Dining in WDW

There are literally hundreds of choices about where to eat on a trip to Walt Disney World.  From table service restaurants to a quick turkey leg and everything in between, if you want it, chances are they will have it.  Here we will review the best of the best and the worst of the worst choices when dining in WDW.

To get into it, let’s get into a little “Disney Speak.”  Counter Service or Quick Service means fast food.  Table service means a sit-down restaurant.  Food carts are exactly what you think they are and are located all over property with a variety of small menus.   Signature Dining means that the restaurant is going to be expensive and supposed to be the best of the best (but is not always).  The Disney Dining Plan is a way to essentially prepay for your meals and some snacks.

There are sites all over to review and feature every last place to dine in Disney, so we won’t rehash that material here.  Instead, we will pick the best places to eat in each theme park and resorts.

Magic Kingdom
There are dozens of places to eat here from carts, counter service, and table service that includes eating inside Cinderella Castle.  All eating establishments are not created equal.  Some stand out more than others (in good and bad ways).  Here are our top picks in each category for the MK.

Top Counter Service:  Cosmic Rays

  • With three different areas to get different food under the same roof, there will be something here for everyone.  There are burgers, sandwiches, chicken, salads, and plenty more.  There is also a “Fixin’s Bar” that is tough to beat this side of Pecos Bills.  The seating area is immense and indoors, so you should have no trouble finding a place to sit down except during the busiest of times.  You also get entertainment while you eat from none other than Sonny Eclipse.  Warning:  You can’t get the hole menu at each station, so your party may have to split up and order if you want different things.  That is the only negative on this place.

Honorable Mention for Counter Service:  Pecos Bills

  • This unassuming building sits in the heart of Frontierland and boasts the best burger in the parks.  Don’t ask why, because I don’t really know.  Except to say that they have the best fixins’ bar on property.  That probably helps.  It is also one of the best places to get inside with some a/c in that area of MK.  There aren’t a lot of them over there.  The restaurant is a bit dark, but after heat and sunshine overload, it is welcome relief.  It is not a large place, so it can get busy.  But it blends in so well with its surroundings that many people look right past it.

Dishonorable Mention for Counter Service:  The Lunching Pad

  • The lunching pad is located in a very busy place in tomorrow land.  It right next to Space Mountain.   In fact, sometimes the line for Space actually goes all the way to this outdoor, counter service place.  And since it is all outdoor, you will stay hot.  The tables sit mostly directly in the sun, so most will take their food and find a shady spot anywhere else to sit and eat.  It is not at all convenient.  Do you like hotdogs?  I hope so, because you can’t get much else there.  And to add insult to injury, you have to listen to the cars “whizzing” by on the Speedway right next door.  Walk the extra 50 steps and go to Cosmic Rays instead.

Top Table Service:  Be Our Guest

  • You aren’t going to find a more unique place to dine at MK outside of Cinderella’s Castle (and please don’t do that).  The theming matches some of the movie scenes and has a casual elegance to it.  You can meet Beast as well while you are there and of course, do not leave without trying the “grey stuff.”  I wouldn’t say it’s delicious, but it is a nice touch.  The menu has plenty for grown ups and kids alike.  It is also the only place in the MK that has alcohol.  Just an FYI there.  It’s not the best meal on Disney property, but certainly the best in MK.

Honorable Mention for Table Service:  Liberty Tree Tavern

  • This place is often overlooked, and I can’t figure out why.  You get some great home cooking served family style.  It is a lot of favorites from home with enough variation to satisfy your pickiest eaters while giving you a break from chicken tenders and french fries.  It has often not been busy in the past, but that is changing quickly.  Make an ADR or get there at opening to get a seat.  It is probably the most reasonably priced table service place in MK for what you get outside of Harbour House.

Dishonorable Mention for Table Service:  Tony’s Town Square

  • This restaurant tries to do many things and does them all poorly.  It tries to be an italian restaurant.  This is not Italian food.  This place makes Olive Garden look authentic and 5-star.  It’s dry and gross.  It also tries to pull off casual elegance.  That doesn’t work either.  It’s just a fast food Italian, which is never good outside of New York or Chicago.  The location is terrific.  It needs to be seriously reimagined.  I would much rather pay for an extremely overpriced hotdog at Casey’s Corner.

This theme park certainly has the most variety in your dining options thanks too all the countries of World Showcase.  The options in Future World are certainly more limited, but not necessarily bad.  However, since there are fewer of them, future world dining (including food carts) stay very busy most of the day.  But if you could go eat in one theme park, it should be EPCOT.

Top Counter Service:  Sunshine Seasons

  •  This may be the most unique counter service place to eat on Disney property.  Housed inside The Land pavilion, this place features wraps, sandwiches, salads, chicken pork chops, asian cuisine, fish, and lots more.  There is enough here that you will find something even for the picky kids.  And the price is barely more expensive than most chicken tender places.  In fact, it cost me more for a hotdog, chips, and drink at Casey’s Corner that it did for a pork chop with sides and a drink here.  Go figure. This place stays busy most of the time, but there is plenty of indoor seating.  After you eat, you are literally only steps away from either Soarin’ or Living With the Land.  We can’t recommend this one enough.

Honorable Mention for Counter Service:  Katsura Grill

  • Located at the Japan pavilion, this is a great counter service option in the countries.  It has some very decent sushi (so i’m told by Kristen), but they also have some very good teriyaki beef and chicken options.  It is a welcome break from burgers at the same price point.  Seating is very limited, but we have never had trouble getting a place to sit.

Dishonorable Mention for Counter Service:  Lotus Blossom Cafe

  • When it comes to the food that the counties in EPCOT offer, nothing says safe and familiar like Chinese.  We almost all have a Chinese place somewhere near home.  So if you don’t want to worry about more exotic food like in Morocco, this is a safe bet.  Unfortunately, it is awful.  It is so bad, that the food essentially has no taste.  All you taste is the overflow of spices and sauces that cover for the fact that the food has no taste.  It doesn’t even matter what you get on the menu.  Chicken, salads, soups, whatever.   Strangely and grossly, it all tastes the same.  It is overpriced and nasty.  I have never had Chinese in any place in the  United States that was worse.  Stay clear folks.

Top Table Service:  Le Cellier

  • Perhaps it is a cliche choice.  It is the most popular restaurant at Epcot.  But in this case there is a reason.  It is good.  there is no a lot on the menu that is bad.  Great steaks, decent seafood, and a ton in between.  The tables are scrunched close together to allow more guests to eat, but still the wait is huge.  They have even raised (a bit unreasonably) the prices and still the crowds have no subsided.  Good food and good service.  Hands down the best.

Honorable Mention Table Service:  Biergarten

  •  This may be a controversial pick, but eating food from other countries can be a bit intimidating.  Biergarten makes it easy.  The food is served via a buffet, so if there is something you don’t like, you can go get something else.  It encourages you to try things that you haven’t before.  Seating at this place is unique.  You sit at large tables with other people.  For someone like me that values my own space and not prone to just strike up a conversation with strangers over dinner, this can be a little disheartening.  But they tend to pair you up with people with similar family situations, so you will tend to have plenty to say.  If not, there is a stage show with German music that will give you plenty to see and hear.  Reservations are not terribly difficult to come by, and yet I have not had a single bad experience here.

Dishonorable Mention Table Service:   Chefs de France

  • Its not that this restaurant is bad, really.  It is that it pretends to be good, and it is pretty mediocre.  People go for the French atmosphere and the only part that really delivers is the pretentiousness.   The menu is varied and has some decent options including duck, seafood, and of course Creme Brûlée.  Unfortunately, we honestly had better Creme Brûlée at the wishes dessert party at the MK where they put out mass produced desserts.  It is very much overpriced.  Two for dinner will cost you near or over 100 dollars including a salad.  Adding wine can often cost you as much as the meal.  Beware of the wine selection.  Cheap wine is hard to come by, and then you get the snotty stares from your waiter.  At least, that has been our experience.  Like I said, it’s not bad.  It just costs too much for what it is.

Hollwood Studios
There may not be a ton of places to eat in the Studios, but each place seems to be quite different from the other.  That is nice so that you can find something to fit your palette.  Of course, fewer options also means longer lines for what is there.  So be sure to plan accordingly.  I try to eat when i’m there as early as possible to beat long lines and get the ADR’s I need.

Top Counter Service:  Backlot Express

  • There is nothing glamorous about this place.  It is your typical burgers and fries joint.  They do also have sandwiches and salads as well as a decent fixings bar.  But the food is nothing more special than anywhere else.  So what is good about it?  Well, to start with the location is good.  It is tucked in the corner around the exit of Indiana Jones and the entrance of Star Wars.  And it is indoors.  That is harder to find in the Studios than you might think.  The best thing, is it isn’t crazy.  Let me explain.  Pizza Planet and ABC Commissary have, for whatever reason, kids running around every place.  There seems to be a feeling of letter kids just run free without supervision in those places.  I have no idea why.  But this is the best place to just chill and eat without any worries.

Honorable Mention Counter Service:  Studio Catering Co.

  • This place would be hands-down my favorite except for only two things:  The seating is outdoor (but covered), and it is right next to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground.  But as far as the food goes, you don’t find these options hardly anywhere inside of Walt Disney World.  The theming is mostly Greek or Mediterranean with options such as a gyro, lamb, greek salads and more.  There are also boring chicken tenders for the kids.  It is the best counter service food at the Studios.  It just lost points with us due to the location.

Dishonorable Mention Counter Service:  Toluca Legs Turkey Co.

  • As you make your way down Sunset Blvd. towards Rock N Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, you will notice a large number of people.  These two attractions are among the most popular in the entire park, and they are right next door to each other.  The Beauty and the Beast theater is also here, so before or right after the show, this place can be quite busy.  Dining in this area is pretty minimal.  There’s basically nothing as you walk into the front end of the park.  Then there’s Toluca and another quick option.  The location keeps this place pretty busy, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.  The famous (or infamous) massive turkey leg lives here.  But there is little else.  A little pork and that about rounds out the menu at this place.  The turkey leg is okay.  It’s very different from the burgers we are used to, but it is massive and messy, and not really a good option for on the go eating, especially when you consider it will cost you 12 bucks a pop.  There is so little here that food carts can be found right next to this establishment.  There is seating, but it is minimal, and most have to find a spot on a rail or the ground.  Just wait a few extra minutes and get a little further in the park before you stop.

Top Table Service:  Hollywood Brown Derby

  • This restaurant is made to resemble the famous sister restaurant in Hollywood.  Inside a theme park, you won’t find a more refined atmosphere than this.  The place screams casual elegance with dark woods, portraits along the way, and the wait staff dressed to the nines.  There is no dress code here, so your theme parks shorts and t-shirts will work just fine.  Once you sit down, you will find a menu that is inclusive rather than exclusive.  There are great steaks, filets, pasta, chicken, and offerings for the little ones.  There will be something on the menu that you will enjoy.   This restaurant is listed as one of the Signature Dining experiences, and they have the prices to go along with it.  I would suggest going for lunch where you can save big dollars simply by eating a few hours earlier.

Honorable Mention Table Service:  Mama Melrose’s Ristorante

  • You might miss this place as you tour the park.  It is located in the labyrinth area behind Star Tours and Muppets.  After that, it is located in a small and unassuming building all on its own.  But obviously the food is the most important part.  I have yet to find a really good, authentic Italian restaurant in central Florida, but this comes much closer than anything else on Disney property, including in Italy in EPCOT.  Pastas galore, chicken, steak, pizza, and much more await and it won’t break the bank.  It is one of the more reasonably priced table service restaurants in Disney.

Dishonorable Mention Table Service:  Hollywood and Vine

  • What can we say about this place?  It is essentially a big cafeteria. It has the appearance of a food court and the quality of food to match.  It is a buffet, which means that you will find something that you can eat, but the quality is simple assembly line food.  Character interactions happen during breakfast and lunch, but unless you have a kid under 5, it is likely interactions that no one else will want to have.  As with all buffets on property, this is pricey.  If you want to do a character meal or have a buffet, go to the Floridian or Contemporary instead.

Animal Kingdom
There are not a ton of eating options at AK, but there is enough of a selection of different foods that you will likely find something to work for you and your family.  Food at this park more than any other seems inconsistent.  Even at the same restaurant, you can have a very different experience from one visit to the next.

  • Top Counter Service:  Flame Tree Barbecue

You will smell this place long before you get to it.  Located at the front of the park at the tip of the Oasis, this place would be busy even if it wasn’t good.  But it is!  In fact, this is the best food in the Animal Kingdom.  That includes table service restaurants.  The ribs, chicken, pork sandwiches, fries, turkey, and salads are all good.  You just can’t go wrong here.  Yes, it is more expensive than other counter service places.  But the quality is so much better with better sides and portions that I don’t mind at all.  It is well worth it.  Perhaps the biggest issue is the seating (which is all outdoors).  However, this is one time that the thick vegetation works to your advantage by giving you plenty of shade in addition to the covered pavilions.  The only problem is that the seating is pretty spread out over multiple stairs and levels, and that can get tricky when carrying a tray and drinks.  Still, if you go to animal kingdom, don’t leave without a stop at Flame Tree Barbecue.

  • Honorable Mention Counter Service:  Restaurantosaurus

It is typical burgers, fries, and chicken tenders.  It’s okay, nothing spectacular.  Seating is all outdoor and not covered well, so finding places in the shade can be a real pain.  Seating in general is not terribly abundant, but it is okay.  There’s a decent fixings bar that is not quite on par with Pecos Bills or Cosmic Rays, but it is adequate.  I would have easily picked Yak & Yeti for this except that the seating is basically