Best Magic Kingdom Counter Service Restaurants

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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. 

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Planning a Disney trip? Read our other Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews and our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.

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Your Thoughts…

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!

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26 Responses to “Best Magic Kingdom Counter Service Restaurants”

  1. Brian says:

    Visited Diamond Horseshoe=lunch, and Cosmic Ray’s=dinner last week, and both were pretty good.

    Loved the 2nd floor seating at diamond horseshoe, and our BBQ turkey and pork sandwiches were pretty tasty. Staff seemed almost too eager to please, and everything was clean, albeit at the beginning of the lunch rush.

    Food was similiarly decent @ Cosmic Ray’s, but the restaurant was a smidgen untidy due to the busyness of the dinner hour. Sat outside on their patio, which was pretty wonderful in the weather we had that Tuesday.

    Contempo Cafe was pretty good each day for breakfast. Loved the Mickey Waffles :-)

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Thanks for the perspective on Diamond Horseshoe. Since we haven’t actually eaten there, it’s tough for us to rank. However, it’s open so seldom that I figured doing this list without having eaten there wouldn’t be a big deal.

      If others have dined at Diamond Horseshoe, I’d love to hear more reviews of it!

  2. Steven says:

    It’s amazing how many times my family has been to WDW and how few restaurants we seem to have visited! In the past, we’ve played it safe in sticking with what we know we like, but now I’m wanting to branch out.

    This blog has given me some great ideas for our next trip and I’m looking forward to trying one of those Pork Shanks!

    PS: I love Cosmic Ray’s, too! Sonny Eclipse is the best!

    • Gary says:

      The food and especially the service have went down hill over the last 10 years. Worst experience I ever had was there. Unless you can speak a language other than English, I would avoid it. Be Our Guest is great for lunch and Pecos Bills is good quality.

  3. Tammy says:

    We keep wanting to try Sleepy Hollow, but every time we go by the lines are so long. Maybe next time.

  4. Deborah says:

    We loved when Tomorrowland Terrace was a noodle bar and we were disappointed to see the menu had changed the next time we went to WDW. We had a delicious chicken and noodle dish with mint and veggies. Great to recharge and rehydrate! We especially liked it because my husband and I could have something different than the usual theme park food, the kids could still have what they wanted AND we could still have it “on the run”. It’s very tricky to find a place that pleases the whole family!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Even though the noodle station was superior, I think Tomorrowland Terrace is still pretty decent. At least for a location that’s not always operational.

  5. will says:

    cosmic rays used to be better prior to the current addition of windows. i used to love the seats overlooking the castle outside. also the other item that i dislike about it is the multitude of different bays- you can’t get the chicken at the hamburger bay, etc. otherwise no gripes with your order.

  6. Rune says:

    So glad to see Sleepy Hollow placed so well on the list. Love sitting at a castle-side table during EMH and soaking up the atmosphere. The waffles and funnel cakes are always spot on and given that they’re made fresh the wait time seems reasonable even when its busy.(I’ve noticed not everyone in line agrees with this!)

    Tortuga Tavern … we’ve been there a handful of times and despite the limited menu, every time we’ve been either given the wrong thing or unable to make the person at the ordering station understand what we wanted, it was like they had no idea what they were selling in there. Like you said, the food’s not bad, it’s just in need of a bit more ‘oomph’.

  7. Fantastic article. Though I disagreed with quite a few of your rankings, for the most part this was pretty spot on. Biggest difference for me would have been swapping Cosmic Rays and Pecos Bills with each other.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Cosmic Ray’s is a tough choice for #1 since nothing about it really stands out. We haven’t been to Pecos Bill for a couple years, so maybe it’s time for us to try some of their newer items.

  8. Jennie says:

    We ate at Pecos Bill’s and Cosmic Rays when we visited in October and we had great experiences at both, but preferred Pecos. The condiments bar is outstanding! I really liked the rotisserie chicken at Cosmic Rays, but their side options were underwhelming.

  9. ryan1 says:

    Sleepy Hollow has been hit and miss for us. The first time we tried the spicy chicken waffle sandwich in May last year the missus and I really liked it but in December we both thought it was very bland. Also in December I got a ice cream cookie sandwich as Sleepy Hollow and it was really really good. Then last week I got one again and it wasn’t very good at all.

    We always seem to end up at Cosmic Rays for lunch but we both get a kids chicken finger meal because of the value and haven’t wanted to try the other menu items. We mostly go for the atmosphere of Sonny.

  10. Erin says:

    I’m so glad to see Columbia Harbour House so high on the list! I work there, and am always interested in hearing how it ranks compared to the rest of Magic Kingdom.

  11. Kristen says:

    Columbia Harbor House is the way to go! We always feel like we get a good meal for our price.

  12. Dan Heaton says:

    You came so close to making the right pick! Columbia Harbour House is the answer. Cosmic Rays may have some good dishes and Sonny Eclipse, but its set-up is awkward. It’s also loud and gets ridiculous with crowds. I do agree with most of your rankings overall, though. Nice job!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Columbia Harbour House certainly seems to be a better ‘consensus’ pick, but I think Cosmic Ray’s gets the edge for being more well-rounded.

  13. Steve Boutet says:

    Columbia Harbour House is usually my first pick….the Tuna on multi-grain and Chowder on the side. I always feel “better” eating this than a typical burger. I also like the chicken and ribs at Cosmic Rays’s and the flatbread at Pinocchio’s. Heading to DL in three weeks and love the counter service there. Haven’t had the new Paradise Pier grubs yet, so I’m looking forward to the change. Great rundown of the MK c.s. locations.

    • Dawn says:

      My family loves Columbia Harbour House. Being from New England, I didn’t particularly like the lobster roll (way too much mayo), but the fried shrimp and fried fish have always been spectacular. The apple turnover is also very tasty. I think the quality of food there is much higher than other CS in MK. Have never been able to get a table at Cosmic Rays, but think that the whole bay idea is ridiculous, especially when each child wants something different! Pecos Bill’s is usually the only place that is open at night, so we frequent that place as well. Burgers and taco salads are good. Really like the topping bar, but the place is usually very crowded and chaotic…

  14. lebeau says:

    Your list really drives home how poor the counter service choices are in the Magic Kingdom. My wife has banned Cosmic Ray’s (your top choice) after two nightmarish meals on two consecutive trips. We are not to speak of it much less suggest ever stepping foot in that horrid place again.

    We have eaten at Pinocchio Village Haus. We were pleasantly surprised with the flatbreads. But in our experience, it is never anywhere near the madhouse of Cosmic Rays. Probably just luck of the draw. But both times we tried to have lunch at Cosmic Rays we could not find a table. While my meal was adequate both times (once we were finally able to find a spot to sit down and eat it), the other three meals were sub-standard and largely went to waste.

    I will never forget the taste of my wife’s freezer-burned brickette of a chocolate cake. That thing was like a hockey puck with frosting. Only drier. It was bad is what I’m saying. Bad chocolate cake. Not something I have ever experienced at any other eatery anywhere in the world. How do you mess up chocolate cake? I’m guessing you leave it in the freezer for at least a month and then plop it on a tray in a restaurant with no tables and charge $5.

    I’m sure I’m not being fair to Cosmic Rays. But it’s 0-2 with our family.

    More often than not, we go back to the hotel and have lunch there because the counter service options at MK don’t cut it.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      What is even sadder is that the Magic Kingdom’s counter service has improved *considerably* in the last 2-3 years. Before that, it was downright awful.

      I think now it’s at the point where it’s better than Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ counter service (the worst park by far for CS), but not to the level of Epcot or Animal Kingdom. It still has a way to go, but there are a few good options at several restaurants. Just no restaurant with an entire slate of solid options.

  15. Rebecca says:

    Wow- I agree with you almost 100% on this list. My 4 yr. old and 6 yr. old would also agree! We love Cosmic Rays, for Sonny Eclipse, the large selection ( some of it even healthy!) and the ability to easily find a table. We also like Gaston’s even better than BOG! Our family easily makes a meal out of an assortment of their healthy items (hummus, veggies, pretzel chips, fruit bowl) and the relaxing atmosphere can’t be beat! – better than the crowded & chaotic BOG. Pro tip- do not spend $10 each on a LeFou’s brew before finding out if either kid will like it. It was not to my liking either, and $20 went straight from our souvenir cups down the sink drain.

  16. Jessica says:

    I’ve been wanting to try Sleepy Hollow since I read your review last summer. However, when I visited for Not-So-Scary, I didn’t realize that they stopped serving the meaty waffle sandwiches at 5 p.m. and only served the dessert waffles. Next time I go, though, I’m going to make it a priority to get a sandwich for lunch.

  17. Corin says:

    Cosmic Rays is our family’s go-to lunch place. My husband has a soft spot for Sonny Eclipse, truth be told. I love the 1/4 chicken with beans and mashed potatoes, and he usually gets a burger to be piled high with his topping de jour.

    One thing that I have been disappointed at going there over the past few times is the mess people leave behind. It’s not a place where there are servers to bus your table, yet, I’ve seen numerous people just get up and leave, with a wake of garbage behind them on the table that is truly gross. They have one person who wipes down tables, and the poor person is overworked, IMHO.

    My hubby and I ate at Peco’s Bills back for the Halloween party, and found it a great meal. The pulled pork I had was great. My daughter and I are going to hit it on our next trip. We’ve done Pinocchio’s for lunch, and the food was great, but the place is LOUD. The screaming kids don’t help. I get that kids get tired and cranky, but it was just made worse by the acoustics, I think.

  18. Lee says:

    I’m intrigued by the Be Our Guest lunch, but our dinner experience was so awful (stolen reservation one night, blah food when we actually did eat there), I’m hesitant to try the lunch. I am completely on board with your other top picks, though. Cosmic Rays was incredibly hectic when we went for lunch, but the menu is solid, albeit a bit run of the mill. Being a seafood guy, I loved Columbia Harbor House. Great food and the upstairs is such a nice place to just sit and relax. I’m surprised more people don’t take advantage.

  19. Robert says:

    Sorry to be a little off topic Tom, but I just wanted to bring this to your attention. In a video game called minecraft (essentially virtual legos) a group has created a 1:1 scale replica of Walt Disney World. Currently all 4 parks, part of Typhoon Lagoon, the magic kingdom resorts and some of the value resorts are done. Their website is mcmagic.us. Not sure if this will interest you but thought you might be interested :)

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