkerboard and fiesta ware dishes. When we walked in, there wasn't a line for food - but by the time we ordered, plenty of people were drooling over the menu behind us!
When we reached the check out counter, I told the server I had celiac disease and she immediately gave me an allergen-friendly menu to look at. Though I failed (again) to photograph it - I blame my extreme hunger - Flo's offers several gluten free, dairy free, soy free and nut free choices. Some that stick out in my mind are roast beef sandwiches on a gluten free bun, ribs, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies and a quarter roasted chicken.
My mom and I each ordered a quarter roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and roasted veggies. The server asked if we would like to speak to the chef and I eagerly said yes. He appeared only a few minutes later, confirmed that our choice was already 99% gluten free - he would just not add a chicken sauce on the top - and said he would personally oversee our orders.
Our food appeared only 5-10 minutes later, along with the roast beef sandwich and turkey club that my sister and dad ordered. First of all, the chicken dish was the perfect serving size for one hungry diner! The mashed potatoes tasted rich, but not overwhelmingly so, and I loved the pieces of potato skin mixed in. As for the steamed veggies, I - of course - enjoyed the mix of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots.
When it comes to chicken, I can be pretty picky. I don't like dry chicken or one that is extremely fatty. Flo's was neither - it tasted juicy, offered plenty of white meat and boasted a fresh, home cooked flavor. My dad and sister also devoured their sandwiches and sides - a good plain meal after all the rich treats we'd been eating!
Jolly Holiday's Bakery and Cafe:
My research had also shown that Jolly Holiday offers some gluten free pastries - so, of course, Mom and I had to check out the options. I was pleased to see that they offered pre-packaged goodies (including a blueberry muffin, fudge brownie and chocolate chip cookie) from OMG It's Gluten Free. While I would've definitely enjoyed freshly baked goods, I appreciated their work to prevent cross contamination.
In the end, we bought one of each - a true YOLO moment - but have only tried the blueberry muffin so far. My mom enjoyed it for breakfast our last day at Disneyland. I'd apologize for the poor photo quality - but, considering it was 6 A.M. and we were all walking zombies, I'm pretty proud I snapped one at all!
According to my Mom, the muffin tasted extremely moist, which was nicely juxtaposed with the crunchy sugar crystals sprinkled on top. She also enjoyed the large blueberries dispersed throughout and that the muffin tasted dense, but still fluffy.
When my dad suggested we check out the pastry and chocolate store in Downtown Disney, I didn't expect to find any gluten free options. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Disney has apparently enlisted the help of two of my favorite companies - Wow Baking Company and Enjoy Life Foods - to offer allergen free Disney treats.
In terms of the Wow cookies, Disney offers two flavors: chocolate chip and lemon burst. My dad, although a gluten eater, snacked on these throughout our stay. As with the non-Disney versions, the cookies were soft, sweet but not sickeningly so, and the perfect size for a small treat.
As for the Enjoy Life Food offerings, I found products ranging from chocolate to individually packed cookies to snack bars to trail mix. As usual, all options were free of the top either allergens. Although I didn't buy any (mainly because I already had non-Disney equivalents in my suitcase), I love that Disney is working with Enjoy Life to let kids with allergies experience the same (sugary) Disney magic.
It's also worth noting that I saw these same bars and bags of trail mix for sale at a shop near Grizzly River Run in Disneyland. Just don't feed them to the Bears!
Part of the Disney magic during our visit was definitely finding foods that were celiac safe and delicious. Everyone deserves to eat safely when enjoying the happiest place on Earth - and I hope these reviews and recommendations will help you do just that!
Have you gone to Disneyland with food allergies or celiac disease? Where are your favorite eats? Comment below!