Dueling Disney: Counter Service Eateries

Written by Keith Gluck. Posted in Animal Kingdom, Buena Vista Street, Cars Land, Disney, Disney Hollywood Studios, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Epcot, Keith Gluck, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

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Published on July 17, 2013 at 4:00 am with 35 Comments

Sometimes when you get hungry in a Disney park, you don’t feel like a full-on sit-down meal. A snack, on the other hand, just won’t suffice. What’s a Disney guest to do? Ah ha! Counter Service. Counter Service meals are perfect for folks on a tighter budget, or those who don’t want to spend the time at a full-service restaurant. Some Counter Service restaurants offer a cafeteria-style line, allowing you to choose from pre-made items, or place an order and have it put together for you before your eyes. Others involve ordering food from a cashier, and taking your receipt up to the counter to collect your meal. Whichever you choose, you can count on Disney to make sure even the Counter Service eateries blend in thematically with their surrounding area.

But who does Counter Service (aka Quick Service) better? Walt Disney World certainly has more, but is Disneyland better? 

(As usual, Keith is representing Disneyland, while Jeff represents Walt Disney World)

Topic 13: Counter Service Eateries

Jeff: I will say, as mentioned in the introduction, we certainly do have more counter service offerings at Walt Disney World. Considering the Disney Dining Plan is one of the most widely used tools in a guest’s pocket, they have to have options when it comes to spending their meal credits. But let’s start with some of my favorites at the Magic Kingdom first, shall we?

There are no less than 20 options for you to choose from on any given day at the Magic Kingdom. Some are only open during peak times, however, the offerings vary regardless of where you go.

For example, one of my favorites is the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn And Cafe. This American style eatery offers the regular fare, such as burgers, but does so with the great theme of the Wild West. On the walls, you’ll find various artifacts relating to the tales of Pecos Bill and his friends. Not only that, but I think the restaurant has some of the best quick service food on property. And, they are fast! Connected to Pecos Bill, on the back side, you can transition into the Tortuga Tavern, where the theme changes to Pirates. This eatery offers up dishes with a Mexican flair, with such nachos, burritos, and tacos. For some reason, I feel like it’s never all that crowded, so going there is always a breeze.

Be Our Guest is also a quick service during the day, and its innovative touch screen ordering system, with a magic rose to help your food find its way to you, is a great little addition to New Fantasyland.

Other sit down quick services include the Columbia Harbour House, which looks out over the Haunted Mansion and Liberty Square, Tomorrowland Terrace, with its Asian noodle style food, and Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, which has my favorite entertainer in all of Walt Disney World, Sony Eclipse!

If you’re just in the mood for a quick snack, you can also visit the Sunshine Tree Terrace for a Citrus Swirl, Aloha Isle for a quick Dole Whip, and Friar’s Nook for some french fries. There are plenty of options to eat quickly at the Magic Kingdom!

Keith: You get points for Sonny Eclipse, and the the Columbia Harbour House’s view. You do not get points for touchscreen ordering. You also lose a point for mentioning the Tomorrowland Terrace, since it’s only open every Leap Year.

Jeff: Not true!! I ate there back in November. AND IT WAS SO TOMORROW-Y!

Keith: Mmmmm. Tomorrow-y.

I think it’s important to mention early on that while we have a significantly fewer amount of eateries, many Disney fans (on both coasts) have often given the nod to Disneyland in terms of food quality.

The Grand Californian has a place called White Water Snacks, which offers great California-style cuisine, including a yummy Carnitas Angus Cheeseburger. Our Downtown Disney has some nice options as well, from daily-baked bread at La Brea Bakery Cafe, to fresh beignets and po’ boys at Jazz Kitchen Express.

At the Disneyland Hotel, you can visit a little eatery named after the most magical god in the Enchanted Tiki Room: The Tangaroa Terrace. Sit outside and enjoy the views of Jeff Heimbuch’s favorite pool, tiki torches, and swaying palm trees, all while listening to serene Hawaiian music. Some of Tangaroa’s Polynesian-inspired dishes include: Panko-crusted Mahi Mahi with Sweet Potato Fries, and an amazing Kalua Pork Flatbread. Okay, I’m getting hungry now.

Speaking of Jeff Heimbuch favorites, I can’t forget his second home: Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar (which is adjoined with Tangaroa). While he goes there for copious amounts of exotic libations, hungry folks have also been known to flock to the popular bar/eatery for grilled Mahi Mahi tacos, or the delightful Pu Pu Platter. This place is by far one of the most popular destinations in all of Disney, and has East Coasters demanding one of their own!

All right, you can go now Jeff. I have to get something to eat.


Jeff: In all fairness, the Pork FlatBread at Trader Sam’s is by far the best flat bread I have ever eaten. Mostly because of the Pork. Maybe the drinks help, too.

Anyway, moving right along, we can jump over to EPCOT. There are almost as many eateries at EPCOT as the Magic Kingdom, with the list coming in at 19.

One of my favorites is the Electric Umbrella. Now, before you lynch me, hear me out! I know they get a bad rap for their food, but I don’t find it all that bad. Plus, it was designed by Rolly Crump, so it has a special place in my heart. Not to mention the fact that the garbage cans thank you when you feed them. How cool is that?!

I think one of the best aspects of the EPCOT quick service places is that most of them are located around the World Showcase. You can sample flavors from all around the globe just by walking around the World Showcase Lagoon. Want some school bread from Norway? Head to Kringla Bakeri og Cafe. Perhaps a delicious hot pastry is more up your alley? Head over to France! Fish and Chips, cheerio? Look no further than the Yorkshire County Fish Shop!

I do find it quite amazing how many different flavors of food you can find in such a small area. I mean, come on Keith, you have to admit how awesome that is. You love you some EPCOT, don’t lie.

Keith: I do love me some Epcot. Epcot is the main reason you stand a chance in this duel!

Disney California Adventure actually has a pretty good variety of quick service eateries. The Pacific Wharf alone has options ranging from Asian food to Mexican. You can stop in the Pacific Wharf Café for even more freshly-baked bread, this time from its neighbor, Boudin. And while we’re on the subject of San Francisco delicacies, why not stroll over to the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop for some decadent dessert?

Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Café (known by some folks as Starbucks) rests at the end of gorgeous Buena Vista Street, and is a fun place to get your coffee or sandwich fix. The café is named after the pigs from The Three Little Pigs, and its backstory is somewhat related to a DCA attraction. According to legend, it was opened by a musical trio called the Silver Lake Singers, who also happen to be sisters. All around the café you can spot black and white photos of them in different venues they’ve performed at, one of them being the ballroom of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

In the wildly popular Cars Land, you can find an equally popular Counter Service restaurant called Flo’s V-8 Café. Flo also has items on display from her old musical days, when she sang lead for the Motorama Girls. While lunch and dinner entrees include such delicious options as Citrus Turkey Breast with old-fashioned turkey gravy, or Pork Loin with Coca-Cola BBQ Sauce, many guests rave about the breakfast at Flo’s. If you don’t want the standard American Breakfast, you can try the Chicken Tamale Breakfast, or the Brioche French Toast. And if you fancy a fun view, sit out in the open-air patio and admire the splendor of Ornament Valley.

Jeff: I do have two more Parks to cover, but in the interest of time, I’ll smash them both together here to make it a little easier.

I’ll start with Hollywood Studios, which features quite a few, but none of which I really enjoy, honestly! Sure, you can stop in for a quick bite and sip of coffee at the Writer’s Stop, or dine with the stars at the ABC Commissary, but honestly, I’m not overly thrilled with what Hollywood Studios has to offer.

The real meat is over at Animal Kingdom, which has some great food! My favorite restaurant on Disney property has a quick service window, and that is the Yak and Yeti. Be sure to stop there for some Asian-inspired cuisine and perhaps even a delicious Yak Attack beverage. If that’s not enough, you can get lost for hours in Restaurantosaurus: first by eating, and then by taking in all the five legged goats hidden throughout the restaurant! Pizzafari is also a favorite, which offers quite a bit of pizza for you to choose from! And the Flame Tree BBQ? Come on, you know that’s FTW!

Keith: Yeah, Hollywood Studios is severely lacking in the “quality of Quick Service” department. You know what isn’t lacking? Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom.

There are four Quick Service eateries in Frontierland alone, most of which we discussed in Dueling Disney: Frontierland. Rancho del Zocalo offers classic Mexican cuisine, while the River Belle Terrace serves sandwiches for lunch and dinner, and actual breakfast food prior to 11:30am. If you’ve never eaten Mickey Mouse pancakes with a lovely river view and watched the Mark Twain go by, you should add that to your to-do list.

The Tomorrowland Terrace also serves breakfast, but only until 10:30am. Sample traditional breakfast foods, or grab a breakfast burrito, and soak up the world of tomorrow as you start your day. Or come back to the Tomorrowland Terrace at night for live musical acts! As much as I love Sonny Eclipse, our entertainment is both alive and ever-changing. A few years ago I caught as many performances of the Beatles tribute band “The Fab Four” as I could. These days, the Heimbuch-approved “Suburban Legends” ska band can be heard belting out original work, as well as covers of popular Disney songs.

Over in Critter Country, The Hungry Bear restaurant serves tasty burgers and sandwiches, while offering some of the best views you’ll find in any Counter Service restaurant. It’s a Jolly Holiday with Mary, when you pop on over to the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café for sandwiches, salads, or desserts. And across the way you can visit the Plaza Inn for some delicious fried chicken, pasta, or pot roast. Don’t forget the dessert station! And if you time it just right, you can sit outside and eat your dinner as you enjoy the Fireworks. One of my very favorite places to eat in Disneyland has always been The French Market. While the menu has changed a bit over the years, this outdoor-only venue offers maybe the coolest atmosphere of any Disney Counter Service eatery. I mean, where else can you sample southern cuisine with a view of the Rivers of America, the Disneyland Railroad, and the Haunted Mansion, all while you are treated to live jazz from the famous Royal Street Bachelors? The answer? Not Walt Disney World!

Walt Disney World has some outstanding Counter Service options, and they certainly have more than we do. But given all the evidence, I’m afraid I’m going to have to declare Disneyland the winner of this installment.

What say you folks? Does Disneyland have the upper hand with its views and live entertainment? Or does Walt Disney World take it with its variety and number of options? Let us know below!

Dueling Disney is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Keith Gluck

Keith Gluck writes for and volunteers at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. He also runs a Disney blog called thedisneyproject.com, and travels to Disney Parks as often as he can. A fan of many facets of The Disney Company, Keith's main interest is the life and legacy of Walt Disney. For questions/comments, or to request a certain topic be covered, please send an email to: [email protected] Twitter: @DisneyProject Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Disney-Project/194569877288847

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  • mtpelepele

    I don’t think you gave WDW a fair shot. The only thing said about BOG was the touchscreens? Really? Also, where is Downtown Disney represented? Or the eateries at the Disney World resorts? If they count at Disneyland, they should count at WDW.

    • lego606

      Well, in Disneyland the hotel CS locations are just minutes away from the park, as opposed to a bus/monorail ride away.

      • Susan Hughes

        One fun thing to do is have a “progressive” dinner at the resort. Appetizers at one of the hotels, dinner at Disneyland, dessert (and wine) at California Adventure, then a late night snack at Downtown Disney. All by foot. Just try doing that at Walt Disney World.

    • lego606

      At Disneyland the hotels are right there, whereas at WDW they’re a bus/monorail ride away for the most part.

      • Instidude

        I have to say that skipping DTD is a big mistake. At WDW, all the parks are a bus ride away, so unless you are only going to compare one park to one park, WDW has so much more that DLR.

        and, Epcot blows all the parks away with their cuisine of the world…nuff said.

  • LoveStallion

    Guys. Corn dog cart on Main Street at DL. Case closed.

  • Gregg Condon

    I think WDW wins this one … here’s why.

    1) The food at Tomorrowland Terrace and Rancho Del Zocalo at Disneyland is TERRIBLE.
    2) While Flo’s and Plaza Inn may be considered Quick Service restaurants, their prices aren’t comparable to most other Quick Service options. In fact, many sit-down meals at WDW (Sci Fi Diner comes to mind) are less expensive than those two options. Plus, in my two experiences at Flo’s I wasn’t impressed … AT ALL.
    3) I will give DCA the Paradise Garden Grill which I’m surprised you didn’t mention. It’s actually my favorite dining option on property.
    4) Even though DTD and the hotels are closer at Disneyland, for a typical day visitor they aren’t going to leave the park to spend hours at Tagaroa Terrace. This is an AP hangout. Period.
    5) You mention being able to see Carsland at Flo’s and Fireworks at Plaza Inn but fail to mention the fantastic views sitting out on the patio at Flame Tree at DAK. One of the most fantastic dining locations in all of WDW.

    • caesarlights

      Sci Fi Dine In Prices –

      Cheapest “entree” – Veggie Burger at $12.49
      Most Expensive entree – New York Strip Steak – $29.99

      Flo’s V8 Cafe

      Cheapest “entree” – Veggie Tater Bake – $10.49
      Most expensive entree – Roast Beef – $11.99

      Plaza Inn

      Cheapest entree – Cobb Salad – $10.99
      Most Expensive Entree – Pot Roast – $15.49

      Taste is subjective but I really liked Flo’s but I haven’t been to Sci Fi in years so it’s hard to judge.

      • Gregg Condon

        Thanks for posting the prices. We haven’t been to WDW since 2007 so I was basing it off of those prices, totally my mistake.

        But really, not really a huge difference. Plus, who’s getting a steak at Sci-Fi? ;)

    • Skimbob

      I was surprised Paradise Grill at DCA was not mentioned myself. The food is good and you get plenty for the money.

  • tofubeast

    I don’t think the actual poll (for voting) is working. Is it just me?

    • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

      I’m going with WDW on this one. While Disneyland has come a long way in the last few years, there still isn’t a lot of great quick service dining. And some key spots are downright horrible (Pizza Port, Rancho Zocalo, Tomorrowland Terrace I’m looking at you).

      That isn’t to say that all of WDW’s counter serve is great . . . it isn’t. But there seem to be more and better options available, so you can more easily avoid the crap. But Magic Kingdom is the worst of WDW dining. They really need to step it up.

      • http://thedisneyproject.com Keith Gluck

        “Magic Kingdom is the worst of WDW dining.”

        Clearly you’ve never been to Hollywood Studios. :p

      • CCS

        The salads (especially the antipasto and Chinese chicken) salads at Pizza Port are quite good (can’t speak for the pizza). Unfortunately, they downsized the portion by changing the container they come in.

    • Quentin

      It doesn’t work on Safari or Chrome for me. I have to use Firefox.

  • tofubeast

    While there are some great CS at DLR, I think WDW wins this one by a landslide. EPCOT is the reason alone. I don’t even think it needs further elaboration.

    I also agree with the previous comment about BoG—you only mention the touch screens? They have a great CS meal all in 3 different AMAZINGLY themed rooms. Again, THAT ALONE beats DLR.

    AK— Can’t beat the BBQ with the OUTSTANDING view of Everest.

    I also think that if DTD counts at one resort, it must at the other.

    WDW wins. No contest. Sorry.

  • poohmeg

    When I looked at the counter service and casual categories on waltdisneyworld.com and disneyland.com – WDW has 132 restaurants in those categories, and DL has 59. So unless you’re comparing specific places, it’s kind of hard to categorically say that all 132 at WDW are better or worse than all 59 at DL. I’m a WDW person and have many counter service favorites there – in fact, some of the best meals I’ve had have been at various resorts’ quick service places, each of which has unique items themed to the resort in addition to the usual burgers and salads. And I love a lot of the in-park quick service, too – in fact, as I’m writing this, I’m starting to question why we spend the time and money on sit down meals when we often like the food at the quick service places better!

  • caesarlights

    Disneyland all the way!

    Most of Disney World Counter Service serves boring, bland dishes now that the Disney Dining Plan took over. There are exceptions (World Showcase Counter Service and Harbor House come to mind).

    It should also be noted that most of the Disneyland Counter Service serve food on real plates and with real silverware.. this a huge step up in my book. (Art of Animation and Be Our Guest are the only 2 Florida properties that do this as far as I know).

    For me the quality of the food, variety of selection, and presentation is a clear winner to Disneyland. Even the Dole Whips get a cherry and an umbrella in California… these are the “little details” that make a difference!

  • Illusion0fLife

    The quality and variety of EPCOT’s offerings almost gives Walt Disney World the edge here. However, the counter service choices in the rest of the resort are less consistent. After the recent DCA refresh, Disneyland Resort has a ton of great counter service options.The only areas that are really lacking are Tomorrowland and Hollywood Land; there’s at least one great counter service in virtually every other area of the resort.

  • Geezer

    Cafe Orleans (DL) used to be one of my favorite lunch or dinner spots. Good food and a table by the Rivers Of America and Fantasmic.

  • mikedoyleblogger

    The BF and I did DLR in March for 5 days and WDW in May for 5 days. The worst part of WDW, hands down, for us was the food. It was so unrelenting awful, obviously made from low-grade catering-supply ingredients and mostly the same options every where we went. (If I ever have to see those pathetic, shoe-sized hot dog buns and oily, sprinkle-covered, hocky-puck chocolate cakes on more time…) We both agreed the best meal we had at WDW as at the airport McDonald’s on the way back home to Chicago. At DLR, we were amazed at the freshness, variety, and quality of the food in both parks. This difference is the biggest reason that we’ve decided the last six months of our Premier APs will be spent on DLR trips. We’ve had enough of feeling trapped into rotten food options in the World.

  • fnord

    I can’t imagine this topic even part of the discussion when choosing which resort to
    visit. As a vegan, I say they both lose, although Disneyland resort has really upped their
    quality and variety, and vegan-ish selection availability.
    There is a vegan vietnamese restaurant at Katella and Euclid, across the parking lot
    from Harvey’s bar, which has cheap drinks!

  • DobbysCloset

    As a Chihuahua, food is more important to me than anything else, even pussycats. I read this article carefully and savored each meal mentioned. I have decided, based on the descriptions of the food, that I would prefer the WDW experience. The meat is at Animal Kingdom, you say? Can I get in and out without becoming a Snack myself?

    My human, on the other hand, prefers Napa Rose where they give you tiny portions, not even big enough for leftovers. She can sip wine and admire the three bites of food beautifully arranged on her plate;I will be over at the Tiki Bar with Jeff, drinking pineapple juice and vacuuming up the Pu Pu Platter.

  • Big D

    I don’t know that you can really compare all of WDW to the DL Resort. I think maybe you need to do it park-by-park. Epcot is the best, followed by DL, followed by DCA, followed by AK, MK, and then DS. Hotels and Downtown Disney don’t count.

    • Slimshady

      I agree with you Big D. It is very hard to compare the two resorts. The variety and quality at the WorldShowcase makes Epcot the tops. Plus you can drink around the world. ;) DL and DCA have some really good choices with great atmosphere. DS just needs to get an overhaul. How about a Mos Eisley Cantina quick serve restaurant?

  • PecosBill

    I gave it to WDW only because of EPCOT. But if you were to compare Disneyland Park to Magic Kingdom Park, Disneyland would win hands down.

  • Asterix

    A couple mentions for Disneyland:

    Right by the park entrances, La Brea Bakery. Panini sandwiches come with a nice light salad and the price is right.

    DL’s Tomorrowland Terrace … I highly recommend a sleeper item on the menu, the fish sandwich with chipotle crema. It’s not some sad filet-o-fish, it’s a baked, substantial, flaky, moist, nicely-seasoned piece of fish. Great job, Disney Foods!

    On the other hand, I just tried the baked potato with barbeque chicken over at the Harbour Galley area, it pretty much sucked.

    For years the question was “where can we eat that doesn’t suck” — I’m really glad the food situation is in a good place at DL now and seems to be moving in a good direction.