San Angel Inn Restaurante is one of two table service restaurants at Epcot’s Mexico pavilion in Walt Disney World. This World Showcase dining review includes food photos, thoughts on ambiance & cuisine, and how it rates in the big picture of food-dense World Showcase. Regarding basic info for Walt Disney World vacation planners, this is a 1-credit table service restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan, accepts Tables in Wonderland for a 20% discount, and participates in Candlelight Processional dining packages (if you’re visiting during this time of year).
It’s no secret that San Angel Inn has “enjoyed” a poor reputation for a long time among Disney fans. The restaurant has been derided as serving bland, low-quality cuisine. Despite the criticism, we’ve visited a few times over the years, finding our experiences here pretty much falling in line with the norm. The common thread among those meals is that the ambiance has always been exceptional and the food has been far less than exceptional.
Before we get to that in this review, I’ll start out with a bold statement that will probably totally discredit me as a Disneyland fan, or at least cost me a significant loss of street cred: I prefer San Angel Inn to Blue Bayou. That’s even with the old reputation of the restaurant. Now, before you assume this is baseless sensationalism, provocation, or I’m being intentionally contrarian, hear me out…
First, the basis of the comparison: both are table service Disney restaurants that overlook slow-moving boat rides. While they differ in cuisine, I’d be shocked if the Imagineers who designed San Angel Inn were not directly inspired by Blue Bayou (for those unfamiliar, Blue Bayou overlooks Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean).
I’ll make this comparison quick since it serves no practical purpose–you’re not going to be choosing between a restaurant in California and one in Florida. Anyway, my main reason for preferring San Angel Inn is because I think the scene it overlooks in Gran Fiesta Tour is far more visually captivating than the dark and ominous swamp scene that Blue Bayou overlooks.
Don’t get me wrong–I think the serene bayou scene is important to set the tone of Pirates of the Caribbean as an attraction (and as a segue from New Orleans Square), but unless you’re seated by the water, there’s not much to see in terms of the attraction.
By contrast, San Angel Inn has a temple (depending upon what you read, it’s Aztec or Mayan; there is a difference, but my eye is not keen enough to spot it) that towers above the tables, an erupting volcano behind that, and ruins that are easily visible boats pass by. While the lighting is subdued, it’s pretty easy to see at least some of this throughout the restaurant.
The other advantages that San Angel has are its price points, which are significantly lower than Blue Bayou, and its ease of entry. Probably due to poor reviews, it’s easy to walk-up to San Angel Inn and be seated most of the time. To Blue Bayou’s credit, its food is slightly better. All things considered, though, I’d say Blue Bayou is overrated and San Angel Inn is underrated among Disney fans.
During our recent trip to Walt Disney World, dined here once more. After walking out of Big River Grille & Brewing Works less than 5 minutes after being seated (another story for another day), we scrambled and found availability for San Angel Inn at the last minute. Perhaps our expectations were sufficiently lowered by Big River, but we had our first all-around solid meal here.
Don’t get too excited just yet–this is not going to be a glorious redemption tale that suddenly catapults San Angel Inn to the top of our list of World Showcase table service restaurants. Really, there was only one direction for San Angel Inn to go, and it has done exactly that, to some degree.
We’ve already covered most of the bases regarding ambiance, but one additional thing worth noting is that the tables here are really close together. I’m not entirely sure why, as whenever we’ve visited the restaurant has been half-full (so in practical terms, it wasn’t an issue), but it might be something to consider if you’re visiting during Free Dining season. (It might also be worse at dinner.)
On that same note, even though it’s easy to view the Aztemayan temple, we recommend requesting a table by the water. Not only will this offer a better view, but will give you more space from adjacent tables. (On our recent visit, we noticed all of the waterfront tables seated 4, but all were not full.)
In the past, we’ve ordered a variety of dishes, pretty much always aiming for the least expensive entrees as a way to get into the restaurant for the ambiance without wasting money on a poor meal. I believe the only thing still on the menu from those meals is the tacos. Given that the above photo is from a couple of years ago, I don’t think it makes sense to offer thoughts on those.
Another reason we’ve gone to San Angel Inn previously was for the margaritas. Often, there was a line to be seated at La Cava del Tequila while San Angel Inn had no wait. Now, the express/to-go line is an option at La Cava, but it’s at least nice to be able to order the same margaritas at San Angel Inn.
In the past, we haven’t paid much attention to the chips and salsa, as they’ve made the kind of “restaurant quality” tortilla chips you could get in bulk at Costco seem good by comparison. This time, the chips had a house-made quality, and were still hot from the fryer. The salsa was also surprisingly good, and didn’t seem watered down.
For our entrees this time at San Angel Inn Restaurante, we opted to split the Arrachera con Chilaquiles, which is grilled New York strip steak with chilaquiles, green tomatillo sauce, topped with queso fresco, onions, and sour cream, served with refried black beans. The steak here was not the most tender, but it was well-prepared, flavored, and sizable. The chilaquiles were excellent, with layers of fresh ingredients topping the fried goodness.
We also ordered the Enchiladas Verdes con Pollo, a dish we’ve had before…because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu. It’s your standard chicken enchiladas: corn tortillas filled with pulled chicken, covered with green tomatillo sauce, topped with sour cream, queso fresco, and onions, served with rice and refried black beans. The chicken was not overly dry or flavorless, so that was a plus. The tortillas also had a fresh taste taste to them. (I mention both of these things explicitly, because neither have been the case with San Angel Inn on past visits.) The tomatillo sauce had a nice, mild flavor thanks to the cilantro, garlic, and onion, but that seemed like it was about the extent of the dish’s “spiciness” (if you want to call it that).
The rice and refried beans were decidedly mild, but good as far as filler went. All things considered, the enchiladas were a considerable improvement upon what we’ve had in the past, which tasted like something out of the freezer section, heated up in the microwave. They didn’t come close to matching the Arrachera con Chilaquiles taste-wise, but there was a noticeable improvement in quality.
One thing that still surprises me is just how mild San Angel Inn’s cuisine is. I don’t think Mexican food is exotic cuisine; most guests probably have good, near-authentic Mexican restaurants in their hometown or near them. We did when we lived in Indiana–a state with Bobby Knight, a cartoon potato, and t-bone steak joined hand-in-hand on its flag.
In any case, mild should not be mistaken for bland. Our food at San Angel Inn had good flavor, it just seem like it had the level of rich spicing that gives authentic Mexican cuisine its unique flavor. I hesitate to call San Angel Inn Tex-Mex since that term has developed such a derisive connotation, but that’s probably the most accurate label. In its defense, most things on the menu at San Angel Inn are not slathered with a thick layer of cheese to mask their flavor.
Overall, San Angel Inn Restaurante is (still) not a standout restaurant in World Showcase when judged strictly on cuisine. However, it’s no longer a joke, either. When you factor in other elements, such as the exceptional ambiance and lunch price points, San Angel Inn moves into the realm of something we’re borderline on recommending. It’s a distinctly “Disney” environment that is a lot of fun. Plus, aiming for the lower-priced entree options makes it a restaurant that can be only a rung above counter service in terms of pricing while being a significantly more enjoyable experience. All things considered, I’d put it ahead of at least Le Cellier, Rose & Crown, and Spice Road Table. It’s arguably a better option than Tutto Italia and Akershus, too. For a restaurant that was once among the very worst in all of Walt Disney World, middle of the pack in World Showcase is not too shabby. What do you think…have you dined at San Angel Inn recently, or are you too scared of that reputation?