Amusement Parks Where We Think The Food Is Better Than The Rides

When you reflect on childhood memories of amusement park food, you probably think of nachos with bright yellow cheese, cardboard-esque slices of lukewarm pizza, or funnel cakes piled high with powdered sugar. You may shudder at the thought of eating that now, but back then, it was pure heaven — despite the fact that at least one of those fond memories very likely includes a bout of nausea brought on by eating too many deep-fried delicacies before hopping on the fastest ride.

In recent years, amusement parks have become much more food-centric and the days of the only dining options being chicken tenders and fries are long gone. Instead of being a sad afterthought, the foods are now creating their own buzz, complete with lines long enough to rival those for the tallest rollercoasters and cutest mascot photo ops.

It's a smart strategy, as making the food and drinks an additional attraction encourages park guests to stick around longer and share those aesthetically pleasing/over-the-top eats on social media (hello, free marketing). Theme parks across the country have become a magnet for culinary connoisseurs in addition to thrill seekers, and our eating experts here at Tasting Table have a few we think would be worth the price of admission — even without the rides.

Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio - Sandy Baker

Up until last year, thrill seekers flocked to Cedar Point to experience the second-tallest roller coaster in the world: the Top Thrill Dragster. Many may be disappointed by the ride being shut down, but they will be pleased to learn that the top attraction at this infamous amusement park is actually the food. The park has dozens of food stands and numerous novelty items, but I have my eyes on only one dish: the Cleveland Cheese Steak at Melt Bar & Grilled.

This is not your run-of-the-mill cheesesteak, it's made from braised pulled beef brisket that's slow-cooked and comes topped with garlic mushrooms, sauteed onions, lots of provolone, and a savory rosemary onion aioli. (Here's an insider tip: you can ask to substitute grilled chicken for the brisket and make it the Cleveland Cheesy Chicken.)

Melt is a fixture throughout the Cleveland area, known for its gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and tempting comfort food. The Cedar Point location is the perfect choice when you're searching for truly amazing amusement park food.

Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California - Wendy Leigh

As someone "bone and raised" in the Mississippi Delta, I know a thing or two about fried chicken, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a piled-high platter of shockingly good fried chicken and mashed taters in California! Even more startling is that it comes from a theme park restaurant. Knott's Berry Farm in Orange County welcomes over five million annual thrill-seekers annually, but my country cooking instincts say quite a few come for the fried chicken as much as they do the roller coasters, Old West Ghost Town, and Camp Snoopy.

The whole attraction started with the now-famous Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant and a roadside stand peddling fresh boysenberries from the Knott family farm. Cordelia Knott gets a huge culinary bow for helping make ends meet with her fried chicken dinners, culminating in the 1934 home-kitchen dining room. Old-fashioned chicken dishes feature heavily on the menu, but I recommend the classic crispy fried chicken, served with heaping mounds of mashed potatoes and thick country gravy. Memories of my grandma's kitchen jump from the fluffy buttermilk biscuits, browned "just right" in pillowy crowns. Veggie options change with the seasons but think rhubarb, sweet corn, ham-seasoned cabbage, and salads.

I daresay declining a slice of warm boysenberry pie to finish out your Knott's Berry Farm visit would conjure the ghost of Walter Knot from the park's Old West saloon. No need — I heartily endorse the decision, even if that means you're too stuffed for one last ride.

Kennywood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Erica Martinez

When I first moved to Pittsburgh, I immediately began reading everything I could get my hands on about the City of Bridges. Time and again, the amusement park Kennywood was praised for its heart-dropping roller coasters like the Steel Curtain and Phantom's Revenge, but more so for Potato Patch fries. While Kennywood park is well over 100 years old, Potato Patch fries made their debut in 1973 and, since then, a trip to the park isn't complete without them.

The Potato Patch has stuck with the formula that made it famous: freshly cut potatoes (washed but not peeled) are fried twice and served piping hot. While they're good with ketchup (Heinz, naturally), people rarely order plain fries here. If you want the full experience, go big with the toppings: the fries are loaded with copious amounts of melted cheese, bacon, gravy, and an array of flavored salts like onion, garlic, and barbecue spice. A fork is an absolute must for diving in.

When the park is open, 8,000 pounds of potatoes are delivered to the Potato Patch daily — except Sunday — to keep up with the demand. There are plenty of other food options at Kennywood, like nachos, hot dogs, Philly cheesesteaks, ice cream, pizza, and pretzels, but if you ask anyone in Pittsburgh what to eat at Kennywood, they'll tell you the same thing: "You've got to have Potato Patch fries."

EPCOT in Orlando, Florida - Jessie Molloy

As excited as I was for the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride at EPCOT, the only reason I think the park is worth the price of admission is the food. In the World Showcase area, guests can make a day of "eating around the world" and sample food from 11 different countries. While each area has something delicious, my personal favorites for quick snacks are in "France" and "Japan." 

The Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie in France features sandwiches and pastries worthy of an actual Parisian café, where something as simple as a ham sandwich is taken to delicious new heights thanks to fresh croissants and French cheeses. A few pavilions over, the Katsura Grill awaits you in Japan; the highlight for me here is the absolutely delicious teriyaki rice bowls that come with shrimp, chicken, and beef options.

Finally, if you have the time and money to spend on a fancy meal, Le Cellier in "Canada" is, in my opinion, hands down the best restaurant in Disney World. The high-end steakhouse serves delicious entrees but is renowned for its rich cheddar cheese soup, made with Moosehead ale and smoked bacon. Even if you aren't up for an expensive steak, I'd still recommend making a reservation just for soup and appetizers, which also include specialty poutines.

Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - Kelly Robinson

Folks in East Tennessee are understandably proud of Dolly Parton: she's not only homegrown talent, but the country star gives back to the Sevierville community in many ways — from scholarships to financing a local hospital. And Dollywood theme park represents the best of Dolly, honoring both her huge successes and her humble roots.

Those humble roots are represented by the Southern Appalachian dishes served all over the park, which easily outshine the FireChaser Express and Wild Eagle roller coasters. I'm talking about real Southern food, like pork-laced pinto beans and big bowls of collard greens. Even the snacks are deliciously southern, from fried corn to crispy pork rinds served with a mason jar of pimento cheese.

The hot, buttery cinnamon bread served at Dollywood's Grist Mill gets a lot of attention, but my favorite dish in the park is one that you'll need to pause your day and sit down to consume. For hearty, home-cooked, stick-to-your-ribs deliciousness, head to Granny Ogle's Ham 'n' Beans Restaurant and order the Meatloaf Stacker. It's a meatloaf sandwich to end all meatloaf sandwiches, with a slab of tangy, homestyle meatloaf on fresh white bread, and topped with a heaping mound of real mashed potatoes (that's right, on top of the sandwich). The whole thing is smothered in a rich, salty brown gravy.

Nelis' Dutch Village in Holland, Michigan - John Tolley

There's no denying the Dutch heritage of Western Michigan. With towns named Graafschap, Zeeland, and, obviously, Holland, it's clear that Netherlanders found a happy home along the shore of Lake Michigan. Some of us locals own wooden shoes and we all love to check out the myriad flowers blooming around Holland's imported windmill during the annual Tulip Time festival, but for year-round Dutch fun and food, there's only one place to go: Nelis' Dutch Village. This miniature amusement park has been attracting folks young and old for generations with a Dutch chair swing ride, petting barn, and beautiful 1924 carousel, but the authentic Dutch fare served has the other attractions beat. My advice: come hungry, this cuisine trends hearty.

When I'm at the Hungry Dutchman café, I can't resist metworst, a pork sausage that's served with warm potato salad and tangy, sautéed red cabbage, and my daughter goes hard for saucijzebroodjes (AKA pigs in a blanket) alongside Dutch pea soup and streusel-topped apple pie. If we have room for more, we amble towards Dutch Village's De Kaaswinkel, a cheese shop stocked with varieties like Gouda and Edam or De Koekjeshoek, a shop for sweets and chocolates made with Dutch cocoa