Walt Disney World’s popular table service restaurants aren’t always best. To the contrary, many difficult Advance Dining Reservations are due to hype and FOMO, characters or location. Some are able to “get away with” serving uninspired cuisine, as they’ll book up regardless. (Updated December 31, 2023.)
Ask any longtime Walt Disney World fan and they can name at least a couple of restaurants that they believe fall into this category. Others will vehemently disagree, either because they’ve had great meals at those hotspots or view them through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. There’s one thing you won’t find on them: consensus. It’s thus probably a good thing this isn’t a list of Walt Disney World’s most overrated table service restaurants.
Instead, this list focuses on under-the-radar hidden gems, restaurants that serve up great food despite being easier Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs), and are generally underrated by guests. Despite their comparative “unpopularity,” this is actually the less controversial list among in-the-know Walt Disney World fans. To the contrary, there’s a lot of agreement about hidden gem or underappreciated dining, and it’s an even longer list!
That’s especially good news for 2024, as the Disney Dining Plan returns. If past precedent is any indication, that popular pre-paid meal service will once again make ADRs much more competitive–especially for larger parties and during peak travel dates. It’ll also get worse when Free Dining inevitably returns in 2024. We’ve been down this road and it’s what always happens during Free Dining.
In any case, this focuses on the Walt Disney World table service restaurants that are better than their reputation or hype might suggest. Not all of them are unheralded, but they are less “talked about” and often have last-minute ADR availability. It’ll be a great resource to have in 2024 when reservations are again harder to score. (Pair it with our Guide to Advance Dining Reservations at Walt Disney World for a mix of difficult and easier ADRs.)
To make this list even more useful, it includes at least one underrated option from each park plus at least one from each of the resort hotel areas that are easy to access with non-bus transportation. The idea with this approach is making it useful–it’s pretty easy to score last-minute ADRs at “The Springs” (Coronado and Disney)–and both have some great dining, but a list of restaurants exclusively from far-flung areas of Walt Disney World isn’t exactly practical for many planners.
For Walt Disney World fans who obsess over dining, a couple of these are going to be somewhat obvious, but we also have a couple of highly controversial choices, too. (Gotta keep your interest somehow!)
Sanaa – Let’s start with one of the aforementioned obvious choices. Ask 10 longtime Walt Disney World fans to name a trio of underrated table service restaurants, and there’s a good chance half of them put Sanaa on their lists. Like pretty much all Animal Kingdom Lodge dining, it’s beloved by diehards and overlooked by most regular guests.
No matter how many times we offer effusive praise for Sanaa, calling it the best restaurant at which you’re not eating, it doesn’t move the needle. And we aren’t the only ones. Pretty much everyone we know loves Sanaa and openly praises it. In reality, Sanaa is not so much underrated with Walt Disney World fans as it is overlooked by the general public.
In a weird way, that should actually be reassuring. It debunks the common fear we hear that “everyone” who visits Walt Disney World follows the advice on sites like this, rendering it useless as a competitive advantage. To the contrary, the vast majority of guests do minimal planning.
Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater – Okay, now one of the controversial picks. This is a dubious pick for a couple of reasons. First, it is one of the most difficult ADRs in the last few years, so it flat-out flunks that standard for being underrated. But that’s true of every restaurant at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s simply a very popular park due to all of the additions and not enough dining capacity.
Second, a lot of people don’t like the food at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. Among Walt Disney World fans, this is the least-beloved restaurant on this list. That’s the basis for it ranking here–it’s simply a lot better than it gets credit for being, with a variety of inventive burgers, good salads, plus addictively good appetizers and desserts.
Unlike many other entries, the cuisine at Sci-Fi isn’t going to blow you away or defy your expectations, but it’s solid–and further elevated by the exceptional ambiance. If you “side eye” this choice, our alternative for DHS is BaseLine Tap House.
Toledo Steakhouse– Walt Disney World always has some “hidden gem” restaurants, but rarely are they both this good and still underrated. In the case of Toledo, that’s even after the Michelin Guide (very deservedly) recognized it as one of the best restaurants in Florida.
A big reason why Toledo – Tapas, Steak & Seafood isn’t particularly popular is its location at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort–it’s pretty out of the way for most casual tourists. This often doesn’t matter, as Gran Destino Tower hosts a lot of conventions and, when it does, Toledo can be packed. So it’s sort of a feast-or-famine deal, with Toledo’s either being slow or very busy depending upon the convention status.
Toledo’s concept is ambitious and fun, the food is delicious, the views are exceptional, and the prices–for the quality of the cuisine–are not inflated too much by Walt Disney World standards. The fact that Toledo caters heavily to conventioneers plays a huge part in all of this, and will likely ensure that the restaurant maintains its high standards. Toledo is absolutely worth the challenging commute.
Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen – This has become our go-to sleeper pick in Magic Kingdom, and it’s admittedly become something of a default–for lack of better options choice. While we still enjoy Skipper Canteen, our most recent experience wasn’t nearly the standout of previous meals.
With that said, Skipper Canteen is still very good and superior to other easy-to-book Magic Kingdom alternatives. The competition isn’t exactly fierce, as Magic Kingdom has the weakest restaurant lineup of any park at Walt Disney World. (If you’re willing to walk a little, our “ultimate” hidden gem of Magic Kingdom-adjacent dining is Steakhouse 71.)
Yak & Yeti Restaurant – For Animal Kingdom, we’re going to look beyond our recent go-to sleeper pick (for similar reasons) and instead turn back to the previous one: Yak & Yeti Restaurant.
Not only are the many dining rooms here gorgeous and packed with items, so too is the menu–it’s huge. There are a variety of shareable small plates, hearty noodles bowls, and grilled items. There are also a lot of “safe” choices, but most dishes are relatively approachable if you’re willing to give them a chance–and you should!
Nomad Lounge – Attached to the incredible Tiffins Signature Restaurant, Nomad Lounge is an extension of the theme and style of that dining room, paying tribute to the explorations of Imagineers. Rather than being transportive or replicating any place, Nomad Lounge’s ambiance is so successful because of the way that it celebrates travel.
Equally as important, Nomad Lounge is home to fantastic food (and drinks) at fairly reasonable prices. There’s a lot here that’s shareable, and we highly recommend a stop after an early morning spent in Pandora – World of Avatar. Nomad Lounge is a dining spot that really stretches the definition of “underrated,” as the Walk-up Waitlist can get quite lengthy, but that’s more a byproduct of very limited capacity than it is true popularity.
Sebastian’s Bistro– This sleeper pick at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is easy to access from the Skyliner, yet still flies under the radar of most Walt Disney World guests–and that includes many longtime fans (not totally surprising since it’s a newer restaurant). The new family style service at Sebastian’s Bistro holds its own and offers exceptional quality on par with traditional table service dining.
Sebastian’s Bistro is arguably the best buffet or family-style meal, right up there with (spoiler alert) Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Far superior to Cape May Cafe, Tusker House, and (sorry) even ‘Ohana. That’s all without even taking cost or value for money into account. Sebastian’s Bistro completely trounces the competition on that front.
The food is excellent (there’s more than just a burger that’s great), but the serene and secluded atmosphere on the shore of Bay Lake takes this to the next level, and makes it feel like you’re actually in the wilderness at Walt Disney World. (We’ve seen armadillo in the brush here–twice.) That is, until the Electrical Water Pageant floats on by–complete with its 50th Anniversary finale!
Spice Road Table – Epcot’s World Showcase is often viewed as Walt Disney World’s culinary powerhouse, and there are some undeniably strong options. There are also some middling ones, and the case could be made that Disney Springs now surpasses World Showcase when it comes to envelope-pushing cuisine.
While our thoughts on the changes since Disney took over Spice Road Table are mixed, it’s more accessible than ever. Literally. The restaurant is now walk-up only, with small-plate prices that are almost on par with a counter service restaurant. On that basis alone, it’s very much worth a try for your next meal in Epcot.
Ale & Compass Restaurant– We’ll conclude the list outside of Epcot, in the Crescent Lake Resort Area. Admittedly, it took us a while to come around on Ale & Compass Restaurant. Our initial take was that the interior was bland and the food was relatively pedestrian.
We’ve come around on it by chance, largely driven by ADR availability here when nothing else has had options. We now love it both for breakfast and dinner, thanks to great variety and solid value for money. The interior is still bland and boring, but if you don’t care about that, the food is delicious!
Trattoria al Forno– Also in Epcot’s Crescent Lake area is Trattoria al Forno at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. There are a ton of Italian restaurants at Walt Disney World, but this is arguably the very best of the bunch. The menu is at once comforting and ambitious, with a wide range of options that will appeal to everyone.
The real “secret” to success here, we think, is the culinary crossover between Trattoria al Forno and Flying Fish, the adjacent Signature Restaurant. You’ll often spot Flying Fish’s culinary team in the kitchen here, and they’ve taken what could be a simple mid-tier restaurant serving “only” familiar favorites into something special. And that’s just dinner–breakfast is surprisingly good, too.
Turf Club– The final few entries on this list are not destination dining, nor are they recommended (at all) to Walt Disney World first-timers or infrequent visitors unless you’re staying at the resorts where they’re located (or have boat transportation to them). Rather, these are reserved for the Disney diehards who have dozens–if not hundreds–of meals under their belts and are looking for something new-to-them.
There’s no better candidate for this than Turf Club Bar & Grill at Saratoga Springs Resort. This is old school Vacation Kingdom at its finest–a restaurant somehow imbued with 1970s vibes even though it’s far newer than that. It also offers exceptional value for money, with huge entrees that are significantly cheaper than what you’ll find in the parks or more convenient locations. Oh, and the food is excellent–and so is the service!
Olivia’s Cafe– We’ve dubbed this the Disney Vacation Club “family kitchen.” This is because of its atmosphere, decor, and longevity at the original DVC Resort, Old Key West. It’s also due to the large “Family Album” of DVC Member photos from over the years that are on full display at Olivia’s Cafe. There are well over one hundred member photos in the lobby and throughout the inside seating area.
That makes Olivia’s feel like an intimate time-capsule or stroll down memory lane. It also helps that the food is fantastic and fairly priced. Honestly, I have a tough time reviewing Olivia’s because I always order the Southernmost Buttermilk Chicken. There are other good entrees here, as well as appetizers and desserts, but that’s the one thing you must order. This is either the #1 or #2 fried chicken in all of Walt Disney World–it’s better than Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin!
Amare– If we opened this list up to restaurants in third party hotels that are technically on-site at Walt Disney World (meaning everything at the Swan & Dolphin, Four Seasons, Disney Springs, and Bonnet Creek hotels), there would be enough for another full top 10 list. Those hotels are home to so many great restaurants that Walt Disney World fans overlook. So we won’t be doing that.
However, I do want to draw special attention to Amare in the Swan Reserve since that resort is still pretty new and word hasn’t gotten out about Amare. It’s an excellent Mediterranean eatery serving something for everyone (including excellent pizzas!) within walking distance of both EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s not a must-do for first-timers or infrequent visitors, but for longtime fans who have eaten “everywhere,” it’s a great pick that you might not know about (yet).
Boatwright’s Dining Hall – This is most definitely under-the-radar, but Boatwright’s does have a loyal and passionate following. Some Walt Disney World fans dine here once per trip and have been coming, and ordering the same menu items, for years. It’s a lot like Olivia’s at Old Key West; we love spots at Walt Disney World that still have that “family feel” to them.
Every dinner at Boatwright’s starts with a loaf of warm cornbread and butter–doesn’t get much better than that. From there, I’m a big fan of the Taste of the Bayou Platter, which offers a variety of delicious options (and the ability to focus on the foods you enjoy most). You also can’t go wrong with the Southern classics, like Jambalaya or Shrimp & Grits.
Three Bridges Bar & Grill – As intimated above, this entire list could be populated by restaurants at “The Springs” (Coronado and Disney). We’re going to resist that temptation, and draw your attention specifically to Three Bridges Bar & Grill, in large part because it doesn’t accept Advance Dining Reservations, making it even easier to overlook.
The cuisine changes here a decent amount, and almost everything we’ve had has been delicious. Menu mainstays we recommend include the Three Bridges Signature Burger, Steak Frites, and the Warm Churros are a must-order for dessert. You really can’t go wrong here.
Ultimately, that’s our list of the most underrated restaurants at Walt Disney World. One thing we want to make clear is that this should not be misconstrued as a “best of” list. For that, see our Top 10 Table Service Restaurants at Walt Disney World. This is more for folks who want to try something new, have trouble with the tougher ADRs, or even want to step outside their comfort zones a little.
While many of these are not table service 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!
Which Walt Disney World table 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!