Restaurant Reviews

Matthew Ranks the Disney World Counter-Service Restaurants

We have a guest post on the blog today. Loyal Wanderers probably get tired of my dining reviews so today I’ll make way for someone else’s food opinions – my brother, Matthew Long.

I’m back with more restaurant rankings. I previously ranked the table service restaurants I ate at on our family trip to Disney World back in June. Today it’s time for counter service restaurants, with a few snack and dessert thoughts thrown in. These are only the places I ate at personally while on this specific trip. There’s no set criteria beyond what I liked the best, and to some degree, where I would try hardest to eat again next time. I had the Disney Dining Plan for most of these, which can really impact what one orders, or not. Just depends on the place, and I’ll make note where applicable. This could get long, so let’s jump right in.

  1. Tangierine Cafe (Epcot)

The Chicken and Lamb Shawarma platter at Tangierine Cafe was one of the two or three best things I ate the whole trip. It outpaced most of my table service entrees and was easily the best counter service meal I had. It’s huge (excellent use of a dining credit), and every aspect of it was excellent, from the meats to the bread to the variety of accoutrements. It’s literally the only thing I ate that I would insist on getting again next trip. My 5-year-old son would agree, as he ate probably a third of it after eating his own meal.

Tangierine Cafe Lamb Platter Epcot

Now a few words about the actual restaurant, in the Morocco pavilion. It’s fine. It doesn’t look great, it doesn’t look bad. There’s seating, but it’s sort of open air inside and therefore not especially cool. I grabbed my food and headed back to France to join my wife and son, which worked well enough. I don’t really care that the place itself is nothing great, though. With counter service meals, I mostly want great food, or at least interesting food. I’ll make the rest work. Tangierine Cafe, at least for the one meal I ate there, had really great food.

  1. Satu’li Canteen (Animal Kingdom)

The next six or so on this list could vary in order, depending on mood and what I’m looking for and probably on what one eats at each place. Satu’li Canteen, in Pandora, gets bonus points for being distinctive in its offerings among other Disney World restaurants. They basically do bowls, with different bases (I think I got grains and rice) and meats. They have these funny little boba-like balls of dressing/sauce, and everything tasted fresh and just good. Outside of Disney World, this type of meal is not hard to find, but it’s pretty out of the norm for the parks. There was a big line while we were there (Editor’s Note: This is a good place to use mobile order), but otherwise it’s a pleasant experience. There’s lots of indoor seating and enough theming to fit the land well without being excessive. Satu’li is an easy and enjoyable option.

Beef saulti canteen Pandora AK
  1. Kringla Bakeri Og Cafe (Epcot)

I don’t think I ever ate an actual meal here, but I ate plenty else over multiple visits. I believe my wife might have had a sandwich at one point, and the meal options looked good. The main draw is the various pastries, desserts, and other treats. Nothing here is bad. School Bread is the go-to, but order whatever sounds good to you. My wife loves the rice pudding, which is probably the only thing I wouldn’t eat here, so you know, something for everyone I guess. Kringla is a must visit every time one walks through the Norway pavilion, especially if you’re on the dining plan. There aren’t many better options for a snack credit than a pastry here.

Kringla Bakery case 2 Epcot
  1. Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie (Epcot)

I could copy a good share of what I just wrote for Kringla Bakeri here. This is another great bakery (in France, if you couldn’t figure out by the name), with a broader menu and more meal options. Picking Kringla over it is mostly personal preference. They’re both excellent bakeries that will serve you well if you’re wanting a snack or meal at any point. Les Halles has a bit more variety in meals, and probably more options overall. Otherwise, your ranking will likely depend on whether you prefer your baked goods Scandinavian or French. Or, I guess, how much you like baked goods at all. I like them. I like them a lot. Bonus points to Les Halles for indoor seating, but the seemingly always lengthy line detracts from that a bit.

Les Halles Creme Brulee
  1. Flame Tree Barbecue (AK)

Flame Tree has some really solid barbecue. I got the ribs, chicken and pulled pork platter, as one should do on principle if one has the dining plan. No complaints about the food here. There are some good drink options too. I enjoyed the Mandarin orange vodka lemonade myself. The negative here is that the seating is outside. There are covered areas with fans, but it didn’t make a huge difference. There are plenty of times when this would be just fine. Unfortunately we were eating lunch with a heat index well over 100 degrees, and I was kind of miserable. Holding a hot meat while you’re sweating isn’t always the most fun. Definitely come here if you like barbecue, but definitely take the weather into account.

Flame Tree chicken AK
  1. La Cantina de San Angel (Epcot)

La Cantina has similar issues to Flame Tree, on a smaller scale. Situated right on the lake in the Mexico pavilion, the draw here is being able to eat solid Mexican food with a great view. It certainly delivers on that. The menu is primarily tacos, with a few salads and other options as well. I think we went with the barbacoa tacos, which were very good. There’s nothing here you can’t get at a good taco truck or taqueria back home (most likely, depending on where you live, I guess), but that’s fine. Back home, you can’t eat it on the lake in Epcot. The seating was a little hot and crowded, but that was to be expected, and a mango frozen margarita helps a lot. One final note: my wife has been talking about the queso that came in my son’s kids meal ever since. Get some of that, I guess.

Fish tacos La Cantina de San Angel Epcot
  1. Sommerfest (Epcot)

Sommerfest is a small walk-up window in the Germany pavilion that serves brats, beer, and a few sides and desserts. You should know from that one sentence whether you have any interest in eating here. Personally, I was kind of charmed. I went with a brat (obviously) and a darker beer the fine young German man taking my order pointed me toward. The brat itself was fine, but the bun was excellent, big and fluffy. It also came with some tasty chips, and the beer was quite good. I’m not sure why Sommerfest stands out so clearly in my head. I think it’s because it felt close to an authentic experience, and was just easy and fun. If you like brats and beer, go here! I made up that rhyme myself, by the way.

Germany Epcot night
  1. D-Luxe Burger (Disney Springs)

D-Luxe is a trendy burger joint that Andrew tells me is one of the better burgers in Disney World. I can buy that, but I can also tell you I wasn’t overly impressed. I believe I went with a classic burger with an addition or two. It was fine, but in my long history of burgers eaten, it’s squarely middle of the pack. Not a huge knock, as I’ve truly eaten a ridiculous amount of hamburgers in my life, but I won’t be rushing back to D-Luxe next trip. Good fries though, solid ambiance, and I remember liking the shake we shared. 

D Luxe Burger fries
  1. Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom)

My biases (and confusion) are going to come out on this one. I was under the assumption that this restaurant was in the big castle in the middle of the park, so I was a bit disappointed that it’s actually in the little fake castle around back. My fault, but it didn’t start me off on the right foot. Once inside, it’s a fine experience that suffers a bit from a crowded and slightly strange ordering process. The food was pretty good. We mostly went with sandwiches, and they were good but not something I miss. The main draw, of course, is eating inside of a castle, but it didn’t do a ton for me, personally. I’m clearly not the target audience, and that’s fine, but I was solidly underwhelmed by Be Our Guest.

Be Our Guest braised chicken MK
  1. Boardwalk Bakery

This is essentially the counter-service restaurant for the Boardwalk Hotel, but it’s located down on the boardwalk itself. It’s a standard bakery with a wide range of pastries, desserts, and lunch options like sandwiches and salads. We had a random variety of items here, none bad, but none in the “shockingly good” category. Everything is ordered at the counter, and the only seating is outdoors. Ultimately, it’s a good bakery that certainly doesn’t demand a special trip. If you’re nearby and something looks good, you won’t be disappointed, but don’t make an effort otherwise.

Boardwalk Bakery facade
  1. The Mara (Animal Kingdom Lodge)

Located near the Jambo House pool, The Mara is a solid but lackluster option. Like at most other similar Disney World hotel options, one orders what they want at a variety of counters before paying. There are coolers of drinks, pre-packaged options, and desserts for those not needing a full meal. I had the African Potjie, a stew-like meal served over rice. It was satisfying our first night there after sitting on a plane all day, but nothing to write home about. There are solid options at The Mara if one needs a quick snack or meal, but it’s prime value is convenience. There is plenty of indoor seating, and the setting outside by the pool is nice.

The Mara AKL inside
  1. Pizza Window (Boardwalk)

Pizza Window is, surprisingly, a window that sells pizza, along with salads and beer. Located on the boardwalk, it has nice outdoor seating with a pretty view. Unfortunately, the positives mostly end there. My salad and beer were fine, but I thought the pizza was pretty poor. There’s a lot of excellent pizza in the world these days, so it always surprises me to find a pie that’s not great. Ultimately, this was a bit of a throwaway meal when we were trying to find something easy near our hotel, but Pizza Window is not a window through which I will order again. 

A few other thoughts. Ample Hills Creamery, on the Boardwalk, is a great ice cream parlor. The Boardwalk is a fun area to walk around for an evening regardless. If possible, you should eat at Flying Fish followed by Ample Hills for dessert, but if your time or budget are cramped, just hitting Ample Hills is an excellent choice. Across the water, Beaches and Cream Soda Shop at the Beach Club is another fun spot for ice cream or a meal. The main drawback was it was very small and busy, but I know it’s being renovated, so I assume that will be less of an issue. Finally, Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery in Animal Kingdom is a walk-up window with pastries and some light breakfast options. My wife loved a breakfast sandwich, and I got a very good pistachio honey croissant that had a combination of flavors I hadn’t run across before. I don’t remember too many snacks, but I got a Dole Pineapple float with dark rum in Animal Kingdom (Tamu Tamu Refreshments) that got all over my hands but filled my heart with cheer.

Ample Hills sundae

So there you have it. In some ways, I enjoy this type of eating more than table service restaurants. I love a full meal, especially a great one on the dining plan, but it’s fun trying different things with lower stakes, if you will. So next time you’re at Disney World, branch out and try some new things. You won’t be disappointed. And if you hadn’t figured it out already, eat at Epcot and Animal Kingdom. Lots of good options in both parks, even beyond what I’ve covered in these posts. Enjoy!

Let us know your thoughts on Disney World counter-service restaurants or any questions you might have in the comments below. Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? Check out our Disney World Trip Planning Guide to help you out. If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. All of those links are on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

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