1. Carthay Circle Restaurant and Lounge
Buena Vista Street (Disney California Adventure)
The benchmark by far; Club 33 is overrated and ordinary by comparison. The Carthay is exactly what you hope would spring from the oxymoron "Disney fine dining": retro elegance that doesn't put class above comfort, impeccable service, a touch of that Mouse magic in both dishes and decor, and superior eats that measure up to most anything the steakhouses and bistros in Newport Beach are slinging.
Start in the lounge, where tables can also be booked for smaller plates. Sip on a Tequila Daisy (a frothier sour margarita) while eyeing archival photos of Walt and his contemporaries festooned throughout the two-story art deco replica. Once upstairs -- and, if you're lucky, seated on the balcony patio with a perfect view of the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty Castle -- shrug off that FastPass for Radiator Springs and settle in for a leisurely meal that deserves to make all the stops.
Blue crab lettuce cups and ginger-lemongrass chicken satay are excellent starters, and the jalapeño-laced fried biscuits are a signature for a reason. From there, you pretty much can't go wrong. Having tried all but one current entree (the menu changes seasonally), only a hearty-yet-still-lacking shellfish cioppino came off average. The Delmonico steak is outstanding, the chicken superbly smoked, the thick-cut pork chop expertly cooked for maximum succulence. And you’re a fool not to finish with a warm dulce de leche marshmallow turnover, the sort of reconstructed s'more only an Imagineering chef would dream up.
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Ben Wener is the former pop music critic at The Orange County Register and also has written for The Hollywood Reporter, Consequence of Sound, and more. Find him (and not much else) on Twitter and Instagram.