Seven must-try foods at Disney World

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Seven must-try foods at Disney World


(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Food writer and Disney World aficionado Shay Spence shares his picks for the best food in Disney World, from fresh seafood at Flying Fish to churros at Nomad Lounge.

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Mickey Mouse and nostalgic rides may be the bread and butter of Walt Disney World, but the “most magical place on Earth” is housing a secret right under your nose (and fork): its equally magical underground culinary scene.

Fine dining in Orlando is undergoing a massive boom – since 2022, it now has four Michelin star restaurants, and one of them is Spanish-inspired steakhouse CAPA at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World. But this is hardly Disney World’s sole claim to culinary fame; its luxury accommodation properties are home to AAA Five Diamond-winning tasting menus, the only master sommelier-owned wine bar in Florida and a slew of Bib Gourmand and Michelin-recommended restaurants.

Even so, dining at Disney is largely misunderstood, with many visitors assuming the hotel and park menus are littered with nothing more than hot dogs. We asked Shay Spence – a Florida-based food writer and connoisseur of Disney dining – where to eat at Disney World and its associated Florida properties, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom and their on-site resorts. “I think the biggest misconception about Disney World food is that it’s all low quality and super expensive,” said Spence, who shares food reviews and cooking tips with his online audience of nearly two million.

The SpeciaList

Shay Spence is a traveling food writer based in Key West, Florida. The former food editor for People Magazine, Spence now creates culinary content for Food and Wine as well as TikTok. He heads north to Disney World and its accompanying kingdoms monthly, always on the prowl for the best new bites.

“As far as quality goes, you don’t have to settle,” said Spence. “Disney has world class restaurants spanning just about every cuisine imaginable.” Still, he’s not above the classics: “Even standard theme park snacks like churros and corn dogs are next level if you know where to get them”. Disney’s most iconic eats, like Dole whip and massive turkey legs, may come to the mind first, but those treats are only the beginning – the Kingdom’s food and beverage team is constantly whipping up new creations from a secret on-site flavour lab. And with hundreds of restaurants to choose from in Florida’s premier holiday destination, it can prove to be a daunting task for the discerning palate 

Here are seven of Shay Spence’s favourite things to eat when visiting Walt Disney World.

Fresh fish may be an unexpected treat in Disney World's Magic Kingdom, but Spence recommends Flying Fish on Disney's BoardWalk for excellent seafood (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

Fresh fish may be an unexpected treat in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, but Spence recommends Flying Fish on Disney’s BoardWalk for excellent seafood (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

1. Best for seafood: Flying Fish at Disney’s BoardWalk

“This is one of the most underrated restaurants in Disney World, hands down,” said Spence. Flying Fish is located on the picturesque BoardWalk, a turn-of-the-century style seaside promenade housing assorted amusements that beckon yesteryear. Disney World’s best seafood restaurant is the resort’s answer to contemporary refined dining – and expect the Mickey white glove treatment. “The service is effortlessly impeccable,” said Spence.

Tip

Disney World can quickly drain the wallet, especially when it comes to food. “One of the best ways to save money is to find filling snacks around the parks,” said Spence. “Table service bills not only add up fast, but they can suck energy and cut into valuable time if you’re prioritising getting through rides.” His current favourite quick, cheap bite is the chipotle barbecue loaded fries from Casey’s Corner. And it’s under $8 (£6.30).

A robust line-up of sustainable seafood and ever-rotating seasonal plates await, but it’s one of the sophisticated spot’s long-time mainstays that serves as Spence’s go-to. “The signature potato-wrapped red snapper with leek fondue is crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside and really a modern marvel,” he said. While the menu does lean heavily into the under the sea variety, there are a few surprises. “Meat lovers will love the char-crusted New York Strip,” said Spence.

Website: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/boardwalk/flying-fish/
Phone: (407) 939-3463

Spence enjoys eating nostalgic American fare at the quirky, vintage-themed Sci-Fi Dine in Theatre at Hollywood Studios (Credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Spence enjoys eating nostalgic American fare at the quirky, vintage-themed Sci-Fi Dine in Theatre at Hollywood Studios (Credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

2. Best for vintage eats: Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre at Hollywood Studios

Delightfully quirky might be the best way to describe Spence’s next recommendation: the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. “Not all restaurants at Disney World are about the food,” said Spence. “It is a theme park after all, and you can’t beat the theming here.” Diners enter a darkened room and as their eyes adjust from the blazing Florida sun, they’ll be transported to a 1950’s drive-in theatre.

Guests dine on American comforts from inside vintage-style cars as they gaze up at a massive screen playing loops of old-timey favourites, like vintage kitchen appliance commercials and kitschy horror films. “I know there are some haters out there, but the secret here is to stick to the basics and not get any bright ideas,” said Spence. “Get yourself a burger, a shake, maybe some onion rings, and enjoy the show.”

He also enjoys it for this somewhat controversial reason. “I love a restaurant where you’re encouraged not to talk to the people you’re with, especially after spending days in a hot theme park together – everyone can just shut up and chill out for a bit.” 

Website: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/hollywood-studios/sci-fi-dine-in-theater/
Phone: (407) 939-3463

Spence recommends both the churros and the cocktails at Animal Kingdom's Nomad Lounge (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

Spence recommends both the churros and the cocktails at Animal Kingdom’s Nomad Lounge (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

3. Best for globally inspired cuisine: Nomad Lounge at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Escapism is served on a silver platter at the resort’s most scenic locale, Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The theme park is a tried-and-true foodie haven known for its eclectic bites, but it’s the off-beat Nomad Lounge that is the favourite of Disney regulars, including Spence. “It’s just so pleasant, you don’t feel like you’re in a theme park,” he said. “And cocktails are almost always on point.” 

The menu of globally influenced small plates is ever changing – and Spence suggests not getting too attached to anything. But there is one dish that if removed could very well incite a riot: the churros. Spence calls them the “best churros at Disney World” – a far cry from the frozen-to-fried variety found elsewhere. The pillowy bites, surprisingly gluten-free, are served with accompanying dips, like a punchy strawberry-guava sauce.

Offering both indoor and outdoor seating, the adventure-themed lounge pours some of the best cocktails on property from an exclusive menu. Spence suggests the Snow Leopard Salvation, a twist on the Moscow Mule. Beer drinkers will enjoy the Kungaloosh Spiced Excursion Ale, a cardamom-forward amber ale brewed exclusively for Disney.

Website: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/animal-kingdom/nomad-lounge/
Phone: (407) 939-3463

For some of Disney's finest dining (and filet mignon), Spence heads to Jiko – The Cooking Place at Disney's Animal Kingdom (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

For some of Disney’s finest dining (and filet mignon), Spence heads to Jiko – The Cooking Place at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

4. Best splurge: Jiko – The Cooking Place at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

When looking to splurge, Spence heads directly to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge resort. Situated on a lush savanna with towering African giraffes, you’ll question whether or not you’re really in central Florida at the replica safari lodge. And the well-themed resort is a hotbed of applauded dining. “The Indian-style bread service from Sanaa gets all the glory for good reason,” said Spence. “But my favourite thing to eat is actually from Jiko – The Cooking Place.”

Wood-burning ovens illuminate the resort’s upscale, but cosy steakhouse. Its menu of adventurous eats and twists on familiar food is prepared in an open show kitchen while a robust wine list houses the largest collection of South African pours outside of Africa.

But Spence’s attention remains solely focused on one dish: the oak-grilled filet mignon with chocolate-red wine demi-glace. “The oak-grilled filet comes with the most delicious, garlicky four-cheese mac,” said Spence. “I’ve never really ordered anything else off this menu because I’m so loyal to this dish.” Pleasing diners for many years, it’s the stuff of Disney legends making Jiko one of Disney’s toughest to land reservations.

Website: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/animal-kingdom-lodge/jiko-the-cooking-place/
Phone: (407) 939-3463

Spice Road Table is EPCOT's best culinary secret, serving Mediterranean-inspired tapas like Spence's favourite, the tiropitakia (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

Spice Road Table is EPCOT’s best culinary secret, serving Mediterranean-inspired tapas like Spence’s favourite, the tiropitakia (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

5. Best under-the-radar gem: Spice Road Table at EPCOT

While there are quite a few standout restaurants at EPCOT’s World Showcase – a small-scale World’s Fair comprising 11 country pavilions – Morocco’s Spice Road Table flies largely under the radar. “I really don’t know why this spot isn’t more popular, but I’m grateful I can always get a table here whenever I want it,” said Spence. The small menu is made up of Mediterranean-influenced tapas, with Spence’s favourite being the tiropitakia (cheese-filled phyllo triangles), a dish he says he dreams of regularly. “The menu really is banger after banger.” It’s also home to his favourite cocktail, the Moroccan Mule made with fig-infused vodka.

The atmosphere is transportive, with vibrant colours and gold accented lighting fixtures. And Spence has another secret about Disney World’s greatest hidden gem. “This is the perfect little secret viewing spot for EPCOT’s night-time fireworks show, Luminous.”

Website: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/epcot/spice-road-table/
Phone: (407) 939-3463

Spence rates Sleepy Hollow in the Magic Kingdom as his top pick for the amusement park's best snacks, like their signature Nutella waffle (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

Spence rates Sleepy Hollow in the Magic Kingdom as his top pick for the amusement park’s best snacks, like their signature Nutella waffle (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

6. Best guilty pleasure snacks: Sleepy Hollow Refreshments at Magic Kingdom

The kid-focused Magic Kingdom isn’t exactly known for its stellar food line-up, with one exception. “This is, without a doubt, the highest-quality quick service establishment in Magic Kingdom,” said Spence. Sleepy Hollow Refreshments is an unassuming kiosk tucked away in the park’s Liberty Square section that’s far too easy to walk right on by. Its menu is small but sees a welcome elevation to a Disney food rite of passage. “They have a Mickey waffle with strawberries and cream that’s so much better than any Mickey waffle you’ll get at your resort breakfast buffet,” said Spence.

A sweet waffle with Nutella and fresh fruit and a savoury waffle with crunchy slaw and spicy fried chicken are his other favourites. Spence enthusiastically proclaimed that Sleepy Hollow’s corn dogs are “the best in the business” and that he enjoys the made-to-order nature, hand-dipped and fried right before your eyes – “without a heat lamp in sight”.

Website: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/magic-kingdom/sleepy-hollow/
Phone: (407) 939-3463

Karamell-Kuche at EPCOT's Germany pavilion makes Spence's favourite sweet Disney treat; the Gingerbread Salted Caramel Cookie Sandwich (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

Karamell-Kuche at EPCOT’s Germany pavilion makes Spence’s favourite sweet Disney treat; the Gingerbread Salted Caramel Cookie Sandwich (Credit: Carly Caramanna)

7. Best dessert: Karamell-Küche at EPCOT

Park goers with a sweet tooth – and in the know – head directly to Karamell-Küche, located in the Germany pavilion at EPCOT. And they won’t have any trouble finding it thanks to the intoxicating aroma of caramel that flows from its doors. Spence sings praises of this tiny nook housing some of the best desserts to be found on mouse property, like signature Werther’s Original caramel popcorn.

“Everyone tells you to get the caramel corn (which is valid) but really the whole pastry case is an absolutely stacked all-star line-up of sweets,” said Spence. “It’s hard to go wrong, but the Gingerbread Salted Caramel Cookie Sandwich is simply the best cookie creation ever concocted.” Freshly baked, spiced gingerbread cookies are loaded with buttercream and salted caramel for a flavour as thrilling as a spin on Space Mountain.

Website: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/shops/karamell-kuche/
Phone: (407) 939-3463

BBC Travel’s The SpeciaList is a series of guides to popular and emerging destinations around the world, as seen through the eyes of local experts and tastemakers.

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