What’s the best restaurant inside San Diego Zoo? It’s a hidden fine-dining eatery. Discover what to order there, the prices, and what’s good at the other 26 zoo eating places too. That way, no matter your budget you’ll eat well.
The best food at San Diego Zoo is at Albert’s Restaurant. It’s an unexpectedly good fine dining experience. The varied menu includes daily chef’s specials, vegan & gluten-free choices & full bar. The secluded location, beautiful outdoor patio & waterfall makes it popular for special occasion meals.
If you make purchases through the links in this post, I may be compensated. Read my Advertising Disclosure for more info. Thanks! ~ Nancy
Below you’ll find more reasons why Albert’s Restaurant is worth it. If you don’t want to spend extra time or money on gourmet dining there are 25 more eateries to choose from. Read on for why you would want to eat at each of them, what’s good where, and what it costs to eat at San Diego Zoo.
Curious about what’s good to eat outside the Zoo? Check out my article on restaurants within Balboa Park.
NOTE: Prices are subject to change without notice. I do my best to keep up, but I don’t live there. Well, not all the time…
Why is Albert’s Restaurant the Best Place to Eat at the San Diego Zoo?
Albert’s Restaurant is billed as “San Diego’s Wildest Dining Experience”. And it is surprising to find such delicious food and innovative combinations at a zoo. It also has a full bar. The ambiance is uniquely wonderful. It’s like you’re dining in your own secret treehouse getaway, complete with a private outdoor patio and waterfall.
This is a popular restaurant for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and romantic wedding proposals. It’s a good idea to make reservations using Open Table because it fills up quickly, especially on weekends and holidays. If you’ve got more than 10 people in your party call 619-685-3200
The wait staff is very helpful with food and drink suggestions. They will also give you good tips about the activities at the zoo that day or evening.
Ask for a seat on the outside patio. You’ll be surprised at the moderate noise level considering the number of people dining there and the splashing of the waterfall. I think that’s because much of the sound is absorbed by the lush landscaping.
One drawback is that Albert’s Restaurant doesn’t have heaters on the patio. If it’s cold or raining outside you’ll want to sit indoors. But even if you’re sitting inside, the views are wonderful. There are large windows throughout the restaurant that offer views of the waterfall and all the greenery surrounding this restaurant.
What’s on Albert’s Restaurant menu?
This San Diego Zoo eatery has something for everyone. There are salads, small appetizer plates, sandwiches, tacos & other Mexican food, seafood, a children’s menu (Cub Menu), and desserts. There’s also a Weekend Brunch that’s served on Saturday and Sunday from 10 AM to noon. The brunch features scrumptious egg dishes, glorious Cinnamon Brioche French Toast, and bottomless mimosas.
Let your server know about any allergies or food sensitivities. They are happy to help you with your menu choices. There are tasty menu items for vegetarians. And there are also a few gluten-free items. However, the food is not prepared in a gluten-free kitchen.
What’s the best food at Albert’s Restaurant?
- Cheesy-Garlic bread is a favorite. Parmesan, mozzarella cheeses, herbs, and chili flakes. It also has two kinds of garlic butter, black and roasted. Crunchy garlic chips. French country style bread and sundried tomato pesto. It’s cheesy, garlicky goodness.
- Also delicious is their Heirloom Tomato Basil Bisque topped with parmesan cheese, asiago cheese croutons and basil pesto.
Salad: Go for the classic Chef’s Caesar Salad. Add chicken or shrimp to make it a filling entree.
- Albert’s Ancho-Dusted Crispy Chicken Sandwich with kale slaw and beer-battered fries.
- Beer-Battered Fresh Fish Tacos are a staple here. They’re made from fish fresh caught off the San Diego coast topped with cabbage, pickled red onions, radishes, and guajillo chili-lime crema sauce. The corn tortillas are also made locally at La Princessa in Barrio Logan. On the side, there’s a cup of black beans topped with goat cheese.
Dessert: Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae – This traditional ice cream sundae is big enough for two. It’s topped with a fudgerific chocolate sauce, house-made caramel, assorted berries, and a sprinkle of chocolate-covered crispy rice bits.
Albert’s Restaurant Menu Prices
Here’s a link to Albert’s Restaurant page. Scroll down to find the Menu icons. They have the food and drink items and the current prices listed there.
The prices at Albert’s are about average for San Diego fine dining. Entrees are $15 to $30. The kid’s menu is $12.
To save a bit of money, check out Albert’s Weekend Brunch. It takes place every Saturday & Sunday from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM (noon). Last time that I checked the price was $18 for entrees.
5 Tips for Eating Well at San Diego Zoo
Even though Albert’s Restaurant has the best food at the Zoo, sometimes it’s not a good choice. A leisurely meal there makes no sense if you’ve got limited time (consider booking one of the zoo’s paid tours to see more in less time) or are on a budget.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy eating at the Zoo. You just need to know what food is best at which of the Zoo’s eateries and keep the following tips in mind:
- Find out if your choice of restaurants will be open. Call 619-231-1515 to confirm. Many of the smaller venues do not open except on weekends or during peak attendance periods.
- Get the Zoo app to help you quickly locate the nearest food within the Zoo. The app’s available for both Apple and Android.
- Accept that the food’s expensive. This is the most common complaint about all of the Zoo’s eateries. It’s true. But the profit isn’t going towards lining some CEO’s pockets. Consider the extra that you pay as doing your part to end extinction.
- You can bring food into the Zoo and save money. But no coolers, straws, glass bottles or alcohol allowed. Spend your cash on a special treat that you cannot bring into the park, like ice cream, a freshly made dessert, special coffee or craft beer.
- Another way to save some cash at the Zoo is to use one of many legitimate San Diego Zoo admission discounts. I’ve found 31 of them and put them on this page. I guarantee that you will find one that works for you.
- Live at the Zoo – really, the animals get the best food. They’ve all got personalized, customized diets. They get fabulous room service with entertainment by a dedicated staff. Could you ask for more?
Ok, I was kidding with #5. Now let’s talk about what’s good at San Diego Zoo in food places other than Albert’s. What’s special about each eating venue and food price ranges.
If you want to plan your day further, read my page on which are the best animal exhibits and attractions at the San Diego Zoo.
What’s Best at the Other San Diego Zoo Eateries?
Sabertooth Mexican Grill – 2nd Best San Diego Zoo Food Spot
Menu: California-Mex style burritos, tacos, nachos, taquitos, wraps, salads, ice cream, craft beer, wine, and cocktails. Kids meals. Vegetarian.
What’s the best on the Sabertooth Grill menu? Get the Family Nacho & Taquitos Meal Deal. It easily serves 4 to 6 people, especially if you’ve got kids with you. You get your choice of carne asada or pollo asado with 2 servings of nachos, 8 beef taquitos, and four 24 oz. sodas. The nachos are big and sloppy; a layer of corn chips, shredded cheese, a soup scoop of chili, and sliced jalapenos.
- Entrees: $8 to $18
- Kid’s meal: $10 (with souvenir bag and cup)
Location: Elephant Odyssey
Opens: 10:30 AM
Why do people like to eat at Sabertooth Mexican Grill? You can’t beat watching the elephants from your table in the shade. And that makes this a perfect spot to take a lunch break if you’re planning your San Diego Zoo itinerary.
Kiddos will enjoy climbing on the saber-tooth tiger statue and running around the legs of the incredibly tall, (and fortunately extinct) short-faced cave bear. The bathrooms here are the most spacious and modern at the Zoo. It’s midway through the Zoo and a great place to take a meal break.
San Diego Sandwich Co.
Menu: Casual dining breakfast and lunch. Sandwiches, soups, salads & ice cream. Kids meals. Vegetarian.
What’s best on the San Diego Sandwich Co. menu? For breakfast try the sausage, egg & cheese sandwich, or the bacon, egg & cheese sandwich. Both are served on an English muffin or bagel. You can add hash browns and bacon for small extra fees.
For lunch, there are 3 different salads and 7 types of sandwiches. The Turkey and Wheat sandwich has a decent amount of sliced turkey inside. And there’s also a cranberry aioli spread. It’s like it’s the day after Thanksgiving every day!
I’m a carnivore, but I love the Vegetarian Signature Sandwich. It’s brie cheese, artichokes, roasted bell peppers, caramelized onions plus a savory mayo (maybe aioli??) on a sourdough roll. How could you go wrong with this? They had me at brie.
You can have your sandwich served warm and toasted if you ask for it.
- Breakfast entrees: $6 to $9
- Lunch entrees: $10 to $15
- Kids meal: $10 includes zoo souvenir bag and cup
Location: Front Street. Just inside the Zoo’s entrance off to the right.
Why eat at the San Diego Sandwich Company?
People eat here mostly because it’s convenient. The location is close to the entrance and the Guided Tour Bus stop. And it has both inside and outdoor patio seating.
It’s also one of the few Zoo eateries that serve breakfast. It opens at 8:30 AM which gives you plenty of time to enjoy a solid meal and then see the parrots fly. Breakfast items are served until 11 AM. Then they start lunch service.
Front Street Sweet Shack
Menu: Do some serious carb-loading here. Donut burgers, fried chicken and waffles, Monte Cristo sandwiches, and a tasty variety of tender buttermilk chicken strips. Plus sundaes, floats, shakes, cones, and other dessert-like treats.
What’s best on the Front Street Sweet Shack menu? Go for the Monte Cristo. If you’ve not eaten one, give it a try. It’s a brioche bread sandwich with ham and gruyere cheese filling. Then they crispy fry it in egg batter. Sprinkling powdered sugar and a drizzle of raspberry sauce put it over the top. It comes with a large portion of curly fries.
The servers at the Front Street Sweet Shack said that the most popular items are chicken strips with fries plates. There are 3 different types: Smokehouse BBQ, Nashville Hot, and Thai Chili. They’re all served with curly fries.
- Entrees: $17 to $20
- Desserts: $6 to $15
- Kids meal: $10
Location: Across the plaza from the Reptile house and close to the Children’s Zoo.
Why choose to eat at the Front Street Sweet Shack? It has a nice, secluded patio with plenty of shaded seating in the morning. It can get a bit hot in the late afternoon because it is on the east side of Front street.
Menu: Burgers, chicken sandwiches, chicken strips, loaded tater tots, vegetarian burgers, and kids’ meals.
What’s best on the menu at Safari Kitchen? The Honey Sriracha Chicken Sandwiches have a nice sweet/hot bite and the breaded chicken is not at all greasy. Sometimes you need to add a bit of salt to the fries, but that’s better than having to brush off the excess, right?
The most popular item at Safari Kitchen at the San Diego Zoo is the Bacon Cheeseburger. This two-fisted sandwich is a messy handful. It has Angus beef, applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a heap of fries.
- Lunch entrees: $10 to $15
- Kid’s meal: $10 (with souvenir bag and cup)
Location: Front Street. Tucked away in the greenery by the entrance to the Monkey Trail.
Opens: 10 AM
Why do people choose Safari Kitchen? It’s close to the Monkey trail so it makes a good place to fuel up if you’re getting to the Zoo in mid-morning. It remains cool during the late afternoon because it’s shaded by some very tall trees on its western side. Downside? It can be noisy because of its location close to the flamingos.
Boardwalk Beer Garden
Menu: Locally brewed craft beer, wine & zoo cocktails. Snacks like an Italian sandwich, pretzel dogs, and stuffed pretzels.
What’s best on the menu at Boardwalk Beer Garden? The beer selection is decent and the glass size is generous. They have 8 local brews on tap. They also have beer flights just in case you can’t make up your mind.
The Charcuterie and Cheese Plate is your best food option. The assemblage also contains fruits and crackers. It can easily feed 2, possibly 3 people, especially if you’re filling your stomach with a mug of cold hoppiness.
- Alcohol drinks: $11 to $15
- Other beverages: $5 to $14
- Food: $6 to $16
Opens: Summertime in the afternoon.
Why do people eat at Boardwalk Beer Garden? It’s usually uncrowded at the tables behind the serving stand. There’s plenty of shade and umbrellas to help you cool down on hot days. There’s also a stage here where you and your kids can watch Dr. Zoolittle and Friends.
Menu: BBQ, burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, ice cream, craft beer, margaritas. Kids meals. Vegetarian.
What’s best on the menu at Sydney’s Grill? The BBQ Pulled Pork Nachos are filling and big enough for 2 or 3. If you want something a bit lighter, go for the Charcuterie and Cheese Plate. Its got a variety of meats and savory cheeses, fruits of the season, dried cranberries, crackers, and a locally sourced honey stick.
- Lunch entrees: $11 to $18
- Kid’s meal: $10 (with souvenir bag & cup)
- Family Meal Deal $59 (4 cheeseburgers, 4 fries, 4 drinks)
Opens: 10:30 AM Mon-Fri. 10:00 AM Sat & Sun.
Why do people eat at Sydney’s Grill? It’s close to giraffes and koalas. And sometimes there are acrobats and special shows on the back patio. Some of the Zoo’s most uncrowded restrooms are also located there on the way to the giraffes.
Front patio seating can get very hot in the summertime. Take your meals into the back patio, there’s plenty of shade there.
Hua Mei Caf Cafè
This eatery was named for Hua Mei who was the first US-born giant panda cub to survive. She was born in 1999 and went on to have cubs of her own. For many years she was the furry matriarch of the zoo. The black and white celebrities returned to China in Spring 2019. But it’s still worthwhile exploring this area because the awwww-inducing Red Pandas are still climbing their way into people’s hearts.
Menu: Asian meal selections, burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, ice cream. Kids meals. Vegetarian. Gluten-free selections.
What’s the best food at Hua Mei Cafè? Get the Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger if you’re not counting calories. The sriracha bourbon glaze wakes your mouth up with some heat. And the applewood bacon hits you with more sweet/smoky goodness. It’s a sloppy burger. Stock up on napkins. Or just sop up the extra sauce with your fries.
For a healthier choice, pick the Teriyaki Chicken. It’s made with smoked chicken, which I didn’t expect. My veggies were crispy. And since I didn’t eat the included rice it was practically keto!
- Entrees: $12+
- Kids meals: $10 (with souvenir bag and cup)
Location: Asian Passage
Opens: 10:30 AM
Why pick the Hua Mei Cafè? It’s halfway through the Zoo. There’s plenty of tables with shade umbrellas. In the late afternoon, the seating in the back of the Panda Shop is cooler because of all the tall trees on the west side of the eating area. There are also clean restrooms there.
Hua Mei Cones
Menu: Surprisingly delicious dessert shop. Try one of the Super Sundaes like the Cookie Crumble and the Cinnamon Churro. The best on a hot day!
- Sundaes: $9
- Cones: $6
- Floats: $7
Menu: Personal-sized pizzas, meatball sandwiches, wraps, craft beers, Kids’ meals. Vegetarian options. Family Meal Deal (but the one at Treetops is better).
What’s the best food on the Lagoon Terrace menu? Pizza, pizza, pizza. The Family Meal Deal here comes with 3 different pies and four 24 oz fountain drinks. You can get the cheese pizza for your youngest who thinks putting anything else on top of a pizza is a crime against nature. Order a veggie for your family herbivore. And treat your carnivores and omnivores with a meat-lovers or supreme with everything
- Entrees: $12+
- Kid’s meal: $10 (comes with souvenir bag and cup)
Location: On Front Street next to the San Diego Zoo Sandwich Company.
Opens: 11 AM
Why do people eat at Lagoon Terrace? There’s plenty of shaded outdoor patio seating where your kids can run around. It’s also close to the San Diego Zoo entrance
Menu: Italian selections, flatbread pizza, wraps, salads, craft beer, family-deal meals. Kids meals. Vegetarian.
What’s best on the Treetops Cafè menu? They’ve also got a decent Family Meal Deal (the last time I checked it cost about $49):
- 2 flatbread pizzas (they’re nice and crispy)
- 1 Caesar salad
- 4 garlic breadsticks
- 4 fountain beverages
- Entrees: $11+
- Kid’s meal: $10 (includes souvenir bag and cup)
Location: Lost Forest at the east end of Bashor Bridge
Opens: 11 AM
Why do people eat at Treetops Cafè? It’s got the best views in the park. From there you can see the Museum of Man tower, the Bashor Bridge, the green of the canyon below, and planes coming in for a landing at Lindbergh Field. There are multi-level decks for dining so it’s rarely crowded. The downside is that the decks face west, so they can get warm in the late afternoon.
QUICK BITES, SNACKS, BOOZE AND DESSERTS AT THE SAN DIEGO ZOO
Menu: coffee drinks, nitro coffee, popcorn, and baked goods.
What’s the best food at Jungle Java? Try a hot latte or cappuccino with a shot of Baileys or Kahlua. Dunk your cinnamon-sugar mini donuts into it.
- Specialty Coffees: $4+
- Snacks & Sweets: $4+
Location: on Front street next to Safari Kitchen
Opens: 10:30 AM
Why do people eat at Jungle Java? There’s plenty of shaded table seating and it’s almost on top of the Safari KItchen. It’s a natural place to stop after you’ve been on the Guided Tour Bus. Stop here if you’re planning on heading down Monkey Trail.
One drawback is that it’s a bit noisy because it’s next to the squawking flamingos.
Menu: Local craft beers, themed coffee drinks, popcorn, mini-donuts, some frozen treats like ice cream bars.
What’s best at Zoo Brew? Hot coffee with deliciously sweet mini-donuts. With that sugar rush, you’ll be energized for another couple of miles of walking.
- Entrees: $9+
- Kid’s meal:
Location: Lost Forest
Why do people stop at Zoo Brew? It’s shady almost all the time because it’s surrounded by tall trees. On hot summer days, this is one of the best places in the Zoo to enjoy a cold local craft brew.
On the other hand, if it’s a cool day it may never get warm here. In that case, have a hot coffee instead.
Menu: Snacks, nachos, hot dogs, draft beer, soft drinks, Icees.
What to eat at Rocks Box? Try the Nachos. They’re nothing spectacular, but they’re big & filling. I had to spread my hand out to hold it securely for the above photo. There’s plenty for two, or more if you’ve got some small eaters. And if the kiddos get covered with cheese the restroom sinks are close by.
- Food: $4 to $10
- Alcoholic beverages: $9+
Location: Africa Rocks. Right next to the south African Penguin aquarium exhibit.
Why do people stop to eat at Rocks Box? You can eat lunch while watching the Animal Encounters presentations at the Africa Rocks Stage. Check your Zoo map for times.
Menu: Egg rolls, corn dogs, chicken wraps, craft beer, snow cones & popcorn
What to order at The Pagoda? If it’s a hot day, grab a Chamango ICEE here. It has delicious mango syrup with a squirt of sweet hot chili sauce. It also looks pretty. I was also tempted by the Enchanted Apple, but didn’t get a chance to try it. There’s a limited selection here otherwise. But it’s all good if the park’s crowded and the kids are complaining that they’re hungry. Stop here. Give everyone a break then get on with seeing more animals.
- Snacks & desserts: $4 to $14
- Alcoholic beverages: $11 to $15
Location: Asian Passage
Why do people eat at The Pagoda? It’s usually not as crowded as Hua Mei Cafe. There are a few tables to sit at in the shade. It’s close to the elevators and Bashor Bridge so it’s a good place to figure out where to go next.
Menu: Kettle & caramel corn, churros, soft pretzels, hot dogs, local craft beer, Icees and fountain drinks
What should you order at Kettle Corn? The kettle corn of course! It’s not too sweet and just salty enough to satisfy. Freshly popped. My husband’s addicted to it.
- Snacks: $4 to $11
- Alcoholic beverages: $14
Location: In Discovery Outpost. Next to the Reptile House, Hummingbirds, and Komodo Dragons. Close to the entrance to the Children’s Zoo.
Why do people stop at Kettle Corn? Sometimes you just gotta have a snack. And all the profits go to the animals, right? Tell your diet guilt to take a hike.
The Bridge Snacks & Refreshments
Menu: Cool drinks & snacks. Locally brewed craft beers, margaritas, micheladas, soft pretzels & popcorn
The best food at The Bridge Snacks & Refreshments is the Chamango Snowcone. It’s a sweet, boozy frozen treat made with mango syrup, tajin & crimson chamoy sauce with a sweet tamarind straw. It’s almost as good as the view.
- Snacks: $4 to $10
- Spiked snow cones: $9+
- Alcoholic beverages: $11+
Location: The Elephant Odyssey side of Bashor Bridge.
Why do people stop to eat at The Bridge Snacks and Refreshments?
You’ll find umbrella shaded tables and some comfy outdoor sofas & armchairs here. It’s a pleasant place to sip coffee or slurp a spiked snow cone.
It gets the morning sunshine and is shaded in the late afternoons.
There are spectacular views across the Bashor Bridge and the green of the Asia Passage canyon below. You can watch the airplanes coming in for a landing. It sometimes looks like they’re going to hit the Museum of Man tower, but it’s just an illusion.
San Diego Craft Beer & Margaritas
Menu: Craft beers on draft, margaritas, soft drinks, chips
What to order at San Diego Craft Beer & Margaritas? Just have a cool one already! If you don’t have a favorite San Diego Craft beer just choose at random. They’re all good.
- Snacks: $4 to $10
- Alcoholic beverages: $10+
Location: Front Street. Across from the Reptile House, before the Children’s Zoo.
Why eat here? It’s your last chance for an adult beverage before you enter the creepy, crawly domain of the scaled ones.
Menu: Pretzels, churros, Icees, ice cream, soft drinks, beer, wine, micheladas, margaritas
What’s the best food at Ituri Hut? This is a small snack shack. The giant pickle or a pretzel with cheese are your best food choices. On a hot day try a different flavor of Icee.
- Snacks: $4 to $6
- Soft drinks: $7 or $1.99 for a refill
Location: In Lost Forest, on the lower end of the Hippo Trail.
Why do people stop to eat at Ituri Hut? There’s plenty of shade. But the best reason to stop here is to watch the antics of the Allen’s Swamp Monkeys and the Spot Necked Otters. They sometimes play tag with each other. There are a few tables to sit at where you can watch the animals scamper.
Sweets and Treats
If you’ve managed to stick to your diet so far, one look at the Sweet Treats window might be too much. Why fight it? By the time you’ve gotten to this point, you’ve probably walked miles. You need a treat.
Menu: Desserts & sweet treats like cookies & other baked goods, ice cream, and coffee to wash all that sweetness down.
The Best Food at Sweets and Treats is hand-scooped ice cream sandwiches!
The ice cream sandwiches are great to eat while you’re exiting the Zoo. They’re big and cool, perfect for that last 100-yard trek to your car or the ride-share pickup point (in front of the Rex lion statue).
In addition to the ice cream sandwiches, they’ve got about a dozen different types of gourmet cookies (grasshopper anyone?). There are almost as many varieties of rich fudge bars including salted caramel and strawberry cheesecake. Then munch your way across the display counters through selections with flavors like Corn Apple Granola bars, brownies, and blondies.
You can also grab an espresso, latte, cappuccino, or several other types of coffee drinks here. That way you’ll have the energy to travel to your next destination.
- Cookies & ice cream desserts: $5 to $10
- Coffee beverages: $3 to $6
Location: Front Street on the way to the Zoo’s exit.
Why do people stop to eat at Sweets and Treats? You deserve dessert after working all those calories off exploring the Zoo. Besides, San Diego Zoo is a non-profit conservation organization. Be a hero for wildlife while letting your taste buds do a happy dance.
Menu: Snacks like warm pretzels, ICEE, popcorn, chips, ice cream, beer, boozy drinks
The best food at Tundra Treats is the warm pretzel covered with cheese for an extra dollar. This spot is primarily a snack shack and not a spot for sitting down for some serious eats.
- Food: $4 to $9
- Alcohol drinks: $9 to $14
Location: Northern Frontier
Why eat here? The kids are driving you crazy and you’re desperate for a Bahama Mama? There’s very little seating here, but it’s usually cool because of all the shade trees. The stuffed toys are cute, especially the polar bear cubs.
Menu: Hot dog meal packages, popcorn, churros, warm soft pretzels, soft drinks, micheladas.
The best food at Jungle Snacks is Bagheera’s Hot Dog Combo. It’s a decent-sized frankfurter with a fountain beverage and chips. There’s nothing spectacular here food-wise, but sometimes they have a satisfying San Diego craft beer on tap.
- Food: $4 to $14
- Beverages: $7 to $14
Location: Northern Frontier. Right in front of the Skyfari West terminal.
Why do people eat at Jungle Snacks? It’s close to the Skyfari West station. And there are a few benches across the street by the mountain lion exhibit. You can rest your feet there while taking in some great local cat action.
Menu: Dippin’ Dots® ice cream, chips, soft drinks, and water.
The best food at Baboon Outpost is the Chocolate Chip Cookie dough Dippin’ Dots ice cream dessert. But that’s just because I’m a chocolate cookie fanatic. Kids seem to love the Rainbow Ice dots. I think it’s because they’re so colorful.
- Food: $4 to $6
- Beverages: $5 to $8
Location: Africa Rocks
Why eat here? Baboon Outpost is only open on high traffic days at the Zoo. It’s a quick, light alternative to long lines at Sydney’s Grill. There’s no seating, and the menu is limited to dessert. But the Hamadryas Baboon troop will keep you entertained.
I’ve only seen Koala Cart open once in my years of going to the San Diego zoo (and I remembered to take a photo!). So assume that it’s only staffed on the busiest of peak traffic days.
Menu: Soft drinks, water, chips, cotton candy, ICEE, frozen lemonade.
The best food at Koala Cart is probably frozen lemonade. I’ve had it at other spots at the Zoo. It’s satisfying on a hot day. And it will give you the energy to get to another food spot for something more substantial.
- Food: $4 to $6
- Beverages: $5 to $14
Location: Outback. It’s a small separate structure located towards the back right side of Sydney’s Grill.
Why eat here? You’ll eat at Koala Cart if you’re starving and the number of people waiting to get into Sydney’s Grill is legion. Grab a small snack here to quiet your stomach for a while.
There are also plenty of nearby shaded tables.
Busy Bee Cocktails
Menu: Hot dogs, wings, pizza, chips, soft drinks, local craft beer, margaritas, micheladas.
The best food at Busy Bee Cocktails is the local craft beer. Seriously, what did you expect from a place with ‘cocktails’ in the name? If you’re hungry, go to the Busy Bee Cafe next door.
- Food: $2 to $14
- Beverages: $7 to $14
Location: Outside of the Zoofari Party Area. Between the Children’s Zoo and Safari East loading area.
Why do people stop here? It’s close to the Children’s Zoo. It’s away from the busiest sections of Front Street near the entrance. There are usually shaded tables available where you can rest your feet and take a break from walking.
Busy Bee Cafè
Menu: Family meals, hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, wings, chicken, vegan, kids, desserts
The best food at Busy Bee Cafè is the Double Trouble Burger. According to the people that work there, it’s very popular. It has two beef patties (with an option for a 3rd!), thick-cut smoked bacon, white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickle, slightly spicy remoulade sauce (I had to look it up too) on a fat brioche bun. It’s served with a side of seasoned shoestring fries and roasted garlic aioli. There’s no graceful way to eat this. You’ll need two hands and extra napkins. But it’s worth it.
For those who aren’t fascinated by all things burgers, I’d give the Italian Truffle Parmesan Chicken Wings a try. I haven’t had them yet, but they sure look good. Crispy wings, parmesan cheese shreds, with a truffle oil drizzle, more of that garlic aioli, and a salad.
- Food: $6 to $17
- Family-sized food: $25 to $49
- Beverages: $4 to $15
Location: It’s inside Wildlife Explorers Basecamp children’s zoo. It’s also next to Skyfari East. If you’re riding the Skyfari east (back to the Zoo entrance/exit) it’s directly ahead and on the right as you exit the ride.
Why do people eat at Busy Bee Cafe? It’s the only restaurant inside the San Diego kids’ zoo. There are plenty of shaded tables with umbrellas and also under the eaves of Skyfari East. Bathrooms are located nearby. They are within the Basecamp gateway structure with nine leaf-cutting ants on top.
Menu: Hot dogs, pretzels, chips, soft drinks, margaritas, micheladas, craft beer, and wine.
The best food at Bamboo Bar is the hot dog with chips plate. It’s a solid Hebrew National sausage, but nothing special. People don’t stop here for the cuisine. They come for the margaritas and beer.
- Food: $4 to $11
- Beverages: $5 to $16
Location: Asian Passage. Close to the elevator and red pandas.
Why eat here? It’s a good place to stop when you can’t find an open spot in the Hua Mei courtyard. There aren’t a lot of chairs or tables here, but there are some nearby low walls in the shade that are nice to sit on to rest your feet and sip some adult beverages.
The best food at the San Diego Zoo can be found at Albert’s Restaurant. It’s a gourmet, sit-down dining experience that can make a day at the zoo truly special. My second favorite spot is Sabertooth Mexican Grill. I love the nachos and being able to watch elephants from the shaded patio.
Face it, zoo food is not cheap. So do as I do, accept the extra cost as your contribution to end extinction. And after you’ve found your best food at the San Diego Zoo, smile, you’ve eaten all those delicious calories for a good cause.