This post ranks the quick service restaurants in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World for 2014. Despite the Magic Kingdom’s historically poor reputation for counter service dining, there are a surprising number of good options. Sometimes these good options are in the form of a specialty at a particular restaurant, which can make dining in the Magic Kingdom with a family of diverse eaters particularly difficult. The other matter that complicates your dining choice when you’re in the Magic Kingdom is the sterling options just outside of the Magic Kingdom. Captain Cook’s, Contempo Cafe, and Roaring Fork are all a short monorail or boat ride from the Magic Kingdom, and they all rank higher than almost all of the options within the Magic Kingdom on our Top 10 Counter Service Walt Disney World Dining list.
The Magic Kingdom’s counter service restaurants are also more difficult to rank than any other park. You have three locations–Diamond Horseshoe, Tortuga Tavern, and Tomorrowland Terrace–that are only open when crowds reach a certain level, meaning they probably aren’t even going to be options for a good number of guests reading this post. Then you have choices like Sleepy Hollow and Gaston’s Tavern that are absolutely awesome if you like the handful of things they serve, but are probably better considered ‘snack stops’ than actual bona fide restaurants because of this. Because of these complications and other issues with how restaurants that only serve a specific type of food (Casey’s Corner and its hot dogs, Columbia Harbour House and seafood, etc.) this list was difficult to put together and probably is more useful for the descriptive reviews that accompany each restaurant than for its numerical rankings. That way, you can read and see whether a particular restaurant sounds like it’s your style or not.
Now, this might sound like an easy out in case you don’t agree with the numerical rankings we’ve given these Magic Kingdom counter service restaurants (and maybe that’s our devious goal!), but that’s the actual dining situation in the Magic Kingdom. We’ve separately reviewed a decent number of these restaurants. To read our full reviews and see additional food photos of each option, click the restaurant name (if it’s not click-able, we have yet to review it).
NOTE: This list was revised in August 2014 to reflect menu changes and a couple of overall shifts.
N/A. Diamond Horseshoe (menu) – Frontierland – It’s impossible to keep track of the non-stop musical chairs of seasonal Magic Kingdom dining. Sometimes, Diamond Horseshoe is open. Sometimes, Tortuga Tavern is open. Sometimes, Tomorrowland Terrace is open. Sometimes a combination of the three is open. We have only ever seen Diamond Horseshoe open once (both of the other two options were also open), and the food looked awful and absolutely uninspired, so we didn’t eat there. We think this is the least likely of the three to be open, but we could be wrong. Even so, the food here can’t possibly be worse than what the Main Street Starbucks tries to pass off as food, but it could also rank much higher than this. We don’t know.
12. Main Street Bakery (menu) – Main Street USA – The addition of Starbucks to the Main Street Bakery is probably the most controversial decision among Disney fans since Walt decided to expand from California into the Florida swampland (thankfully the internet didn’t exist back in the 1960s), but that’s not why this ranks last for us. Frankly, we feel the outrage is massively overblown and a real overreaction to the introduction of good third party coffee, which is perfectly consistent with other sponsored locations, a practice that has been occurring since the opening of Disneyland. The reason Main Street Bakery ranks low is because it only serves Starbucks breakfast sandwiches and snacks that play fast and loose with the term “food.” We’d feel back about feeding these to our dog, and he literally tries to eat from the cat box. Go here for the superior coffee, but skip the “food.”
11. The Lunching Pad (menu) - Tomorrowland – The Lunching Pad only serves a couple of gross-looking hot dogs, and a couple of snacks. However, we set the precedent of including ‘snack spots’ with Gaston’s Tavern and Sleepy Hollow, so we figured we better be consistent and include this, too. On the plus side, the Sweet Cream Cheese Pretzel is awesome, and one of my favorite snacks in the Magic Kingdom. If you’re a fan of gross hot dogs, you have better selection at Casey’s Corner, though.
10. Casey’s Corner (menu) - Main Street USA – Casey’s Corner is a love it or hate it type place. We both fall squarely into the ‘hate it’ camp. Sarah has always disliked it, but I used to like it back before they changed from all-beef hot dogs to a meat cocktail. The hot dogs also are around $10 each, which is grossly overpriced, even by Disney standards. We find ourselves hungry at the end of the night a lot, with Casey’s virtually the only open option at or after closing, though. In that case, the Corn Dog Nuggets are the best pick. Remember, “best” is a relative term.
9. Tortuga Tavern (menu) – Adventureland – Back in 2011, Disney refurbished the seasonal El Pirata y El Perico and renamed it to Tortuga Tavern. A lot of decor was new, with a heavy pirates motif and some witty signs. Our expectations were high, because the restaurant looked cool, but for some reason it remained seasonal. The menu is limited, and burritos are the main option. They are very simple: just the meat and the tortilla. There’s a toppings bar (limited as compared to Cosmic Ray’s or Pecos Bill, but still good) for fleshing it out, and the fact that you can pile the toppings on makes it a good value. While good-enough tasting, they’re still very plain and uninspired. Tortuga Tavern makes Taco Bell look authentic by comparison. It’s not a terrible option, it’s just disappointing for a location with so much potential.
8. Tomorrowland Terrace (menu) - Tomorrowland – Total, Tomorrowland Terrace is probably only open for a handful of weeks per year. It used to be a noodle station, but now serves an eclectic mix. The menu changes enough that we sort of wonder if they just serve whatever extra stuff they find lying around. Despite this, we’ve had a couple of surprisingly decent/good meals here. The pasta is our top pick, and overall Tomorrowland Terrace’s out of the way location makes it a decent option if you’re in the Magic Kingdom on a crowded day and want to eat at a slightly less crowded location. We don’t recommend going out of your way to seek it out, but you could do a lot worse.
7. Gaston’s Tavern (menu) – New Fantasyland – We love Gaston’s Tavern. That “we” is mostly “me,” as I salivate just thinking about that Pork Shank and a cup of LeFou’s Brew. For that combo alone, Gaston’s Tavern scores very highly. Add to that awesome theming and ambiance, and I actually prefer Gaston’s Tavern to Be Our Guest Restaurant. However, the Pork Shank is about the only non-snack food served, so it’s really a snack spot, which is what places it in this spot. We highly recommend stopping at Gaston’s Tavern, but unless you are a family of pork lovers, that stop probably isn’t going to be considered lunch or dinner.
6. Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe (menu) - Frontierland – Pecos Bill is essentially the Frontierland equivalent of Cosmic Ray’s thanks to its toppings bar, but with a far more limited menu. Essentially, it just has burgers and taco salads, plus a couple of other options. In fairness, there are two new “after 4 p.m.” menu options that we’ve yet to try that both sound pretty good, so maybe that will push Pecos Bill higher. As of right now, it’s a good place to go for its nice theming and toppings bar, but the limited menu and chaos of the restaurant are a bit of a turn-off.
5. Sleepy Hollow Inn (menu) – Liberty Square – With its menu of basically only waffle sandwiches, we’re pushing it a bit by including Sleepy Hollow on this list (for consistency’s sake, we’re also including a couple other marginal counter service restaurants). However, we love these waffle sandwiches so much that we’d be remiss to leave them off. Some find that the waffle sandwiches have an interesting flavor profile, and we agree with this to an extent, but we find that they’re interesting in a very good way. The waffle sandwiches are freshly made, and are filling enough to serve as a meal. We now eat here more than any other restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, and the only reason it’s not higher on this list is because of its limited menu.
4. Pinocchio Village Haus (menu) – Fantasyland – A recent recipient of a new menu with flatbreads, Pinocchio Village Haus is now much better than it once was. These aren’t the best of Disney’s recent flatbread craze, but they’re pretty good. The downsides to Pinocchio Village Haus are the otherwise limited menu, and that it’s chaotic at lunch with families and small children. All things considered, we view it as a very good restaurant that is well worth doing. Our tip: dine here late at night and dine outside on the balcony, which offers a great view of Cinderella Castle and Fantasyland.
3. Columbia Harbour House (menu) – Liberty Square - Columbia Harbour House is a favorite of ours, thanks to its solid seafood menu and very relaxed upstairs seating. Unlike many real world seafood restaurants, the food here isn’t 60% breading, 40% seafood. It’s a great place to escape the crowds of the Magic Kingdom. The portions of some items are small, but Columbia Harbour House largely offers great value and filling entrees. Columbia Harbour House drops a couple of spots because the menu isn’t quite as ambitious as we’d like (there are a couple of really, really good choices but many basic items), but for seafood fans, it’ll be #1 or #2 on this list.
2. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe (menu) - Tomorrowland - Some readers may be disappointed to see Cosmic Ray’s this high, since it seems more or less like an spot serving ordinary theme park food. To a degree, that’s true. However, Cosmic Ray’s also serves great ribs, a grilled chicken sandwich, and rotisserie chicken, among other things. They also always seem to have at least one worthwhile “experimental” burger on the menu. Add to that the excellent toppings bar, and an expansive menu of ‘safe’ choices. Plus, to me Sonny Eclipse is the epitome of the type of ‘little thing’ that makes Walt Disney World special. Factoring all of these things, Cosmic Ray’s sneaks up high, even if it seems fairly ordinary when taken at face value. It’s still my sentimental favorite and a place I think most kids (or kids at heart) will love, with several good options for food and a lot of variety. Its negatives are the odd “bay” system that complicates dining for families, and during busy seasons and prime dining hours, the place is a madhouse.
1. Be Our Guest Restaurant (menu) – New Fantasyland – We didn’t originally buy into the insane amount of hype surrounding Be Our Guest Restaurant, “snubbing” it from the #1 spot on this list. While we thought the theming and attention to detail are great here and the food is ambitious for a restaurant in the Magic Kingdom (let alone in New Fantasyland), we weren’t sold on the chaos of the place or a few individual menu items we tried. After trying more of the menu, we are now convinced that it’s worth the chaos for some creative food choices that approach low-tier table service quality. The end result is a very good restaurant that raises the bar for menu variety in the Magic Kingdom, and is just a really cool place to be, especially in the West Wing. Expect Be Our Guest to draw lines in New Fantasyland for the foreseeable future. It’s worth the wait.
Based upon these descriptions, you can probably understand why it’s so difficult to rank some of the Magic Kingdom’s counter service restaurants. The top of the list has some really good choices, and there are a few choice items here and there at the rest of the restaurants, but by and large counter service dining in the Magic Kingdom is a sea of ‘meh.’ The Magic Kingdom beats only Disney’s Hollywood Studios in terms of counter service dining, with both Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom having substantially better counter service options.
Fortunately for Magic Kingdom guests, really great options are only a monorail or boat ride away in the Magic Kingdom Area Resorts, and lunch at one of these counter service locales might be a good way to break up the day (and the commute would probably only take as long as waiting in line at Be Our Guest Restaurant). You can certainly have a nice meal in the Magic Kingdom, but we feel Walt Disney World’s flagship theme park really needs to up its game in terms of dining. Be Our Guest Restaurant was a good start, it’s time to see more menus like that.
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Which Magic Kingdom counter service restaurant is your favorite? Have you dined at these restaurants? Which did you like and dislike? What are your top Magic Kingdom counter service restaurants? We love to hear from readers, so if you have any thoughts or questions, post them in the comments!