There are so many restaurants in WDW that it’s impossible for the average guest to eat at every single one in a lifetime. With new eateries popping up seemingly every 3-4 months and older restaurants revamping their menus every few years, even those of us that visit every year or 2 can eat for days without duplicating any meals from a previous trip.
When we started planning our most recent WDW trip late last year, we were hoping that EPCOT’s Space 220, the fantastical orbital restaurant under construction next to Mission Space, would at the very least be in its soft opening period during our recent visit. Unfortunately, the restaurant that was already months behind schedule, was still another 2+ months from serving guests when we visited a couple of weeks ago with a projected opening pushed even further into April based on recent rumors. Since Space 220 was off the table, we looked around WDW to find some other restaurants that would be new to us while still finding time for some of our favorites. I have already written about our meal at Tiffins that was part of the Festival of the Lion King Tier 1 Dining Package. We additionally ate lunch at Satuli Canteen, which for my money is one of the best in-park counter service restaurants. My wife and I split a combination grain bowl while our son got a kids shrimp and noodles bowl.
Both were perfect examples of why this counter service restaurant earns such high marks with solid flavor profiles and flexibility to tailor dishes to any taste. Being able to mobile order through the MDE app is icing on the cake, though one of these days Disney will add an option in the app to allow guests to pay with a Disney gift card.
However, aside from those 2 meals, everywhere else we ate during our 8 days at WDW (6 park days) represented a new experience including a number of dishes at the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts that I’ve already detailed.
The first meal of our trip was a late dinner at Jiko, which is located at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We have eaten at Boma, the resort’s African-themed buffet restaurant, a couple of times previously, but had been pining for a meal at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s original Signature Dining Experience (necessitating 2-table service credits on the Disney Dining Plan) for many years. Unfortunately, a series of flight delays caused us to push back our reservation all the way to 9:25 PM (and even with that, we barely made it), but even the late hour was not going to deter us from what many regard as one of the best dining experiences at WDW.
While we were the last party seated for the evening, we never felt rushed through our meal, which would have been completely understandable given that less than half of the dining room was occupied when we arrived. We started the evening with Jiko’s traditional bread service, which includes a round loaf of focaccia-style bread with an oil-based dip.
As an appetizer, we ordered the iconic Tour of Africa to share between us. The plate included duck biltong, boerewores sausage, goat cheese, and a number of spreads to pair with fatir and lentil chips. There’s so much variety here with each item being of high quality that it’s difficult to pick out a favorite. However, I personally enjoyed the fatir and olives, though I’m not normally a big fan of the fruit. I suppose the one miss on the dish was that the dark colored mustard blended in with the sausage on the wooden serving platter that it was difficult to differentiate the two, causing us to inadvertently miss the sausage and get a spoonful of the bitter mustard. The mustard was not necessarily bad, just that I would rather not taste it alone.
For entrees, I chose the Cape Malay seafood curry, while my wife got the beef short ribs, and our son ordered the shrimp with kushari from the kid’s menu along with a side of macaroni cheese. We usually steer our son away from mac and cheese, but reviews of Jiko’s version of this typically generic side revealed that it’s a far departure from Kraft Dinner. Indeed, the side was clearly made from scratch with a creamy sauce and fancier shells than you would find in boxed mac and cheese served elsewhere in WDW.
My seafood curry was excellent with plentiful portions of various aquatic delicacies such as scallops, shrimp, mussels, squid, and lobster. The sauce probably could have been a little spicier for my taste, but it’s more than enough zip for most guests.
My wife’s entrée lived up to its reputation and was fork tender and well-seasoned.
While my wife and I skipped dessert, our son’s meal included a choice of desserts which ended up being the African Shield, a build-your-own dessert with a brownie, paintable cookie, and scoop of ice cream. Being so late in the evening, Zach was not overly hungry, so we asked for the dessert to go (sans ice cream). Unfortunately, we found out after getting back to our room that while the dessert was packaged without the ice cream as requested, it was also missing the paint (icing) even though a paint brush was included. It wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and the brownie/cookie combo was nothing spectacular, which is fine for a kid’s dessert.
While we sampled a good cross-section of Jiko’s menu, there were plenty of other dishes I would love to try. Given the quality and flavors of the dishes we experienced on this visit, we would definitely like to eat here again on a future trip, though I think Tiffins still edges it out as one of our favorite table service restaurants in WDW.
While we started our trip on the exotic end of the spectrum with Jiko, we finished our time at WDW with a down-to-earth classic Southern meal at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’. The Disney Springs restaurant showcases the recipes of one of Florida’s most famous chefs. Walking around the space, you can see the roots of the recipes served here, and some of the humble origins of Mr. Smith such as his acceptance letter to the Disney Institute.
The restaurant is truly a homecoming for the former Disney cast member, and the menu exemplifies his southern roots including his famous fried chicken. This restaurant can be one of the hardest places to get a reservation to in all of WDW, but we were able to secure a time to have lunch on Saturday before our flight home later that evening. With a reservation at 1:30, my hope was that we would have the option between the weekend brunch menu (served until 2 PM) and the standard lunch menu (starting at 1 PM), but we were only presented with the lunch menu. That was fine, because there were plenty of tasty options to choose from that would have usurped most of the brunch choices.
Prior to our meal, I ordered a moonshine sampler. Guests have over a dozen different choices to form a 3-stage flight of spirits that are paired with candied pecans and a pickle juice chaser. I randomly chose 3 ‘shines based on the brief menu descriptions and proofs, and was not disappointed. I did stick with the classic unflavored choices, avoiding the fruit-based concoctions that have been growing in popularity but mask the subtle flavors and aromas of traditional moonshine. I primarily had the accompaniments separate from the shots (Zach probably would have eaten all of the pecans had I let him), but most would probably not want to drink the pickle juice by itself, which is more of a bread and butter-style marinade than classic dill.
For our meal, I decided to go with the classic fried chicken, while Zach ordered the Art Burger, eschewing the kid’s menu, and my wife went a la carte with the thigh high chicken biscuits from the appetizer menu and a side of mac and cheese. My fried chicken was really good, though not the mouth-agape out-of-body-experience some fans extol to this dish.
I was most impressed with the way the chicken was served as a nearly boneless presentation (just a single wing bone and the leg bone in the half-chicken portion), but the flavor was not anything out of the ordinary. Zach really liked his burger, and the chips served with it were some of the best restaurant potato chips I’ve ever tasted.
My wife’s chicken biscuits were good, but the hot honey wasn’t very spicy at all.
To make matters worse, the hot sauce provided at the table is not a traditional, southern-style hot sauce. It’s more of a sweet-chili sauce often seen in Asian dishes, which didn’t really work with the chicken in my opinion. Perhaps the promise of “hot honey” on the chicken biscuits made us think “Nashville Chicken”, which caused this dish to miss the mark. Also, while the biscuits (also served with my fried chicken) were pretty fabulous, they aren’t the best base for a sandwich as they crumble very easily. The chicken biscuits ended up being chicken AND biscuits pretty quickly, with my wife eventually succumbing to using a fork and knife. The mac and cheese though was exemplary with a creamy, complex blend of cheese with just enough crunch on the top to give the bowl some texture.
I’d probably give Homecomin’ another try on a future visit, but it’s not at the top of my list of must-visit restaurants at WDW as it is for some guests. There were some other dishes on the menu that I’d like to taste (namely the shrimp and grits and country fried steak), but there are other restaurants just at Disney Springs I’d like to eat at before I return here (like Morimoto and Frontera Cocina).
During our trip, we were staying at the Pop Century Resort, which meant that we spent quite a bit of time traveling around WDW on Disney’s Skyliner. One of the stops along the trip between the Caribbean Beach hub station and EPCOT is the brand new Riviera Resort. This recently opened DVC resort evokes the look of the French Riviera (duh), and while I didn’t think the exterior was as opulent as it should be, the interior definitely hits the theme. The theme even extends to one of the newest counter service restaurants in WDW. Most WDW resort counter service restaurants are standard food court-style affairs with multiple stations serving different cuisines, typically with at least one dedicated to the cuisine emblematic of the resort’s theme. However, Primo Piatto is fully immersed in the Riviera Resort’s theme with a menu featuring a wide variety of French and Italian dishes exemplified by the region along the Mediterranean Sea including hearth-baked pizza, shrimp pasta, risotto, caprese, and more. While it’s only been open for less than 2 months, the restaurant is quickly earning the reputation as one of the best counter service restaurants in all of WDW (especially if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan). We decided to stop by for a light dinner (Zach wasn’t hungry, but wanted some gelato) to see if the resounding praise for a resort counter service restaurant was warranted. I ordered the grilled hanger steak (yes, you can get a STEAK with a DDP counter service credit here, though we paid cash - $17.99), while my wife chose the croque monsieur. My steak was freshly prepared to the requested medium rare, and served with a delicious red wine sauce along with mashed potatoes and carrots. While a hanger steak is not the most prime cut, the way it is prepared here conceals the deficiencies of the more fibrous, stringy cuts of beef. The charred slices of steak were fork-tender, and ably absorbed the dense, earthy sauce. The mashed potatoes (whipped with mascarpone cheese) are some of the tastiest I’ve ever had. This is quite possibly the absolute best counter service dish I’ve ever had at WDW.
My wife’s croque monsieur might be the second best. The sandwich is very similar to the Monte Cristo found in Disneyland’s Café New Orleans and Blue Bayou (both table service restaurants), but is served open faced and broiled instead of deep fried. While the Monte Cristo has its crispy batter and jam, Primo Piatto’s croque monsieur has its melty, gooey, buttery cheese. This sandwich (just $12.99, which includes a side – we chose the delicious Romano herb fries) is every bit the equal to its west coast cousin, and is alone worth a trip to the Rivera Resort.
We did see a few pizzas come from the kitchen (an open concept so guests can see their food being prepared), and while they were a little on the small size (though just $11.99), they looked quite good, and something we might try on a future visit. The only drawback of Primo Piatto is its location outside of the parks, though with the Skyliner, it would only take @10-15 minutes to get here from EPCOT or DHS.
In addition to these notable meals, we tried a few other new dishes and restaurants during our trip to WDW. We ate at Dock Bay 7 when we visited Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland, so I made it a point to try Ronto Roasters on Batuu-East. We got the traditional Ronto wrap, and as Robert noted during his initial review of Galaxy’s Edge, it is solid choice. I’d say that at $12.99, it’s a bit overpriced for some meat and slaw in a pita (with no fries, chips, or sides), but the flavors are far more bold than you would expect from a Disney mass-produced counter service item. I also got the Trandoshan Ale here, which cannot be found in California. The Concrete Beach Brewery spiced wheat ale stays away from the holiday flavors found in many spiced beers and ciders, like Spice Runner at Oga’s Cantina. I also tried the Milk Stand, which I avoided in California. However, in WDW, the Green Milk can be served with tequila (the Blue Milk is served with rum), which makes it more than just an overpriced slushie IMHO. The only problem is that the tequila is constantly floating to the top of the dense milk, so if you don’t remember to stir it as recommended by the Milk Stand CM, you’re liable to get nothing but tequila in your first sip.
Since Toy Story Land is new to us since our last visit to WDW in October 2017, we wanted to try Woody’s Lunchbox. We had an evening snack here of “Totchos” which are essentially nachos with tater tots (or potato barrels as the counter service restaurant calls them) instead of tortilla chips forming the base for the chili, cheese, and other toppings. These were pretty decent, though I think the chili could have been a little spicier or been kicked up a notch with the option of adding jalapenos in lieu of the green onion garnish. We also got a grilled cheese kid’s meal (I actually ate this one since Zach wanted to eat the Totchos), where we substituted tomato basil soup instead of the mandarin orange. While the portion was appropriately small (it is a kid’s meal after all), the grilled cheese was served fresh with still melty cheese inside. The soup was clearly not from a can with a smoked pepper aroma that added depth to an otherwise mundane dish, and was a perfect dip for the grilled cheese.
Over the course of our 6 days in WDW, we found ourselves eating the most in DAK. In addition to Tiffins and Satu’li Canteen, we also grabbed a dish from one of DAK’s numerous food carts. When we visit WDW, we usually plan large formal meals, even if we're eating at counter service restaurants except when noshing around the world during an EPCOT food festival. However, my son was complaining about being hungry in advance of our dinner at Tiffins. He can never get enough shrimp, and so we spotted a sweet chili shrimp mac and cheese at the Eight Spoons Café on Discovery Island. I was hesitant about the combination of flavors, but it was surprisingly good, especially for a small, yet filling snack that costs just $6.99.
We also had lunch at Nomad Lounge, which is the bar/lounge for Tiffins. While it shares some menu items with Tiffins, it does have a distinct menu and a more laid back atmosphere. In fact, it might be the most relaxing place we’ve ever experienced in all of WDW, particularly the exterior terrace space that overlooks one of the park’s waterways. I ordered the bread service, which included 3 different African-style bread/crisps with a variety of dips: coriander yogurt, ginger-pear chutney, and red-pepper hummus.
My wife ordered the poutine, while my son ordered octopus. The bread service was the best of the bunch, though I especially enjoyed pairing the different breads with the squid ink aioli on my son’s dish.
My wife enjoyed the poutine, though the way it was constructed was strange with the gravy and cheese curds lingering well below the ample portion of fries. This helped keep the fries from getting soggy, but made it hard to get a bite with a full cross-section of flavors offered by the dish.
Over the course of our 8 days in WDW (with 6 park days), we explored lots of new restaurants and food stands throughout the resort. While not every restaurant and dish lived up to their billing, we did come across some new favorites. While it’s easy to stick with familiar tastes and surroundings, we have found that exploring the diverse food offerings around WDW can be as fun and exciting as the rides, shows, and attractions.Tweet
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