Jaleo is the new table service restaurant by Chef José Andrés on Disney Springs’ West Side. This Walt Disney World dining review features food photos, thoughts on the quality, our experiences here, value for money, and how this new sit-down eatery compares to other ‘celebrity chef’ alternatives at Disney Springs. (Updated March 23, 2020.)
Before we dig into the substance of the review, I want to start with the update. It might seem odd to have “news” about this restaurant given that Jaleo by Chef José Andrés is currently closed–along with all of Walt Disney World–due to the coronavirus outbreak.
However, there is some good news here that we felt is worth sharing. You can directly support the employees of Jaleo during the current global health crisis while also getting a nice deal on a future meal at Jaleo (which, as you’ll read in this review, is one of our favorite restaurants at Disney Springs). Here’s how…
Chef José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup announced a new “Employee Support Fund” e-gift card program with 100% of the proceeds going directly support its employees during the coronavirus pandemic. and will be divided evenly with half going toward extending compensation and benefits and half going to the company’s ThinkFamilyFund to provide financial relief for employees and their families experiencing extreme hardships.
As we cover later in the review, Chef Andrés is an absolute class act–a true humanitarian. This is his way of supporting the restaurant community even as the COVID-19 pandemic devastates the hospitality industry and his businesses. This will help extend pay and benefits for its employees during restaurant closures. As an added bonus, these gift cards are being sold at 20% off–making your next meal at this great Disney Springs restaurant cheaper–and are available for purchase here!
With that out of the way, let’s offer some background about Jaleo. First of all, it’s an established restaurant that’s regarded as one of the highlights of both the Washington, DC and Las Vegas dining scenes. Jaleo is so well-regarded that it’s in the Washington Post food critic’s Hall of Fame.
It should thus come as no surprise that we’ve been highly anticipating the debut of the Awesome Blossom Transformer Restaurant (as we’ve been calling it). As tapas are best enjoyed with a group, we were joined for this meal by Josh of easyWDW infamy; he has dined at Jaleo like 7 times in between visits to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
We’ll start with the Patatas Bravas: “A Jaleo favorite: fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and alioli.”
These potatoes are boiled and then fried, creating a crispy exterior that gives way to a soft, almost gooey interior. Or perhaps that’s from the slathering of creamy garlic aioli mixed with the tangy and bright tomato sauce.
What appears decidedly simple is deceptively complex with the Patatas Bravas, which are also sure to be a crowd-pleaser. These are our #1 recommendation.
Next, from the same menu section we have the Croquetas de Pollo, or traditional chicken fritters.
At other Jaleo restaurants, Chef Andrés serves croquetas in faux shoes, which I guess is a matter of rebellion over his grandmother telling him to get his shoes off the table. For Walt Disney World, he’s switched up the script, serving the croquetas on what appears to be the pillow for Cinderella’s glass slipper.
To be honest with you, Chef Andrés could serve these in a faux dumpster and I’d dive in to devour them. Here we once again have a crisp exterior providing a bit of crunch and heft to a creamy chicken concoction inside. They’re richly delicious, but not to the point that you won’t want to eat an entire pillow-full yourself. These are our #2 recommendation.
Another item we loved is the Ensaladilla Rusa: the ultimate Spanish tapa: potato salad with imported conserved tuna, carrots, peas, and mayonnaise.
The “problem” here is that we’ve listed three consecutive comfort foods that are rich and creamy (that’s a bit reductive, but it’s nonetheless accurate). While each on their own were phenomenal, I’m not sure this is sound approach unless you have a larger party.
Next, the Arroz de Verduras y Setas de Temporada: traditional paella of seasonal vegetables and mushrooms.
Normally, two of the five paellas are available daily. However, for our Friday lunch, this was the only option due to a combination of religious customs and (presumably) a lack of demand. Paellas can take up to 45 minutes to prepare, so order this earlier in your meal if you’re interested.
It may not be the most photogenic dish, but it’s delicious. The vegetables are hearty and fresh, something that shines through even after the seasoning and preparation. For the full Jaleo “experience,” you really need to order at least one paella for the table.
Continuing to the ‘not recommended’ main courses, we have the Tortilla de Patatas Clásica: Spanish omelette with potatoes and onions.
This wasn’t bad, it just did little to impress. Everything else offered an inventive twist, but this was pretty much exactly what the description suggests. A little…flat, if you will.
Vieiras con salsa de piñones: seared scallops with pine nut sauce, raisins and PX reduction.
These scallops were delicious, but the price is steep and if you have anything other than a party of 3, it’s awkward to share. Based upon the value proposition, we don’t recommend this dish.
Escalivada Catalana: roasted red peppers, eggplant and sweet onions with sherry dressing served with toasted bread.
The one item to avoid from our meal, these had a slimy texture and were overly salty. Getting past that was downright impossible, but if you could, the flavors (would have been) robust, with a heartiness to the eggplant.
For our first dessert, we had the Pan con Chocolate: chocolate custard with caramelized bread, olive oil and brioche ice cream.
A symphony of flavors and textures, punctuated by the pungency of olive oil and the rich chocolate custard. Highly recommended.
Next, the Quesada Asturiana: basque-style cheesecake made with goat cheese and seasonal sorbet.
This was likewise fantastic, with the mild earthiness of goat cheese making for a really interesting twist on a familiar favorite. The price here is a bit steep, but it’s worth a splurge.
Here’s the Salt Air Margarita, which has Milagro Blanco tequila, Combier L’Original, lime, and saltwater foam.
Sarah said this is the best margarita she’s ever had. The foam instead of a salted rim is definitely a unique twist.
In terms of design, Jaleo is a breath of fresh air. Unlike the last 372 Disney Springs projects, this is not done in the repurposed warehouse hipster aesthetic.
Instead, the design is light and airy, with a crisp modern style that feels at once casual and hip. There’s the “occasional” multi-level mural, whimsical flourish, and vibrant light fixtures.
There’s also plenty of red and yellow tile-work, which has the dual effect of evoking Spain’s flag and creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. The design feels fairly low-key and clean, but as you look closer, there’s a lot of detail to appreciate.
Jaleo is not, however, a themed restaurant in the Disney sense of the term. For better or worse, that’s not the direction Walt Disney World has chosen to go with Disney Springs.
While I’m not wild about this, it is understandable; Disney Springs is competing with real world restaurants in the Orlando area, that that plays out in all regards–menu, prices, and ambiance.
One thing to note about lunch at Jaleo is that the atmosphere was notably muted. Whereas at night the restaurant is alive with a palpable sense of energy and exuberance, lunch was quiet and peaceful.
That might make lunch sound appealing, but I’d counter that a large part of Jaleo’s appeal is the conviviality. There’s this festive, familial sensibility to Jaleo, and it feels like a fun gathering–a party with other families amidst the vibrant colors of the multi-level restaurant’s modern design.
Both Morimoto Asia and STK have aimed for a similar type of atmosphere. Arguably, both have missed the mark, at least from the perspective of average Walt Disney World guests. Whereas those restaurants do feel energetic and festive in the evenings, they’re not as inviting.
Jaleo, by contrast, doesn’t strive for any exclusivity, affluence, or poshness. This is a jovial setting where everyone is invited to the party; parents, convention-goers, kids, millennials, the elderly, people from all walks of life, and even Patriots fans. It’s difficult to convey this via words or even photos, but Jaleo is very welcoming; it’s an exuberant party all are able to enjoy.
Moving along to how Jaleo competes with other Disney Springs restaurants, the big ‘issue’ is pricing. Jaleo has received some criticism for being expensive and serving small portions even by tapas standards, something a ThinkFoodGroup rep who was roaming the restaurant as much as admitted. Before tip, the total for all of the above was $141.56, or ~$47 per person.
However, we all left full. Dropping $50 per person at a restaurant of this caliber for a satisfying meal doesn’t seem off the mark to me. Moreover, if we were ordering for value, dropping the scallops would’ve been an easy move (for different reasons, I’d do the same with the Escalivada).
That would’ve brought the price down to $38 per person for an equally filling meal, which isn’t bad at all. (Josh suggested the Carne Asada con Piquillos, which would have rounded out our meal nicely and brought the per person total back up to $43. Still fair.)
In the interest of full disclosure, prior to our meal above, we were invited to the opening night media event for Jaleo. Unlike a movie, theme park, or other static experience, I don’t think it’s scrupulous to review a restaurant based upon such an event, as dishes can be ‘enhanced’ and served in ways normal patrons won’t experience them.
Nevertheless, here are a few noteworthy items from that with brief commentary:
All of the paella we tried was good; I far prefer the chicken, rabbit, and seafood varieties, whereas Sarah favors vegetables. (If I could get mushroom and rabbit paella, I’d be in heaven.)
I forgot to take a photo of it, but the Pan de cristal con tomate, was the one misfire we had that first evening. The bread is fantastic, but the rest of it’s like cold pizza…but with no toppings except the sauce.
Everyone else seems to be raving about this, so perhaps it’s a matter of personal preference?
Liquid olives are logic-defying and by far the best olives I’ve ever had.
Every single dessert we tried at Jaleo shined. These weren’t just decadent delights; they also brought bold flavors and inventive ideas.
Finally, the main reason we were excited for Jaleo is because of Chef José Andrés, who seems like a genuinely good and fascinating person. Seeing the work he has done with World Central Kitchen in the aftermath of natural disasters has been inspiring.
Overall, Jaleo makes a strong first impression, but doesn’t quite live up to my own hype for it. I came out of both experiences really liking the restaurant, but not quite loving it. In terms of my Disney Springs Table Service Restaurant Rankings, I’m still not quite sure where Jaleo ends up. It’s in the top 5, which alone says a lot given the caliber of dining at Disney Springs.
However, it probably does not dethrone the Boathouse, Raglan Road, or Morimoto Asia for us. I’m eager to revisit Jaleo, but return visits to that trio (“unfortunately” with so much new dining coming to Disney Springs, it’s been a while) are probably in order first. Nevertheless, Jaleo is a formidable addition to the Disney Springs lineup, but not the new undisputed champion for which I was hoping.
What do you think of Jaleo by José Andrés? Will you be dining here on your next trip to Disney Springs? Have you tried any of these menu items? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Does this appeal to you more or less than other restaurants at Disney Springs? 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!