Here is our list of the top 10 best counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World. Of the hundred-plus dining options in Magic Kingdom, DHS, DAK, Epcot, and the resorts, a lot of our favorites are the more well-known table service restaurants, but there are also some great counter service restaurants. Some of these restaurants, like Sunshine Seasons and Flame Tree BBQ, are once-per-trip restaurants for us. Others, like the ones in the resort-hotels, are a little more out of the way, but are almost alone worth a trip to the hotels.
For those unfamiliar with the term, counter service (or quick service) restaurants are Disney’s equivalent of fast food. Don’t let the negative connotation of ‘fast food’ dissuade you from trying these restaurants, as all of them have some excellent options. There are so many good counter service options that it was difficult to narrow this list down to 10. Only one World Showcase restaurant made the list, while the Magic Kingdom–a park not normally known for its food–has three restaurants on the list.
This list is based on our subjective determination of best based upon our opinion of value, quality, convenience, and theme. Value and quality are regularly changing, as prices and menus both change. As such, we update this list regularly to ensure that this list still covers what’s currently good at Walt Disney World. Two new restaurants joined the list with our most recent update (one with a brand new menu, the other being a brand new restaurant), replacing two restaurants in Magic Kingdom…
Below is a brief synopsis why each restaurant is a great pick for your next quick meal at Walt Disney World. Click the restaurant name for our full review (and lots more food-photos!) of each restaurant…
T10. The Mara – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – The Mara is exactly what you’d expect from a counter service restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge: full of unique and adventurous options, at least in terms of counter service dining. The plus side is that it also serves less-adventurous options, like the Pepperoni Flatbread. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve had here, but I can’t point to any entree that blows me away, which causes it to fall to #10.
We’ve yet to try the salmon, BBQ chicken flatbread, or rotisserie chicken, so maybe those will be the entrees that put this over the top for us. The big draw here is the Zebra Domes found in the coolers; make sure to get an order of them to split.
T10. Pepper Market –Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort – This is probably the most divisive restaurant on this list. Every year we keep it on the list, readers complain that it’s not as good as we think it is. Obviously, we disagree (since it’s still on here). Portion sizes are more than ample for most appetites, and the sheer amount of variety here is insane.
The rib entree is the highlight of the menu, and they give Flame Tree BBQ a run for their money in that regard. The Aztec Burger is also a great, unique option that seems of far better quality than any other counter service burger at Walt Disney World. Add to that a variety of good Mexican food, other international options, and pizza, and you have a top notch restaurant for dining. Given the complaints from others, your mileage may vary with Pepper Market, but we love it.
9. Landscape of Flavors – Disney’s Art of Animation Resort – With multiple ordering bays that have a diverse assortment of food (the best of which is the Tandoori Station), Landscape of Flavors has something for everyone. It also marked the beginning of higher quality food at the Value Resorts, which for years offered little beyond low-quality pizza, burger, chicken nuggets, and other assorted fried stuff.
We’ve eaten here on multiple occasions and it’s almost always exceeded expectations. The only knock on it is that it really doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of Disney theming, and certainly isn’t worth going out of the way to visit unless you’re at Pop Century, Art of Animation, or the ESPN Wide World of Sports.
8. Captain Cook’s – Disney’s Polynesian Resort– Even though the self-serve Dole Whip is gone, other improvements to the menu at Captain Cook’s keep it on this list. Thanks to great made-to-order lunch and dinner options, plus some unique cupcakes, and Tonga Toast for breakfast, Captain Cook’s ranks very highly.
We highly recommend taking your food outside (the small dining area inside is often crowded, anyway) and enjoying the sights and sounds of the Polynesian while you enjoy your meal. Pure bliss.
7. Be Our Guest Restaurant – Magic Kingdom – After a couple of years of saying Be Our Guest Restaurant was overhyped, we now “get” the hype. Our revised Be Our Guest Restaurant Review reflects this, as we tried a few new menu items and finally had the chance to eat in the West Wing. Okay…this place is pure awesome, and easily the best counter service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom.
You all were right. Somewhat inflated prices and extremely long lines to get inside for lunch hurt it a bit, but it’s still the best option in the Magic Kingdom as far as counter service goes. If someone were heading to the Magic Kingdom for the first time, I would hands-down recommend Be Our Guest for lunch–it’s a truly fun experience and unequivocally the best dining option in Magic Kingdom.
6. Tangierine Cafe – Epcot, World Showcase, Morocco – Despite some really incredible table service options, the counter service food in Epcot’s World Showcase is fairly uninspired. Tangierine Cafe is the big exception, as it offers huge portions for fair prices, and has a fairly non-traditional counter service menu.
While it is somewhat adventurous, it’s still tame-enough that most tourists can find something here that they like. We usually split a meal at Tangierine Cafe because it’s that filling. It may be tempting to add the Baklava to your entree for a bargain price, but buyer beware: we find the Baklava disgusting (YMMV).
5. Flame Tree BBQ –Disney’s Animal Kingdom – If you love meat, Flame Tree BBQ might sneak into the top spot on this list for you. The St. Louis Ribs entree that tops Flame Tree BBQ’s menu is the single greatest counter service option in all of Walt Disney World. Other options here sound great, but nothing tops those ribs.
The details and view of Everest in the seating area make this a must-try. Only its dessert selection, limited menu for non-carnivores, and prices (which have soared in recent years) cause Flame Tree BBQ to fall to number 5.
4. D-Luxe Burger– Disney Springs – The first counter service restaurant from Disney Springs to ever make this list, D-Luxe Burger is in a league of its own. While most of the other top counter service spots at Disney Springs are third party restaurants you could find in the real world (and we penalize them a bit for that), D-Luxe Burger is Walt Disney World owned and operated.
On the food-front, D-Luxe Burger serves what are–without a doubt–the best fast food burgers at Walt Disney World. These things are even better than some table service burgers…which is a good thing, given that price is a common criticism here. The fries and range of dipping sauces for them are also excellent, and we highly recommend ordering one of the two-person combos with burgers and fries to save a couple of bucks.
3. Sunshine Seasons – Epcot, Future World – It’s ironic that the top counter service dining option in a Walt Disney World theme park would come from Epcot–the park known for its spectacular World Showcase dining–but not the area of the park generally considered to have amazing dining.
Sunshine Seasons offers something for everyone. Delicious sandwiches, chicken, salmon, and an array of amazing desserts. The seating area leaves a little to be desired (perhaps a nice fountain in the middle, wink wink), but overall Sunshine Seasons cannot be beat.
2. Gasparilla Island Grill– Grand Floridian Resort – Perhaps it’s premature for a restaurant that was not even on the list last year to be #2 following its refurbishment. Honestly, though, the only thing holding us back from making this #1 is that the menu is slightly lacking in menu diversity. (Something at which Contempo Cafe excels.)
In every other regard, from entree inventiveness to dessert quality, Gasparilla Island Grill is exceptional. Thanks to the menu overhaul unveiled earlier this year, this is finally a worthwhile counter service restaurant, and one worthy of Walt Disney World’s flagship resort.
1. Contempo Café – Disney’s Contemporary Resort – Already “famous” for its cupcakes, Contempo Cafe is one of our new favorite restaurants. We have dined here several times and always come away happy. Our most recent experience, during which we tried flatbreads and their Mahi sandwich catapulted it to the top of this list.
Not only are menu items delicious and unique, but the menu is huge, offering ample variety for everyone in your group. It does lack theming, feeling a bit like a loud food court, but when the monorail zooms by overhead, you realize the Grand Canyon Concourse is all the “theming” it needs. The important thing to remember here? Save room for dessert.
If you’ve been reading this list for the past few years, you’ll notice it has really been shaken up for this year. In the last couple of years, we have spent a lot more time eating counter service in resort hotels in the last year, and a number of them trump or seriously challenge restaurants on this list. Likewise, as Disney Springs continues to improve, there are a number of options there (in addition to D-Luxe Burger) that arguably deserve a spot.
Here are just a handful of the Walt Disney World counter service restaurants that didn’t make this list, but that probably could have: B.B. Wolf’s Sausage Company, Blaze Pizza, Earl of Sandwich, Wolfgang Puck Express, Sassagoula Floatworks & Food Factory, Riverside Mill Food Court, Everything POP, and Old Port Royale Food Court.
If there is one “trend” we are noticing, it’s that resort food courts are improving, whereas in-park options have been on the decline (while prices increase) for the last year. (Even the new End Zone Food Court at All Star Sports impressed us in a way that we absolutely did not expect.) Hopefully, Walt Disney World starts giving more attention to the menus of its in-park restaurants, after making significant changes–for the better–to resort and Disney Springs dining over the last couple of years. We’ll keep you updated should anything else change!
What do you think? Have you dined at these restaurants? Did you like or dislike them? Did we snub any deserving counter service restaurants? What are your top Walt Disney World counter service restaurants? Let us know in the comments!