The Most Unique Dining Experiences at Disney World
Anyone who goes all-in for a Disney World vacation, or anyone who goes investigating beyond the rides and shows, knows that a big part of the experience is eating at the myriad, wonderful restaurants on site. There are many beloved places to eat, some deserving and others that don’t quite live-up to their hype. Exploring the Disney eateries is all a part of the adventure, and each time I visit, I make it a point to try a new restaurant or two.
My favorite restaurants are the ones that give you an immersive or atmospheric experience. I like that many of the Disney restaurants take you out of the real world and put you into a place of color, elegance, and/or beauty. For my money, these are the places I would recommend to anyone looking for more than just a dining experience at Disney, but who appreciate an eating event that transports you to another time and place.
Be Our Guest – Magic Kingdom
This restaurant is a great place to start. If you have kiddies or you are a die-hard Disney fan, you will love wandering through this restaurant that is a recreation of the Beast’s enchanted castle from Beauty and the Beast. Choose from three dining areas: The West Wing, The Castle Gallery (Belle’s Library), or The Grand Ballroom, each detailed in splendor to give guests the feeling that they have dropped inside the film for dinner. Featuring French and American cuisine, the highlights of the menu include the shrimp and scallops in lobster sauce, the braised pork (coq au vin style), and the dessert known as the “Grey Stuff” as referenced in the song.
San Angel Inn – Epcot
Upon entering the Mexican Pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase, you feel as though you are in a street fair at night. At the far-end you will find the San Angel Inn, a restaurant with a pyramid and a volcano dotting the landscape against the indigo sky. You feel as though you have been lifted out of Florida and dropped square in the middle of the exotic locales south of the border. The menu is mouthwatering, Mexican food, much of it on the spicy side (for those who have iron stomachs), including Enchiladas Verdes con Pollo, Puntas Motuleñas (beef strips, poblano peppers and onions over a bed of homemade tortilla, cheese, refried black beans, roasted serrano peppers, and roasted tomato salsa, topped with plantains and peas), and the not-to-be-missed Crema Bavaria (creamy Bavarian mousse served with mixed berries, cinnamon, orange liqueur and vanilla sauce).
Sci-Fi Drive-In Theater Restaurant – Hollywood Studios
Don’t set your standards high for the food at the Sci-Fi Drive-In Theater. This is not an experience about food (which is mostly family-friendly items like burgers, fries, and milkshakes). That’s not to say that it is bad (imagine Sonic quality). No, this restaurant (relatively quick-service) is about the experience. Guests enter a large room that feels like a drive-in movie at night. They are seated in cars that face a large movie screen where commercials and previews from classic sci-fi films play. It feels exactly like being at a 60s drive-in and the kids will have a ball sitting in cars while they eat. The menu also includes salads, sandwiches, fast food-style sides, and desserts.
Le Cantina de San Angel – Epcot
This quick-service eatery near the Mexican pavilion, is located on the lake at the center of the World Showcase. Nothing spectacular here (fast food Mexican, drinks), but it is divinely relaxing to sit on its porch sipping a margarita and munching on chips and salsa. It is the most-peaceful place at Epcot and you will find it the perfect respite from the exhausting walk through the showcase (Epcot is wonderful, but it sure feels like it goes on forever). Le Cantina de San Angel will quickly become a favorite stop for you to just sit back, drink in the ambiance, as a gentle breeze washes over you from across the lake.
Flame Tree Barbecue – Animal Kingdom
I tend to spend less time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Not that I don’t enjoy the park, but I don’t feel the need to return again and again like I do with the other parks. I will, however, always make it a point to stop by the Flame Tree Barbecue for their savory offerings. It’s a quick-service restaurant with superior ambiance. A colorful, exotic-inspired setting that best-captures the world of Animal Kingdom. Your stomach will be tempted by their pulled pork, BBQ ribs, their flavorful baked beans, and the jalapeño cornbread. They also have tamer fare for the kids. The Flame Tree Barbecue is Animal Kingdom’s best-kept secret, so give it a try and find out what you are missing.
Restaurant Marrakesh - Epcot
How often to you get to eat at a four-star Moroccan restaurant? That alone should entice you to venture over to Restaurant Marrakesh in the World Showcase at Epcot. What is more, the Moroccan pavilion is one of the most atmospheric locations in the showcase. If you are a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark, this restaurant will make you feel that you have wandered into that world. The Seafood Bastilla is to die for (baked layers of thin pastry stuffed with shermoula sauce, grouper, shrimp, and mushrooms), the Couscous M'Rouzia Fassi (braised beef served with Raisins, balsamic vinegar, honey, sesame seeds, and eggs) will change your life, and the Marrakesh Delight (fresh fruit salad topped with mint ice cream, toasted almonds, and orange blossom water) is a refreshing, light dessert.
50’s Prime-Time Café – Hollywood Studios
Get into a time machine and zap yourself back in time and revel in the kitschy fun of the 50’s Prime-Time Café at Hollywood Studios. Everything from its black and white tile, to its chrome accents scream of the 1950s. The real fun begins when your waitress (a la Donna Reed and June Cleaver) welcomes you, makes you wash your hands, and scolds you for not finishing your vegetables. The food is traditional in keeping with the theme, including Mom’s Old-Fashioned Pot Roast, Cousin Ann’s Traditional Meatloaf, and Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie. Best of all, The 50’s Prime-Time Café will give you that most unique of experiences: a sit down, homestyle dinner with the family.
Coral Reef – Epcot
Some people may balk at eating a seafood dinner while staring at a giant aquarium, but The Coral Reef at Epcot is a special dining experience. Watch as clown fish, turtles, and other creatures of the deep meander around the epic-sized tank at the front of the tiered room as you enjoy some seafood favorites. Seared mahi mahi, charbroiled octopus, and creamy lobster soup are highlights. There are also of plenty of non-seafood items for those who are attracted to more traditional fare. Plan on trying the coconut-mango chiffon cake with raspberry sauce for dessert.
1900 Park Fare – Grand Floridian Resort
Forget Chef Mickey’s, the best character meals at Disney World are at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort. I am particularly partial to their elegant, scrumptious breakfast buffet where characters from Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, and Mary Poppins wander through and interact as you enjoy your homemade waffles, omelets, and bottomless orange juice. Unlike Chef Mickey’s, which is often crowded and where the bill of fare is not as sophisticated, 1900 Park Fare is more relaxed and exponentially classier. They also offer tea parties, high tea, lunch and dinner. The dinner features characters from Cinderella, with Lady Tremaine and two ugly stepsisters making for a wickedly wonderful experience.
Liberty Tree Tavern – Magic Kingdom
There is a charming rusticity and atmospheric colonial vibe that comes with dining at The Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square. From the announcement of your reservation by cast members “The Smith Family from the great state of Connecticut” to the dining areas resembling traditional colonial homes, you almost feel as though the American Revolution will break-out at any minute. I must admit that I am addicted to their fresh rolls served with honey butter, but the menu also boasts a family-style dinner with a heavenly pot roast, pork roast, carved turkey, herb stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and macaroni and cheese. Don’t forget the Oooey Gooey Toffee Cake for dessert. It’s your patriotic obligation!
Ohana – The Polynesian Resort
Admittedly, I have never eaten at Ohana, but from the number of Disney World Junkies who rave about this dining experience, I could not write a piece about unique dining experiences at the resort complex without mentioning it. It has certainly moved to the top of my list for my next visit. Located at the Polynesian Resort, Ohana features a breezy, tropical ambiance and some of the best views of the fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom. Apparently, the bread pudding is the signature dessert that everyone looks forward to, but the coconut-pineapple bread, the pork dumplings, and the grilled peel-and-eat shrimp all come highly recommended as well. Ohana has become the must-visit dining experience for any Disney World Vacation.