Top 5 Counter Service Restaurants You’ve Never Tried at Disney World
There are a lot of well-known Walt Disney World hidden gem counter service restaurants, which begs the question as to just how under-the-radar they really are. Dining options like Tangierine Cafe and Sleepy Hollow are great and deserving of the praise, but just how hidden is a restaurant in the middle of Magic Kingdom or Epcot?
If you’re a Walt Disney World fan (and if you’re reading this, that’s presumably true), you’re likely familiar with most restaurants in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, or Epcot. You probably haven’t dined at them all, but you’ve at least passed the big “hidden” gems in each, and perhaps already made the decision as to whether or not they’re for you.
Outside the parks, the dining scene at Walt Disney World is a whole different ballgame. Transportation can make these restaurants a hassle, and no counter service food is worth 2-hours worth of time on buses. With all of this in mind, we’re carving out a list of the 5 best quick service restaurants at Walt Disney World that are not in the theme parks and don’t (or won’t) require convoluted commutes…
4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck – If you’ve ever talked to an Orlando local about restaurants near Walt Disney World they recommend, there’s probably a 50/50 chance that 4 Rivers Smokehouse has come up. It’s one of the best BBQ places I’ve ever visited, with incredible Texas Brisket, Kansas City Burnt Ends, Tri-Tip, and more.
While this food truck at Disney Springs isn’t as good as the flagship Winter Park restaurant, it is decidedly different and nonetheless excellent. The taco cones and burrito bowls are among the most satisfying meals you can have at Walt Disney World for a modest price.
Artist’s Palette – A short walk or boat ride from 4 Rivers Cantina is Saratoga Springs, home to the most underrated counter service restaurant in all of Walt Disney World. Even when we’ve stayed at Saratoga Springs, we’ve passed on this eatery, as it simply looks boring. It took us until last year to finally “discover” that this is not just a phoned-in food court. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Once you get past the restaurant being inside the resort’s gift shop and the eating area being bland as can be, you’ll find a menu that’s filled with ambitious entrees, and some truly divine desserts, as well. Our advice would be to take your food outside, grabbing a poolside seat or going even farther for a waterfront view.
Roaring Fork – When it comes to restaurants within boat or monorail distance of Magic Kingdom, both Gasparilla Island Grill and Contempo Cafe are more meritorious of inclusion here. However, those are both two of the Top 10 Counter Service Restaurants at Walt Disney World, so they might–or should–already be on your radar.
Roaring Fork features a more straightforward menu, but with several standout options that are delicious. Plus, the relaxing boat ride over coupled with the laid back resort atmosphere is a great way to decompress during a chaotic day at Magic Kingdom. If you can get here for breakfast, the Banana Foster’s French Toast, Loaded Mickey Waffles, and Chicken & Waffles are all excellent. At Christmas-time, the Holiday Turkey Sandwich is a must-try.
Spyglass Grill – The Disney Skyliner gondolas will make the wonderful world of food at Caribbean Beach, Riviera Resort, Art of Animation, and Pop Century easily accessible to thousands of Walt Disney World visitors every single day. At Caribbean Beach Resort alone, there are three restaurants we love, but I thought I’d go for the deepest cut.
We’ve been singing the praises of Spyglass Grill since it opened, so regular readers of this blog are probably already familiar with it. If not, it’s located by the Trinidad quiet pool in a nondescript pink building, that could just as easily be confused for a simple picnic area. The small menu here packs a powerful punch–our favorites are the Cream Cheese Guava-stuffed French Toast (breakfast) and Chorizo Burger, which is one of the best burgers at Walt Disney World.
Landscape of Flavors – There has been no shortage of praise for the counter service restaurant at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, which redefined the quality of cuisine that could be offered at a Value Resort’s food court. If you’re a Walt Disney World fan, you’ve probably heard of it by now.
However, unless you’re a larger family or have splurged on the Little Mermaid rooms, there’s a strong chance you’ve never dined here. That’s really too bad. In addition to inventive twists on familiar favorites, there are also items you’d never expect at a food court, including Mongolian Grilled Fish and Tandoori Boneless Chicken Thighs. Landscape of Flavors is the pinnacle of Walt Disney World counter service, and we can only hope that other new hotels follow its formula.
While many, if not all, of these are not restaurants with which first-time visitors to Walt Disney World should bother, they are a nice change of pace for repeat guests. One of our favorite things about WDW is the wealth of new-to-us things to do. Even if you visit annually or more often, there’s undoubtedly still a ton you’ve never done, with plenty of ways to keep your Walt Disney World trips fresh and different.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Which Walt Disney World counter service restaurants would you consider hidden gems? Do you agree or disagree with our list? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Perfect timing! We are heading to Ft. Wilderness this weekend…will definitely have to head over to check out breakfast at Roaring Fork. Been there for lunch – can’t wait to try the french toast! Thanks!
Love your blog and your writing – very helpful in recent WDW trip planning. My one quibble is you do not appear to date any of your posts – would be most helpful to not have to scroll down to comments to see when an article was authored, or try to guess as I’m reading how new/stale a particular review/writeup is. Please let me know if you can add a date stamp next to your byline. Much thanks and again, nice job on the site.
Can i use a quick meal credit on these ones?
Good info, and well presented. Could you back off of the aggressive negative headlines, though? Assuming that your readers are inexperienced/dumb is a curious approach.
Tom, great info! It would be helpful for me if you’d include where these are located. I know it’s second nature to you, but I don’t know where the Roaring Fork is. I had to google where it was. In a recent review, you talked about how you stayed at Boardwalk and ate at Ale and Compass, so I assumed Ale and Compass was at Boardwalk. Took me too long than I’d like to admit to realize it was at Yacht Club. If you’d throw us newbies a bone, it’d be really helpful.
I adored the magic bar I had years ago at Roaring Fork. So much so, I’ve avoided going there in subsequent years so that I don’t get disappointed by revisiting it and find that it is terrible/not available.
My favorite is Aristocrepes at Disney Springs. Giant over stuffed crepes big enough to share, with seasonal offerings. The Turkey/stuffing with cranberry mustard sauce was a perfect holiday meal. If they have the Frozen Strawberry-Colada get it!
Mind you it’s only open after 4 most days, and its tucked away. But WELL worth searching out.
So much great info. And I’m so happy we’ll be able to try Roaring Fork and Geyser Point when we stay at WL this Christmas! Counter service and easy take-out options are our priority with two kids who don’t have patience yet for table service. Can December get here already, please?! I’m driving my family crazy with the Electrical Light Parade music (sadly gone) and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride music.
“The Disney Skyliner gondolas will make the wonderful world of food at Caribbean Beach, Riviera Resort, Art of Animation, and Pop Century easily accessible to thousands of Walt Disney World visitors every single day”
Is it now confirmed, then, that Skyliner transportation won’t be restricted to guests of those resorts? 🙂
We just checked out of Caribbean Beach yesterday and I even said to my husband “where will people park?”…meaning, how can a non resort quest get on at Caribbean Beach for example. You can’t get into the Caribbean Beach resort without being a guest or having a dining reservation. So, while I’m sure there will be ways one can find a way, it doesn’t seem likely that a non guest would be able to get on at CB.
I imagine someone going to Epcot or Hollywood Studios for a park day, but wanting to visit one of those resorts, the easiest way may be the gondola, or they want to try the gondola for fun, etc, so they take that to the resort, then back to the park. Parking at the resort may not be necessary, but it’s still possible people ride the gondola to the resort. People are gonna treat the gondola like Disney’s newest ride when it opens. Might be a long wait for some. hopefully not tho.
Based on recommendations from you and others, my husband and I tried to find 4 Rivers during our trip the first 2 weeks of Jan this year, but sadly to no avail. We went to where the truck was supposed to be according MDE and couldn’t find it. Then we asked a security guard who said, “Oh yeah, it’s always right over there.” But no, it wasn’t right over there. Maybe we were looking in the wrong place, or it wasn’t there YET. Don’t know. Sad we missed it though. Maybe next time…
Also want to add our love of Roaring Fork and their gourmet grilled cheese!
It’s over by World of Disney–opened last year.
Roaring Fork is good, but we actually preferred Geyser Point when we stayed at Wilderness Lodge last year. We never sat and ate there but always got it from the walk-up window and either ate by the pool or went back to our rooms (obviously neither really works for those taking the boat over, but could always just walk over to the tables outside Roaring Fork).
Geyser Point is also great–we tend to do it as a lounge, but it could make this list as a counter service, as well!
It’s funny, but after we dined at Artist Point on its last night, I wish we had done exactly what you wrote instead – just grab a Geyser Point sandwich to go. I love how the takeaway window has some of the same great food but with added flexibility.
The 4 Rivers Smokehouse looks good and there’s a location super close to Disney World. Any other recommendations for food near Disney World but not in Disney World?
La Fuente is really good for something different, and it’s not too far.
I’m far from an expert on this, but our long-term goal is to work our way through this list: https://miami.eater.com/maps/orlando-best-restaurants-map-guide
The surf and turf sandwich at AoA is simply the best counter service meal I have ever had.
We are big fans of the Spyglass Grill after discovering it this past summer when the renovations of CB where in full swing. It was the Concierge that recommended it to us. We ate breakfast there every morning. The guava stuffed french toast was amazing. We are going back to CB in Aug 2020 and will be definitely seeking out Spyglass Grill again.