Every restaurant at Walt Disney World has its own unique atmosphere and backstory, so ranking the top 10 best themed table service restaurants at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom is no easy task. Nevertheless, we’ll try to list the pinnacle of Imagineering in this post!
Some Walt Disney World restaurants are subtle in their theming, conveying their backstory through barely-noticeable props and photos on the wall. Others offer something unique that isn’t necessarily a part of any elaborate backstory, but is simply an element that makes the experience more entertaining than your average restaurant. In the most extreme examples, the theme and story are abundantly clear, as the restaurant puts the guests on what could pass as a movie set, making them a part of the action.
Of course, even at Walt Disney World where show and story reign supreme, a good themed restaurant also must have good food. However, since this is a list ranking restaurants based upon theme, and well-executed theme is paramount in the theme park environments of Walt Disney World so this list is based entirely on theme. We make passing references to food quality, but the list is not dependent upon it.
Our rationale for putting so much weight on theme? Weeks after you visit a Walt Disney World restaurant, your family probably won’t be raving over one burger they had versus another, demanding that you phone Zagat immediately. However, you may light up when talking about the time they ate in a classic car outside at night while watching sci-fi movies when it was actually daytime in the “real” outside.
With that said, we understand you might put more of an emphasis on food than theme, in which case we have comprehensive reviews that address cuisine at each of these restaurants–click the links within the synopses to read our full reviews of each restaurant. (Also: all of these restaurants participate in the Disney Dining Plan.) Anyway, on with the rankings…
10. Sanaa, Boma, and Jiko – Of course no top 10 list would be complete without a bit of a cop-out. Each of these three restaurants has a distinct theme, but they’re all similar enough that we’re rolling them into one. Each of these restaurants have some great African art and design, with their own twists as to why they are compelling choices.
9. Whispering Canyon Cafe – Whispering Canyon is an open-air restaurant offering views into the expansive lobby of the Wilderness Lodge, with some “Old West” design touches in the restaurant itself. This makes the list not because of themed design, but because of the service, which is a spectacle in itself.
The waiters and waitresses gently pick on guests, making meals a real hoot. Via Google, you can find some things to say that will typically cause a “reaction” from the wait staff, but we recommend that you just go in and let the act naturally unfold for you. Whispering Canyon Cafe also has some excellent American favorites. We recommend the Canyon Skillet.
8. Hollywood Brown Derby – The first of three restaurants in the top 10 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (quite a feat for a park widely considered to have the worst dining, overall), the Hollywood Brown Derby makes the list for its mix of brilliant old hollywood charm and excellent cuisine, and because it’s a rare fine-dining experience inside a theme park.
7. Coral Reef – A divisive restaurant when it comes to food (we like it), there is no question that Coral Reef excels when it comes to atmosphere. The restaurant features tiered seating with one entire wall being a window into the large Living Seas tank. Disney claims this is the largest inland saltwater environment ever created, with more than 85 species of tropical fish.
We recommend arriving early for your reservation (or, ideally, making a reservation for the very first seating of the day) and requesting a seat next to the tank. Even if you have to wait a little longer for a close view, it’s worth it. Coral Reef also has fish spotting guides to make the experience more fun!
6. Be Our Guest Restaurant – Added to the Magic Kingdom as part of the New Fantasyland expansion, Be Our Guest Restaurant puts guests inside Beast’s Castle. Be Our Guest Restaurant ranks highly for its special effects, including snowfall outside the ballroom, and falling rose petals in the beautifully designed (and spooky) west wing.
5. San Angel Inn Restaurante – It was essentially a crime that San Angel Inn was left off our original list, and commenters certainly let us know it. We have since rectified the problem by dining at San Angel Inn, and you were all so right. For years, Blue Bayou has been the most iconic restaurant at Disneyland for its night-time atmosphere overlooking Pirates of the Caribbean.
San Angel Inn is Walt Disney World’s Blue Bayou, and although Gran Fiesta Tour does not have the same name cachet as Pirates, the experience here is every bit as good. We highly recommend arriving early to your ADR, requesting a waterside table, and being willing to wait. The food skews towards the Tex-Mex side of the things and isn’t all that memorable, but it’s still a satisfying dining experience.
4. Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen – It’s rare for a new restaurant to be under-appreciated (normally hype is strong), but I think that’s exactly what’s happening with Skipper Canteen. Depending upon which of us you ask, this is either the #1 or #2 restaurant in Magic Kingdom. For me, it’s #1.
Themed to be a nighttime Bavarian Village, Biergarten celebrates Oktoberfest year round. Throughout the course of the meal, musicians perform traditional German songs and encourage guests to come to the dance floor to join in the fun. We especially love Biergarten at Christmas-time.
2. 50’s Prime Time Cafe – My parents’ favorite restaurant at Walt Disney World when I was a kid, we always dined here on our annual trips. Here you’re dining in Mom’s house (and Mom has not updated the place since the 50s!), and by Mom’s rules. If you put your elbows on the table or slouch, expect to be reprimanded!
1. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater – The easy number one pick for this list, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is the go-to restaurant for a themed dining experience at Walt Disney World. The dining area is a classic drive-in movie theater at night, complete with a large screen showing classic sci-fi B-movies from the 1950s. To complete the experience, the tables are classic 1950s cars.
Another layer is piled on top of this, as the whole drive-in area is actually a Hollywood set, making guests the star of whatever sci-fi B-movie is being filmed at the drive-in. It’s a story within a story! The main drive-in theme is fairly obvious (and awesome), but that extra layer of the movie set is something you’ll need to look for as you enter the lobby. Check out the various little details, such as labor law signs, that help pull this off. We love the food at Sci-Fi, which recently had its menu overhauled and is now decidedly better than it once was.
Even with this list now numbering 20 restaurants following our latest reshuffling and new post covering the Top 20 Themed Walt Disney World Restaurants (11-20), there are surely some snubs (I almost have enough in mind for restaurants 21-30!). Don’t feel apprehensive if restaurants you’ve booked didn’t make the cut, or if your favorite was left out. There are so many restaurants that have excellent themes that it’s difficult to narrow the list down to just 20 restaurants (or in this case, twelve).
With so many well-themed restaurants at Walt Disney World, there’s bound to be some disagreement on this one. Which restaurants would be in your top 10? Any restaurants you think we missed? Which ones do you think we got spot-on? in the comments! 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!