Walt Disney World has literally hundreds of restaurants. We’ve dined at the majority of these restaurants, and have loved most of our meals at them. There are so many good restaurants, in fact, that it’s very difficult to come up with a single top 10 list of the best table service restaurants at Walt Disney World. To avoid this difficulty, in the past we’ve done lists of the best value-maximizing Table Service restaurants for the Disney Dining Plan (if you booked the Free Disney Dining Plan or the Disney Dining Plan in general, that is the list to consult for booking restaurants, not this list), the most romantic restaurants, and the best character dining options for the Disney Dining Plan. These are just a few ways to break down the types of restaurants to avoid narrowing the restaurants to an overall top 10 list.
Many restaurants that are exceptional have been “snubbed” from this list, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t great. I’ll mention some of these at the end, and indicate why they didn’t make the cut. As mentioned above, this list is an best “overall” list, meaning that every aspect is considered, including cost. For example, I’m not claiming that the burger at Beaches & Cream (a restaurant that made the list) is better than the New York Strip Steak at Le Cellier (a restaurant that misses the list due to its constantly-increasing price point), but rather that all things considered, including the price, ambiance, and cuisine, that Beaches & Cream is a better restaurant than Le Cellier. If only cuisine were considered, this would likely be a list of all Signature restaurants. With the exception of the #1 restaurant, all restaurants listed participate in the 2013 Disney Dining Plan as one or two-credit table service restaurants. All of them also accept the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount.
Below is a brief synopsis why each restaurant makes the Top 10 list of Walt Disney World table service restaurants. Click the restaurant name for our full review of each restaurant:
10. Kona Cafe – (menu) – Kona Cafe narrowly makes the list, but the only thing holding it back from placing higher is ambiance. Kona Cafe’s “open air” seating that puts some patrons next to the hustle and bustle of the second-story lobby of the Great Ceremonial House at Disney’s Polynesian Resort is incredibly disappointing, but its incredible (and unique) cuisine for all three meals help it overcome this poor ambiance that some patrons experience. The Tonga Toast for breakfast has a cult following that rivals the Dole Whip, but its Macadamia-Pineapple Pancakes are a real sleeper hit for breakfast.
At dinner, the New York Strip Steak is a personal favorite, assuming you don’t fill up on the delicious appetizers like the Polynesian Barbecue Pork Ribs. Kona Cafe and its neighbor, ‘Ohana, have a constant tug of war for my preferred restaurant at Disney’s Polynesian Resort (Sarah prefers ‘Ohana), and you really can’t go wrong with either for dinner. If Kona Cafe were to receive a full scale redo of its layout to make it more intimate and less mall-food-court-ish, it would rocket up this list. Overall, Kona Cafe offers near Signature-quality cuisine, minus the presentation and price.
9. California Grill – (menu) – California Grill is a stark contrast to Kona Cafe, in that it offers incredible ambiance, quite possibly the best at Walt Disney World. Sophisticated (albeit dated to the mid-1990s) decor with a view from the top of the world, a dinner at California Grill is the perfect way to spend an evening at Walt Disney World. When dining at California Grill, a window table is almost a must. Make ADRs for about an hour before Wishes! and be willing to wait for a window table.
California Grill is a Signature restaurant, but its cuisine is somewhat weak (but still very good) compared to other Signature restaurants, and considering its prices. The sushi and flatbreads are great, but many of the entrees are a bit overpriced (judged against other Disney restaurants) for what they are. My personal favorite dish is the Oak-fired Filet of Beef, which is expensive, but very good. The Duck Two Ways is a more reasonably-priced option that likely won’t disappoint. Generally, California Grill entrees are great, but for the prices, they should always be exquisite. Desserts and cocktails here are also excellent at California Grill, so only the occasional misstep on entrees prevents Cali Grill from attaining greatness.
California Grill will close for a 6-month refurbishment starting in January 2013 that will, essentially, be a total reboot of the restaurant. If it reopens with a Jiko or Yachtsman Steakhouse quality menu, expect to see California Grill near the very top of this list following the refurbishment thanks to its unbeatable ambiance.
8. Beaches & Cream – (menu) – Beaches & Cream was an “out of left field” pick for our romantic restaurants list, but it should be less surprising to see it here. No, it doesn’t offer Signature-quality cuisine (not by a long shot), but it also doesn’t charge Signature prices. Price-wise, Beaches & Cream is only a small step up from a counter service restaurant. Even after a huge dessert at Beaches & Cream, you might discover that your bill is approximately 25% of what it would cost you to eat at California Grill or another restaurant on this list. That fact alone gave Beaches & Cream the traction it needed to get on this list.
Also helpful to Beaches & Cream is its delicious burgers, onion rings, and other soda shop fare. Oh, and don’t forget the ice cream. Beaches & Cream has the absolute best ice cream at Walt Disney World. The Milky Way Sundae, Fudge Mudslide, No Way Jose, and Banana Split are all legendary Walt Disney World desserts. Try them. You might just want to skip ordering an entree all together in favor of a few of these desserts. There’s nothing wrong with an ice cream appetizer, ice cream entree, and ice cream dessert, right?! The ambiance in this little soda shop is pretty spectacular, too, with its bygone-era 50s charm.
7. Sanaa – (menu) – Much like Kona Cafe, Sanaa scores a lot of points for offering a unique and excellent menu, and for better price points than the Signature restaurants on this list. Unlike Kona Cafe, Sanaa also has incredible ambiance, with views of animals grazing outside the restaurant. The out of the way location of Sanaa at Kidani Village means that Sanaa is rarely overly crowded, which adds to its intimacy and also means you will usually have an attentive server.
The menu at Sanaa is quite remarkable for a Walt Disney World restaurant, with a lot of options that might scare away the regular tourist who simply wants meat and potatoes. You can find options like that at Sanaa (don’t worry, there’s a “regular” steak), but the majority of the menu is a bit more adventurous. This excellent unique menu is what separates Sanaa from a lot of other Walt Disney World restaurants, and reasonable prices (especially at lunch) on many delicious menu items makes it one of the 10 best table service restaurants at Walt Disney World.
6. Artist Point – (menu) – Artist Point is one Walt Disney World restaurant that really flies under the radar. It’s a Signature Restaurant, and it serves great food in a setting drawing inspiration from the great National Park dining rooms, but it rarely is mentioned in the same breath as fan favorites like Le Cellier and California Grill. It’s nearly as pricey as both of these other Signatures, but it edges both in terms of food.
Luckily for Artist Point, hype is not the determining factor in whether a restaurant is good, and Artist Point actually benefits from its lack of hype, as it’s incredibly easy to grab a last minute ADR or same-day reservations, and there are several menu options that are not to be missed. Make sure to start your meal with the Smokey Portobello Soup and finish it with the Cobbler!
5. Hollywood Brown Derby – (menu) – The Hollywood Brown Derby is one of the most well-rounded restaurants at Walt Disney World. It has great fine dining ambiance, a well-executed theme that gives it that touch of Disney, top-notch service, and an excellent menu. Interestingly, it can be either a very expensive restaurant, or a relatively inexpensive restaurant. It’s an expensive restaurant simply by virtue of its normal Signature menu.
However, for about $22 per person, you can order only the Famous Cobb Salad (on the appetizer menu) and the Grapefruit Cake (dessert) and have those two items for your meal. The Cobb Salad at the Brown Derby is colossal and contains a kitchen sink of awesome ingredients. Beaches & Cream really ought to consider adding it to the menu there and calling it the “Kitchen Sink Salad.” The Grapefruit Cake is the Brown Derby’s second most famed dish, and is quite unique. Together, these two items will be enough food for most guests.
Even if you don’t follow this strategy to make the Brown Derby more reasonably priced, it’s still an excellent restaurant worthy of being included on this list. Just about every entree we have tried is excellent, with the highlights being the duck and lamb.
4. Flying Fish Cafe – (menu) – What Yachtsman Steakhouse is to steak, Flying Fish Cafe is to seafood. That is to say, it’s the place to go at Walt Disney World if you want some excellent seafood. Located on the BoardWalk, Flying Fish is the perfect adult’s night out, as you can enjoy the ambiance of the BoardWalk after a meal at the restaurant. The ambiance of Flying Fish is also great, with nice decor and an open kitchen and nice bar that add to the energy of the restaurant.
The Signature Flying Fish Cafe “Crispy Maine Coast Jonah Crab Cake” is the star of the appetizer menu (and at $16 for a single crab cake, it had better be a star!) with just about everything being the star entree. We enjoy the Red Snapper and the Tuna, but have heard few complaints about any of the entrees. Dessert rounds out the experience with a lot of interesting options. For a Signature seafood restaurant, prices are surprisingly reasonable, which helps bump Flying Fish into the top 5.
3. Jiko – The Cooking Place – (menu) – The ambiance in Jiko, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, is impeccable with appropriate lighting and properly spaced tables for a Signature Walt Disney World restaurant. In our full review I compare Jiko’s ambiance to The Lion King, but it’s really much more complex than that. The color palette of the restaurant changes to mimic an African sunset as the night progresses. The service is also excellent, with servers who are knowledgeable about the menu and the extensive drink list. Its prices are in line with other Signature restaurants, so it’s no gem from a value perspective, but the cuisine is worth the prices.
Menu-wise, Jiko is basically Sanaa on steroids. It’s not quite as adventurous as Sanaa, but there are plenty of interesting choices that make the meal a veritable safari…for your taste buds! (Okay, that was corny, but I just had to…) There are great flatbread starters as well as less-conventional choices. The entree menu has plenty of choices, but my favorite by far (off-menu now) is the filet with mac & cheese. Other great choices include the Grilled-marinated Lamb Loin and Braised Beef Short Rib. Desserts are equally varied.
2. Yachtsman Steakhouse – (menu) – We dined at Yachtsman Steakhouse recently the night after dining at Narcoossee’s. After a disappointing meal at Narcoossee’s, we weren’t holding our breath that Yachtsman Steakhouse would be much better. It was much better. The service was better and the cuisine was not even comparable. About the only area of disappointment was the somewhat dated look of the restaurant. Prices are also high, but not unexpected for the cuts of meat. Yachtsman Steakhouse is a carnivore’s paradise, which is apparent as soon as you walk in the entrance where you see…a butcher in a case booth making the “magic” happen.
My 24-oz Porterhouse was bigger than my head, and it did not disappoint. It was perfectly marbled to give it excellent flavor, and the roasted garlic butter and fries were perfect for a “meat and potatoes” style meal. Although Yachtsman Steakhouse has other menu items besides awesome cuts of meat, these are where the menu shines. In essence, it’s the anti-Sanaa–a restaurant with a menu full of steakhouse classics. Although we’re adventurous, we’re also avid carnivores, so Yachtsman Steakhouse scores very well.
1. Victoria & Albert’s – Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is the absolute best restaurant at Walt Disney World. By a wide margin. It’s the only AAA 5-Diamond restaurant in Walt Disney World. The restaurant is quiet and well-appointed, and the service is exquisite. Victoria & Albert’s offers a prix fixe six-course meal (we won’t fixate on each “best” menu item) consisting of gourmet and specialty fine dining options, along with other “premium” items that can be ordered for an additional charge. If you’re a real foodie, you can also book the Chef’s Table for a unique, albeit less romantic, dining option. Given all of this, why would Victoria & Albert’s not be #1 on anyone’s list?
Price. The fixed-price cost for the regular dining room is $125 per person and wine pairings are $60 per person. The cost of the meal only goes up from there as optional substitutions are made to the menu. That said, even the price can’t prevent Victoria & Albert’s from snagging the #1 slot here by a wide margin. This is because, for the type of restaurant it is, it’s pretty well priced, and because the food really is that good.
Everything about the restaurant is exquisite, making it far and away the best restaurant at Walt Disney World. It’s somewhere everyone who enjoys fine dining should eat at least once. In terms of value, even at its high cost, I would rate Victoria & Albert’s very highly. In my mind, it’s one of the few restaurants at Walt Disney World that would not be overpriced in the real world for the food and service it offers. That’s high praise for a meal that cost us over $300!
There you have it, our top 10 list of table service restaurants at Walt Disney World. You may notice that a lot of popular restaurants didn’t make this list. The one that probably jumps out most is Le Cellier. We enjoy Le Cellier, but feel that it doesn’t live up to the reputation that it has garnered over the years online, nor its full-time Signature Restaurant status. The pretzel bread and cheddar soup are addictive, the NY strip steak is usually good, and the Maple Créme Brulée and Mount Blanc Semifreddo are the perfect ways to conclude any meal. It serves Unibroue beers, which are some of my favorite beers. However, food is often over-salted or lacking in flavor or complexity, and the tables are way too close together. A huge portion of its reputation was previously predicated upon its (former) “value” status on the Disney Dining Plan. With it now a Signature restaurant for lunch and dinner, I think it people will finally stopping singing its praise so loudly.
Other Signature or highly touted restaurants that were left off the list include Narcoossee’s (hit or miss and overpriced even for Disney), Citricos (barely missed the list; amazing ambiance but hit or miss cuisine), ‘Ohana (barely missed the list; good and fun restaurant), and Tutto Italia (amazing dessert; otherwise overrrated). Monsieur Paul, which was the #2 restaurant on the list when it was Bistro de Paris, fell off of the list completely because of a plethora of reports we’ve heard that it’s nothing like it used to be since reopening. We haven’t had a chance to eat there yet, and since we haven’t (and it’s fundamentally different), it’s off the list. By contrast, California Grill remains on the list despite its refurbishment until we have reason to believe it’s materially different from its pre-refurbishment quality. All restaurants from the Swan & Dolphin and other third party hotels were not considered for the list.
As you can see by the list of the above ‘snubbed’ restaurants, it was difficult to narrow the list the 10 table service restaurants…but we managed to do it!
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Do you agree with our top 10 list? What are your top 10 table service restaurants in Walt Disney World? Share your thoughts in the comments!