Disney is well-known for its high-quality, creative dining options, and across the Internet, you’ll find dozens of articles detailing its “hidden gem restaurants” and all the “must-eats” across property. But are you really getting an insider perspective? Chances are, you’ve probably been told more than once that Be Our Guest is “a must-do, tucked away in the back of the park” before, when in reality it’s one of the most popular restaurants at Disney and is often completely booked even six months out, not to mention fairly pricey – factors that all lead to it being inaccessible to your typical Disney-going guests.
And we all have stood in line at Casey’s Corner or Pinocchio Village Haus, saying to ourselves, “there has to be a better option than this.” Well, have no fear! Castle Party is here to bring you the true hidden gems of Disney dining, whether it’s a quick snack, a counter service restaurant or a full table service environment. Here’s a collection of some of our favorite forgotten meals at Walt Disney World.
1. Sanaa, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Kidani Village: Table Service
If anyone’s heard of Sanaa, it’s probably most famous for its signature bread service. Sanaa’s best-known offering features three varieties of naan, onion kulcha bread and paneer paratha for its breads, and nine different sauces and dips to try on them, ranging from a sweet and tangy mango chutney to the spicy jalapeño-lime pickle. But what’s even better about Sanaa is that their whole menu is filled with unique, flavorful options that entice all diners – even pickier eaters shouldn’t have much trouble finding something they’ll enjoy on the menu. We’re particularly partial to the oxtail appetizer (which basically tastes like a richer, creamier filet mignon) and the sustainable market fish, but the traditional sosatie (lamb) is also excellent.
2. Flavored Popcorn Cart, Epcot – Future World West: Snack
This little gem of a stand is tucked away by the Journey Into Imagination Pavilion in Future World West, with little to no fanfare or special advertisement. What it lacks in marketing, it makes up in flavor and variety, offering guests three special flavors of popcorn. They vary from time to time, but in the past, they’ve included Cheddar Cheese, Buffalo Bleu and Sour Cream and Chive, just to name a few. Their vibrant colors are displayed in window panels inside the stand, so little ones can press their faces to the glass in hopes of convincing their parents to buy them a treat. There’s also regular Disney popcorn in all its buttery, salty goodness for the purists among us. We definitely recommend the sour cream and chive flavor though!
3. The Daily Poutine, Disney Springs – Marketplace: Counter Service
One of the dozens of new offerings in the last year at Disney Springs, The Daily Poutine has quickly garnered fans among Springs’ stalwart shoppers. Its menu is miniscule compared to lots of places on property, but its four varieties of fries drenched in cheese and other garnishes are sure to satisfy every palette. Our personal favorite is the Italian Poutine, featuring French fries covered in mozzarella and Bolognese sauce, but you can never go wrong with the Classic Poutine either.
4. The Wave… of American Flavors, Disney’s Contemporary Resort: Table Service
Located on the first floor of the resort, just past the front desk, The Wave is often overshadowed by the Contemporary’s other extravagant dining offerings. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, our personal favorite meal of the day here is breakfast. Featuring both buffet and plated entrée options, The Wave is one of the cheaper breakfast buffet locations on Disney property, and the price is no comment on its quality. Some of the best buffet options include the cheese grits, sweet potato pancakes and biscuits and gravy. They even offer a multi-grain version of the classic Mickey Waffle for those looking for healthier twists on the traditional favorites.
The entrée menu offers some of the same items as the buffet, with the sweet potato pancakes (served with pecan honey butter!) again a standout. (You can find the recipe for these pancakes here). We’re also big fans of the Citrus-scented Brioche French Toast, served with an orange-citrus compote. You can really taste the citrus in the bread, even without putting the compote on top!
5. Friar’s Nook, Magic Kingdom – Fantasyland: Counter Service
Though only open seasonally and with hours only assigned by expected park occupancy, Friar’s Nook is one of the oft-overlooked walkup counters of Magic Kingdom, where there are dining options around every corner and hidden in every nook and cranny. When it does open its windows, Friar’s Nook serves some delicious macaroni and cheese that is absolutely can’t-miss. While the OG recipe mac and cheese is delicious, with just the right amount of breadcrumbs baked on top, the barbecue chicken mac and cheese is even better. Barbecue sauce and cheese go great together on your plate at a BBQ, so why not mix them intentionally, right? We just wish we could have it more often!
6. Grand Floridian Café, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa: Table Service
In a resort full of lavish restaurants and swanky lounges, the Grand Floridian Café sort of humbles in comparison, tucked behind the grandiose lobby by the exit toward the pool. The atmosphere is more subdued than most of the other dining offerings at the Grand, making the average guest feel a little less out of place in the luxurious environment. The lunch menu is actually more of a brunch, which is actually pretty uncommon at Disney, featuring pancakes and omelets in addition to typical dinner favorites like the Café Sandwich and the Lobster Thermidor Burger. You also cannot miss the strawberry cheesecake for dessert; it is absolutely to die for.
7. Nomad Lounge, Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Discovery Island: Bar and Lounge
Speaking of great atmosphere, the Nomad Lounge (located behind Tiffins at Animal Kingdom, just before the entrance to Pandora) has a really chill vibe to it that’s very enticing, especially after a long day trekking through the wilds of Africa or journeying to the world of Avatar. The lionfish tacos and the bread service are both delicious, but at Nomad, it’s really all about the cocktails. With a wide variety of specialty cocktails made to suit all different tastes, the lounge is equipped with a full bar as well, so they can make your favorite drink as well, as long as you give them the recipe. (And speaking of recipes, you can actually try your hand at making one of our favorite drinks from the Nomad Lounge thanks to the Disney Parks Blog).
From the menu, our personal favorites were the Leaping Lizard, a fruity concoction featuring Malibu Pineapple Rum, and the Snow Leopard Salvation, a mix of pear liqueur, vodka and mint that’s topped with ginger beer. Not a beer fan? It’s just as good without! With apps and drinks taken care of, you can then relax either inside the lounge, decorated with rich, dark woods and exotic art, or outside on the patio, where you can look out on the river and across to the forests of Pandora while seated in cozy, cushioned armchairs and couches.
8. Maya Grill, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort: Table Service
Coronado Springs can be off the beaten path for most Disney guests, tucked away behind Blizzard Beach, just up the road from the All-Star resorts, but trust us, it’s worth the trek. It’s a beautiful resort featuring Latin American influenced architecture, merchandise – and of course, food. Maya Grill is tucked all the way at the back of the main building, so you’ll have to commit to passing every other dining offering at the resort before you get there. Stay focused! Even for folks who don’t like a lot of spice, the menu has a great variety of options from start to finish. Definitely give the queso fundido a try on the appetizers – it’s topped with chorizo!
When it comes to the main course, go for the shrimp tacos if you’re a seafood fan. They’re literally some of the best we’ve ever had. If you’re looking for something with a little more heft, go for the bone-in pork chop. Served with a corn truffle and herbed potatoes, even the biggest of appetites will still probably have to take leftovers home. But if you can’t decide, or you like to share with the rest of your group, go for one of the platters, which serve at least two people. The Parillada Del Grill features beasts of the land, while the Seafood Grill Platter showcases gems of the sea, and both are served with rice, beans and tortillas to make your own burritos and tacos!
9. Sleepy Hollow, Magic Kingdom – Liberty Square: Counter Service
Remember when we mentioned all the restaurants and stands tucked into nooks and crannies at Magic Kingdom? Sleepy Hollow is another one, best known for its delicious funnel cakes covered in strawberries and whipped cream. However, its other offerings are also delicious, specifically the waffle sandwiches. The chicken waffle sandwich, the Nutella-fruit option and the breakfast waffle are all delicious, and not talked about enough! Our favorite is the chicken waffle sandwich, a great play on chicken and waffles that makes your mouth water just smelling it. We also enjoyed the pretzel dog with chips made in-house; it’s a quick easy snack that gives you more variety than your average quick service stand.
10. Yak and Yeti, Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Asia: Table Service
While not technically run by Disney, Yak and Yeti is a true gem when it comes to adventurous dining, both in atmosphere and in cuisine. Decorated like much of the village of Anandapur in Asia, the restaurant is bustling with people and full of bright, vibrant colors and decorations. The menu features pan-Asian food, with favorites like chicken tikka masala and lo mein noodles available, but it also highlights Asian fusion dishes as well, taking some common dishes from other regions and giving them an Asian twist. One of our favorite small plates was the wok-fried green beans with a sweet Thai chili dipping sauce. There’s also a sriracha seafood mac and cheese for those who like a little more kick to their meal.
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Disney has hundreds of places to eat across its many acres. But with this list of hidden gems in hand and a new perspective on some places you may have overlooked, your next Disney trip should be full of unique, diverse and delicious eats!