Anytime my husband and I schedule a few days of vacation, checking out good restaurants tops our list of things to do. We’re bona fide foodies, and even if we have to do without when we’re home (which we do; have you seen our roof?), we still like to take in fine dining if and when we can.
And when it comes to terrific restaurants, Walt Disney World seems to have more of its share. Many people agree; each time we go, we run into more people who are visiting mainly for the restaurants or the world-class golf courses. I’ve even met a couple of strangers who actually saw my online articles and took my advice. And this year, we happened to be seated by two different Oklahoma couples at two separate restaurants.
If you’re planning to indulge in the cuisine and you’ll be at WDW for at least four or five days, the dining plan is worth it for you. But, as I’ve said in earlier articles, plan ahead! Choose your restaurants wisely, and for signature dining or popular table service, book online six months out, if you want to make sure you get in. And for some of these places, believe me, you do want to get in.
Here are my 15 favorite picks, not necessarily in any order. Keep in mind I haven’t eaten at every WDW restaurant (not by a long shot!), so anyone who wants to weigh in with other suggestions is welcome to do so. All these establishments have wonderful food, but if you’re a picky eater and don’t like certain exotic dishes, you might check the up-to-date menus at disneyworld.disney.go.com/
dining (I used to recommend www.allears.net, an indie site, but WDW also posts its own menus now).
Except for No. 1 below, dress is either casual or business casual, meaning nice shorts, jeans and sundresses are permitted (and generally, Disney character T-shirts!), but not tank tops or midriffs. Also note that except No. 1 and where otherwise noted, prices are $35 to $60 per person.
1. Victoria and Albert’s (Grand Floridian Resort). This is Central Florida’s only AAA five-diamond restaurant, and you’ll pay for the privilege of eating there. I’ve done an extensive review on V&A before, which should still be available online, but it’s an experience you’ll never forget. It has its own website, www.victoria-alberts.com, where you can check sample menus (they change regularly) and make reservations. You can get a six-course prix fixe menu or choose a more extensive (and more costly) tasting menu with about 10 courses. You have to dress for dinner (cocktail outfits for women, coats for men), and when you immerse yourself in the ambiance, you’ll understand why. The decor and the harp player (who this year was especially superb) send the complete message. Expect to pay $125 per person for the six-course, plus $60 for wine pairings (which I recommend strongly). It’s the place to go for a very special occasion; we paid for it by using credits on our Disney Rewards credit card. Among the items you might find on the menu: Minnesota Elk Carpaccio, Poulet Rouge with Mushroom-Truffle Ragout, Duck Breast with Sausage and Confit, and real Japanese Kobe Beef, and of course, caviar, if you want to pay extra. (Note: Kids under age 10 are not allowed.)
2. Citrocos (Grand Floridian Resort). Billed as American cuisine with a Tuscan flair, this is a very popular restaurant, and for good reason. The Mediterranean flavors are accented by the appropriate decor. The cheese course and duck confit are both great appetizers, and for your main course, try the signature dish of braised veal shank, the braised short ribs, or the Berkshire pork two ways.
3. Narcoossee’s (Grand Floridian). This elegant seafood restaurant is just off a boat dock on the main lagoon, so offers a great view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks. A trendy sunken bar is part of the era-conscious setting, and the menu offers good choices for anyone in your party who doesn’t like seafood, like the grilled filet mignon. However, you can’t beat the Maine lobster with drawn butter, the artisan cheeses, and the mussels.
4. Coral Reef (Epcot). A huge salt-water aquarium is the focal point of this delightful dining experience (ask to sit by it, though you may have to wait). The whole dining area has an underseas feel to it, as it’s in the “sea” pavilion. The Appetizer for Two offers a good cross-section and is quite tempting. My husband loved the seared trout.
5. Biergarten (Epcot). We usually do lunch at this charming buffet in the German Pavilion, where you’ll get entertained by a live German band if you stick around long enough. I think my husband likes the large beer selection on tap, but for $26 to $35 per person (not including the beer, and depending on whether you go for lunch or dinner), you’ll be stuffed with authentic regional cuisine, including delectable sausages.
6. Bistro de Paris (Epcot). The French Pavilion has two exceptional restaurants, but my husband likes this one a bit better than Chefs de France, which is right below. Bistro isn’t on the dining plan, however, and it’s a bit more elegant than Chefs, so you can plan accordingly. Escargot is always on the menu, as well as tasty venison and duck, and a tasting menu is available. (We didn’t eat there this time, but try the wine pairings for a special experience.)
7. Le Cellier Steakhouse (Epcot). The cozy dining room in the Canadian Pavilion is comparatively small, which is one reason you must book early to get in. This is one of the few restaurants where I will order steak, and I highly recommend the mushroom filet mignon (order it rare), although the salt-crusted prime rib and New York strip are also good choices. Don’t pass up a bowl of Canadian cheddar cheese soup with the unparalleled pretzel bread sticks. It’s $15 to $60 per person.
8. Rose and Crown (Epcot). This rowdy restaurant is jolly good fun, in the United Kingdom Pavilion. The Brits working there will tell you they have the only full-service bar in Epcot, but if you’re a beer aficionado, you’ll want to stop by the pub at least. The fish and chips and bangers and mash are star attractions, but for an appetizer, home in on the cheese and fruit plate.
9. Brown Derby (Hollywood Studios). Patterned exactly like the original in Hollywood, Calif., this restaurant has all the caricatures of movie stars on its walls. You’ll want to sample the “real” Cobb salad, which was conceived in the original restaurant, and end with the signature grapefruit cake. For an entree, the pork chops or the duck duo are nice options.
10. ‘50s Prime Time Cafe (Hollywood Studios). If you don’t like getting hassled about getting your elbows off the table or eating all your vegetables, find someplace else to nosh. But if you like nostalgia, put this one on your list. For about $15 to $36 per person, you’ll get more than your fill while you enjoy TV shows from the era (including the Mickey Mouse Club). People of my age will be reminded of their mothers’ kitchens! The battered onion rings are tasty appetizers, and for entrees, I typically get the fried chicken, while my husband likes the meat loaf. The desserts are great, but you might not have room for them.
11. Yak and Yeti (Animal Kingdom). This Asian-themed restaurant is another place we like for lunch, and you can’t go wrong if you start with the dimsum basket. The pot stickers are superb, as are the duck with Anandapur glaze and the lo mein, either with shrimp or chicken. At $15 to $36 per person, this is another of the more economical choices (conveniently near Expedition Everest!).
12. Jiko: The Cooking Place (Animal Kingdom Lodge). This restaurant has one of the best ambiances and friendliest staffs around. At $60 per person or higher, it’s among the pricier places, but is well worth it all the way around. The Taste of Africa, a trio of dips with breads and house-made naan, is a top-notch way to kick off your meal. My husband was sad to see the signature sesame-crusted tuna leave the menu, which he said was the best tuna he’s ever eaten (they have a new chef), but he was satisfied with the maize-crusted halibut. The lamb loin is also to die for.
13. California Grill (Contemporary Resort). Count this one among our top five. At the top of the resort, it offers a breaktaking view of the fireworks at Magic Kingdom, and you can even leave your table to take in the show. This is another $60 or over place, but it offers treats you need to try. The signature cheeseboard is like no other; my husband usually has it for dessert, that’s how good it is. We’ve not had the sushi, but we’ve been told it’s exceptional. We can attest to the awesome pork tenderloin (a signature dish and my son’s favorite), the bison, and the oak-fired beef filet.
14. Kona Cafe (Polynesian). We recommend this place for breakfast, and it’s got the best coffee on WDW property, bar none. At $15 to $36 per person, it’s on the modest end in terms of price, too. Go for the macadamia-pineapple pancakes, or the Tonga toast. Try the fresh-squeezed guava and orange juice.
15. ‘Ohana dinner (Polynesian). Here’s another place that books quickly. For $35, you will walk out so stuffed you’ll be miserable if you’re not careful. You’ll get eye-rollingly-good chicken wings, pot stickers, lo mein and more, and servers just keep bringing by skewers loaded with grilled chicken, pork loin, sirloin and shrimp. Then you get a bottomless bowl of some of the best bread pudding you’ll ever spoon up, kind of a bananas foster with caramel concoction and vanilla ice cream. You won’t find a better buffet anywhere.
Other good choices (based on my own experience and that of others): Ragland Road at Downtown Disney, Irish fare; Bongos Cuban Cafe on the West Side of Downtown Disney (the pork is awesome); Chefs de France in the French Pavilion (prix fixe is a good choice); Whispering Canyon Cafe (for breakfast, and get the skillet) in the Wildnerness Lodge; Artist Point in Wildnerness Lodge (try the buffalo); Tusker House at Animal Kingdom (said to be good barbecue); Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge (tasty buffet); Shula’s Steak House at Dolphin Resort; Restaurant Marrakesh at the Morocco Pavilion in Epcot (my son’s favorite, he says because of the roast lamb meshoui with couscous but more likely because of the belly dancers); and Grand Floridian Cafe (for breakfast).