Review: California Grill at Disney World

This is an older review of the California Grill at Disney World. Some of the items in this review are still on the menu. Unfortunately, the restaurant now offers a prix fixe menu that requires guests to order multiple things instead of having a range of choices overall.

Disney’s California Grill has become my family’s favorite pastime in recent years. A meal here provides the opportunity to experience Disney dining at its best. Additionally, dinner at California Grill offers the ability to take in a unique view of the nightly fireworks at Magic Kingdom.

In this review of California Grill, we’ll look at several dining experiences we’ve had to date at the Contemporary Resort’s signature restaurant.

I’ll be the first to admit I am a bit biased about this particular restaurant. That’s because it’s my absolute favorite signature restaurant at Walt Disney World.

California Grill offers stunning views of the Magic Kingdom and the surrounding resort area. Not only that, but the food is worth a dining reservation. The ever-changing seasonal menu keeps us returning for fresh and exciting new dishes.

Since I wrote this initial review, I have returned often. And there have been no complaints. This is a dining experience that keeps me longing to return for more. And I doubt that will change. It’s just that good.

I hope this dinner review will encourage you to try a meal there! From the window seat views of Seven Seas Lagoon to the high-quality cuisine, the entire experience always leaves us looking forward to a return visit.

Disney’s California Grill Review

This original review of California Grill covered a dining experience from the springtime. That meal was so good that I returned in the Fall to see if I would have the same experience.

So now, this review reflects several updates and covers multiple meals at the restaurant. Doing this offers the chance to sample California Grill’s ever-changing menu. I never want to miss an angle.

If I were to give a rating for California Grill, it would be a 10 out of 10. And that’s considering over five to six dining experiences in the last few years. The restaurant is regarded as a signature dining location, or you might call it fine dining.

The food is high quality and prepared in an open-style kitchen. California Grill’s menu offers many fresh and unique ingredients. The service we have received at every meal has been exceptional. And the fact that the restaurant has nightly fireworks viewing for anyone who has dined there that evening is also a special perk.

Disney’s California Grill has a muted color palette with bright pops of color. The idea and design of the restaurant are to keep you looking out toward the breathtaking views.

The picture below shows that the shades are dropped at the beginning of the dinner service. As the sun begins to set, or in the event of rain, the shades will automatically rise.

The vibe at California Grill is also very modern and airy, keeping in line with the overall feel of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. You’ll notice a lot of golden tone-woods and white accents like counters and table clothes. The restaurant has many clean lines to help support the overall design.

Regarding service, we know several of the servers by name. That’s just how good of an experience we have had and a testament to the restaurant. One of our last servers was very knowledgeable of the menu, and I asked him his opinion on some of the items I had in mind.

Your server should have had good training if you are enjoying fine dining. They will be able to educate you appropriately on what you might be interested in ordering. There have been many fabulous meals I would never have tried if it hadn’t been for the direction of a server.

Disney’s California Grill Menu Items

I’ve gone back and forth about adding the menu to this California Grill review. Ultimately, I’ve decided to leave a link to the menu on Disney’s site.

However, the online menu is rarely accurate. You might preview the most up-to-date menu online an hour before your experience, then arrive and find a completely different menu.

I mention it because it’s been the case nearly every time I’ve dined here. Sure, some of the classics listed will always be there. But I couldn’t decide what I wanted before reviewing the actual menu at the restaurant.

We’ll start with the cocktail list. Disney’s California Grill has a signature cocktail list with several fun drink offerings.

Here is a look at a few recent items. If you do not care about a drink, just let your server know. They will let you reorder a new drink. The restaurant also has an extensive wine list. The list will be delivered to your table when you are seated.

First, we have the Blackberry Sour. This drink comprises Ketel One Citron Vodka, house-made lemonade, and fresh blackberries. It tastes like pink lemonade; I don’t think anyone could consider this a strong drink. I enjoyed the drink, but I don’t think it would be something I would return to again, given the variety of options on the menu.

On a different evening, I ordered the Ancho Rancho Spicy Margarita at my server’s recommendation.

This drink comprises Patron Anejo, Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur, lime juice, and agave nectar. The margarita is something I have had on multiple occasions at the California Grill. I would also order it again. It’s a fun play on a classic margarita with a hint of spice.

Disney’s California Grill has a long list of appetizers and sushi items. When I dine here, I like to order an appetizer and pair it with an additional sushi roll or flatbread. This makes for a wonderful meal and sometimes allows you to try more than one item, especially if you are on a budget.

The Market Strawberry Salad below is something I’ve had in the Spring of the year. The menu described the dish as–Plant City Strawberries, Pomegranate-Tarragon Vinaigrette, La Tur Cheese, and Pistachio Meringue.

I ordered this dish to come out appetizer style before my main course. This salad is a contender for one of the best salads I’ve ever had! It was visually appealing. The strawberries were fresh and had a sweet tang.

The cheese was just AHHHHHH!-dissolve in your mouth, goodness. The coffee grinds gave the dish an utterly unexpected sharpness and texture. The entire salad was divine and perfect for California Grill’s lengthy list of appealing appetizers.

Late summer brings peaches, and with that in mind, I ordered this peach salad on a return visit. The chef had rotated this wonderful new salad onto the seasonal menu. This is fried goat cheese, candied pecans, summer greens, and a roasted cherry vinaigrette.

This salad was another extremely well-composed dish. It’s simple and fresh. The goat cheese adds the perfect texture to the dish.

When I visit, one of the first things I look at is the seasonal salad offering. I pretty much know it will be a win from past experiences.

California Grill’s Sonoma goat cheese ravioli is a signature item on the menu. You’ll want to save room for this dish. On my last visit, I tried the ravioli for the first time. It won’t be the last.

The menu describes this item as tomato-fennel broth, crispy mushrooms, tiny basil, and Arbequina organic olive oil.

It’s just one large ravioli with the daintiest, crispy mushrooms adorning it. The mushrooms reminded me of Tiffin’s Restaurant at the Animal Kingdom.

When you break the pasta, the goat cheese flows from the dish and populates the soupy broth. It’s an experience within itself. My server suggested saturating some of the bread in the broth, so I didn’t miss a bite. He was right. It made a perfect combination.

I was so excited to share these items with you that I almost forgot to mention you will receive bread service. A nice loaf of bread and a wonderful olive oil dipping sauce are brought out to the table.

Another specialty item at California Grill is its flatbreads. While I hesitate to add this item, I want to show you what their flatbreads typically look like.

This particular flatbread is another seasonal menu item, the Corn and Carnitas. The restaurant is also known for making several different kinds of hand-formed pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven.

The corn and carnitas pizza had a ton of flavor. Unfortunately, the meat that topped my pie was a little overcooked. No worries. They immediately corrected the issue and let me change my order.

Personally, this is the only time I’ve ever had any issues at the California Grill. I was very pleased with the prompt handling of the situation.

As you can see, the pizza has a lot of fresh ingredients. It was confirmed during my visit that they were having an issue with how it had been prepared that evening.

Whether it’s an order of Halibut or a fresh take on a vegan or plant-based food meal, Disney’s California Grill has you covered on entree selections. I’ve enjoyed many wonderfully executed entrees at the restaurant.

On his last visit, my son had the Oak-Fired Filet of Beef. This dish is another staple on the California Grill menu.

Per the menu, this dish is described as Creme Fraiche Mashed Potatoes, Jumbo Asparagus, Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette, and Triple Garlic Butter. As for the above preparation, it was for food allergies. So your dish might not come out with the same appearance.

The chef always comes tableside and discusses the allergies when we visit. Then they ask my son what he was interested in having. After some discussion, they decided on a special order of potatoes made with olive oil and spices. That was accompanied by asparagus, and the filet was prepared in separate pans to avoid cross-contamination.

The filet was cooked to a nice medium. He thoroughly enjoyed it, and we were pleased with the accommodation.

Disney’s California Grill is also known for its hand-rolled sushi preparations. I had my eye on the Sashimi and considered trying the Tuna Three Way.

Sometimes the choices are overwhelming. I don’t have the opportunity to eat sushi often and was having difficulty choosing. Again, I asked our server, and he suggested the New Moon Roll.

The New Moon Roll: Maine Lobster, Avocado, Barbecued Eel, Rice Pearls, Gochujang Dragon Sauce

It was scrumptious! I am ashamed to admit (not really) that I ate every single bite of this yummy dish. I would have received a smiley face sticker for cleaning my entire plate this evening.

The barbecued eel is the seafood you see lying over the top of the sushi with the avocado and garnish. It had a sweet-and-sour-style barbecue sauce, and the meat had a thin, delicate texture.

The sushi roll was well-composed, and it might be hard to beat flavorwise moving forward. This is highly recommended.

This California Grill dinner review would not be complete without a look at dessert. Dessert is a treat we usually don’t order while dining out. But if we were going to order something sweet, this is one of the few places we would do it.

This is the Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Milk Chocolate-whipped Panna Cotta, Cashew Clusters

When the server asked if we wanted dessert, I was at that “Why not?” point on this visit. I was looking at the Strawberry Crème Brulee on the menu because it sounds so good. But I was more in the mood for something chocolate.

The cake came out in the form of a pyramid, while the warm chocolate sauce was perfectly fanned on the plate. Another dish complemented by texture and spark with the coffee grinds. The accompanying Panna Cotta was smooth and whipped to fluffy perfection. Dessert was another resonating course that will not be long forgotten.

California Grill Dress Code

All of the signature dining restaurants operate with a formal dress code. The dress code at Disney’s California Grill is no exception.

Here’s an excerpt from Disney covering the dress code:

“For men: Khakis, Slacks, Jeans, or Dress Shorts with Collared Shirts. Sports Coats are optional.

For women: Capris, Pants, Skirts, Dresses, Jeans, or Dress Shorts

Not Allowed: Tank Tops, Swim Suites, Swim Suit Cover Ups, Hats for Gentlemen, Cut-offs, Torn Clothes, and no T-shirts with offensive language or graphics.”

Magic Kingdom Fireworks from California Grill

I’m not always great at making it to the nightly fireworks. But I enjoy them even though they aren’t a dealbreaker. Perhaps, it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to attend so many fireworks viewings in my lifetime.

That said, I recommend returning for the evening fireworks at Disney’s California Grill. Or schedule a late meal so the fireworks can be part of your dining experience.

All you have to do is return about fifteen minutes before the fireworks. Show your receipt, and you’ll be escorted by elevator back up to the restaurant’s observation deck.

There’s a large deck on each side of the California Grill. The audio for the fireworks is streamed to the area through a speaker system. So you get a bit of a different viewpoint, but the audio feels like you are standing inside Magic Kingdom Park.

You can also watch the fireworks from your table if the timing falls during your meal. The entire experience makes you feel special. It’s like you are a part of something distinct and rare.

Disney’s evening fireworks spectacular is exquisite in its own right. The show has so many touching moments, which can be pretty emotional. It can also be challenging to see the fireworks inside the Magic Kingdom due to its popularity. Sitting at your table and taking it in casually is almost a surreal feeling.

Final Thoughts

To summarize this California Grill review, it’s a must-do reservation. Eating here this evening reminded me of the last time I had an evening reservation and how much my life has changed since then.

I was also reminded of a time around Christmas (a year prior) when we walked up to the host stand and asked if we could eat in the California Grill Lounge area during the fireworks without a reservation. We were very fortunate that night to find a seat.

That evening included oysters, pizza, dessert, and indoor fireworks viewing. A memory so bittersweet of Jiminy Cricket, as he said, “Home is where the heart is,” during the special Holiday Wishes fireworks.

Indeed many of you reading this might understand that sentiment. California Grill is a classic favorite and a part of my Disney home. Maybe you can try it out sometime if you haven’t and see what I mean.

For more information about staying at Disney’s Contemporary, we have a complete list of articles related to the resort in our guide:

Or you might try these:

Or you can view our complete list of Disney World Resort Reviews.

Make sure to visit the entire collection of Disney Restaurant Reviews here on the site! You might also be interested in these other popular dining reviews:

Or you might enjoy these resort-specific dining guides:

I hope you have enjoyed this California Grill review and the updates! If you are looking for that special dining reservation on your next vacation, try it. Let me know your thoughts on dining here in the comments below.

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  1. Thank you for all of the info! Including the dress code was an exceptional touch. Are you allowed to visit the resort restaurants if you aren’t staying on a Disney property?

    1. Welcome, and yes you can visit any of the resorts even if you aren’t staying on Disney property. However, you will need to have a confirmed dining reservation if you’re driving over. Security will usually not let anyone park unless they have reservations.

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