My favorite thing about Dollywood isn’t the rides or the shows.
It can’t be found on a platter in a restaurant and it can’t be bought in a shop or from a stand.
Dollywood is many things, of course, to many people. But to me, what Dollywood captures is a feeling deeply associated with my youth, specifically the excitement and euphoria that arises in a small Midwestern town during fall festival time.
It’s a feeling of community – even among strangers – of common purpose, that should be really quite impossible in a giant theme park.
It’s possible this is my projection. I am dangerously susceptible to flights of nostalgia and Dollywood deals in nostalgia like Vegas deals in gambling. It’s possible that the magic of Dollywood isn’t that it carries us back to the good old days of Dolly Parton’s youth and before.
Maybe the magic is in how it gets us to see our own youth in the shimmering recreation of an idolized mountain community.
Or maybe I’m overthinking it.
It’s also quite possible that I have an olfactory memory triggered by the wonderful smells of the same kinds of food you’d find at a small-town festival or county fair. Maybe my nostalgia isn’t triggered by anything more than grilling cheesesteaks, onions, peppers and sausages. Maybe the magic isn’t in the community, maybe it’s in the funnel cakes.
Yeah, that’s probably it.
Among the many Dollywood success stories is the wide variety of food options. But no matter when you go to Dollywood, you’re going to find something good to eat.
Can you bring food into Dollywood?
No. Dollywood’s website states that guests are not allowed to bring food, coolers or drinks into Dollywood or Dollywood Splash Country.
However, you can bring one unopened bottle of water per person.
You can also opt to leave and eat outside the park. Just have your hand stamped and return later that same day.
But if you’re eating inside the park?
Dollywood’s food is some of the best among theme parks. Here are some of the best places to eat.
16. Pork Rinds
There’s not anything particularly proprietary about Dollywood’s pork rinds. But, they’re still a tasty snack and you probably won’t find them any fresher somewhere else.
The quick-service station is in Craftsman’s Valley.
15. Dippin’ Dots
Again, this is standard theme park fare.
It’s still a good option for a refreshing snack when attending a theme park. You can find Dippin’ Dots locations throughout Dollywood.
14. Showstreet Snacks
If you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up, this may be the spot for you. Here is where you’ll find standard theme park treats like popcorn, cotton candy, drinks and other quick snacks.
Nearby, cool down with some ice cream at Showstreet Ice Cream.
13. Red’s Drive In
Red’s Drive In is a 50s style diner that opened in the theme park in the mid-90s.
The restaurant was inspired by Red’s Cafe, where a young Dolly Parton ate her first hamburger in downtown Sevierville.
It’s a great place to get a delicious burger and crispy fries. Plus, it’s inside so you have air conditioning.
Red’s is located at Jukebox Junction.
12. Hickory House BBQ
When it comes to pulled pork, I’m a bit of snob.
I will not endorse any old Jim Bob or Cooter with a smoker and I am especially leery of barbecue prepared in a theme park. But pride be darned, it’s good.
It’s southern and it’s quick service.
Also, they’ve got turkey legs and chicken tenders and fries if your kids are a little choosy like mine.
As parents and veteran theme park goers, the first thing we do upon arrival is checking the maps for bathroom locations and assess where chicken tenders and fries can be obtained in case of emergencies.
11. Dogs N Taters
When I’m at a theme park, I want to maximize my time with attractions and shows.
Theme park dining is part of the experience for some. For me, I usually just want to grab some quick fuel and then keep it moving.
Dogs N Taters is a good spot to get foot-long corndogs and curly fries.
You can find hot dogs at The Dog House in Wilderness Pass.
10. Iron Horse Pizza
Formerly known as Victoria’s Pizza, Iron Horse Pizza is a great spot for decent theme park flatbreads, salads and snacks.
There’s another pizza place called Lumber Jack’s Pizza in Timber Canyon.
9. Front Porch Cafe
If you want to sit and relax a bit, stop in the Front Porch Cafe.
It features family-style meals and shareables with vegan and vegetarian options available.
8. Food Truck Park
As a relatively new addition to the Dollywood food selections, the Food Truck Park offers a rotating selection of local and regional food trucks.
Here, you can find delicious snowcones, nachos, pretzels, po boys, pulled chicken or food bowls.
Menu items at the Food Truck Park are subject to change.
7. Granny Ogle’s Ham ‘n’ Beans
In general, I don’t like to be talked into the sit-down eating establishments during most of the year at Dollywood.
I prefer the more mobile options, eat and move. But I make an exception for Granny Ogle’s.
Meatloaf, pot roast, beans, taters. Chances are if you’ve come to Dollywood, you’re seeking a certain type of Southern experience.
From a culinary standpoint, this is it. This is nothing fancy. In fact, you can fairly easily eat your entire meal with a spoon.
But it’s good and it’s not the kind of thing you can find everywhere.
Granny Ogle’s is located in Craftsman’s Valley.
6. Till & Harvest Food Hall
Look, even I can’t believe I’m about to hit send on a story in which I recommend the Smoky Mountain Mexican eatery at Dollywood, okay?
But I cannot tell a lie.
I was there when they opened Wildwood Grove. I sampled the food. It was really good and I’ve been back. It’s important to note, however, that food options can sometimes vary.
Wildwood Grove is such an interesting space within the park. With wider areas to roam, plenty of shade and spots to rest, it can, on a sweltering summer day, feel a bit like an oasis in the middle of a theme park.
Sure, it’s an oasis with a strange, lumbering bear ride and giant acorns ferrying people into the sky, but an oasis nonetheless.
5. Aunt Granny’s Restaurant
Aunt Granny’s has been recognized among the best theme park restaurants in the country.
When I lived up north, they called this kind of deal a smorgasbord, which is a word I like a lot both for what it is and because it’s fun to say.
In addition to being delicious, Aunt Granny’s has the added benefit of having something for everyone.
From fried chicken to stew to tacos, if you’ve got a crew with disparate palettes, this is the place to go.
My one caveat for Aunt Granny’s is that so much food can be a tad heavy. It’s all you can eat. So while your body might be begging for a nap, the kids will be calling for a long hike up the side of a mountain to ride a rollercoaster.
Reader, that can be a shock to the system.
4. Miss Lillian’s Smokehouse and BBQ Corner
In 2004, park officials were looking for someone to portray Miss Lillian, the owner and proprietor of Miss Lillian’s Smoke House.
They found Connie Freeman Prince working at Dollywood’s sister park Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., and brought her on board.
Over the years, Miss Lillian has developed into a Dollywood icon, and the Smokehouse is one of the most popular and best, in my opinion, restaurants in the park.
If you’re lucky, you might find Miss Lillian greeting customers at the door.
Try the BBQ pork sandwich platter or get a hickory-smoked turkey leg.
3. Spotlight Bakery
For those with a sweet tooth, be sure to check out the Spotlight Bakery.
Famously, this is where you’ll find Dollywood’s 25-pound apple pie. It’s made from scratch in a cast-iron skillet.
A single slice weighs three whole pounds. You can also get cinnamon rolls, pastries, cookies and more.
2. Grist Mill
If you don’t go anywhere else, at least try the famous Dollywood cinnamon bread. It’s one of the most popular treats in the whole theme park.
Dollywood’s cinnamon bread can be found at the Grist Mill, and it is good in just about any season. But I think the warm, gooey dose of cinnamon and sugar is even better in the fall and winter.
1. Market Square Big Skillets
I probably tipped this one, but Market Square Big Skillets is my happy place.
Giant skillets frying steak and sausage sandwiches right next to a funnel cake stand? I skip. Not physically, but in my mind. I skip as we approach Market Square. I am happy and joyous.
The menu changes throughout the year, but I love everything about it. I love the food, the smells, and the outdoor tables where you sit and people watch.
It is the closest place on Earth to the fall festivals of my youth and it is my favorite thing about every trip to Dollywood.
They could do away with the rest of the park and I would come here to commune with my people.
The menu changes with the season, but there is never a time I don’t love it.
Do you agree with our list? Where do you like to eat at Dollywood? Let us know in the comments.