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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  1. FYI: Tomorrowland Terrace dropped the Asian noodle thing quite awhile ago. They’re only open seasonally now and when they are they offer burgers/sandwiches, salads and pasta. I had the beef & bleu cheese salad there last month and it was ok but I heard the bacon cheeseburger there is pretty tasty (for a theme park).

  2. Whoops I mean Tomorrowland Terrace at WDW.

  3. Some restaurants at Disneyland Resort that I think are delicious:

    Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta- It’s all delicious there. You can see them prepare the pasta right in front of you!

    Taste Pilot’s Grill- The burger’s are good but nothing to rave about. The Chili fries are huge and delicious. But what I love the most is the BBQ sauce here. If Disney bottled it and sold it, I would buy 5 bottles a visit. It is so immensely good.

    Hungry Bear- The food is as amazing as the atmosphere. I’m not a big tomato person but the Fried Green Tomato sandwich was mouthwatering. Both the onion rings and the sweet potato fries are some of the only ones I’ll eat because other places don’t do it like Disneyland. And lets not forget dessert. The cupcakes and pies here look small, but are big on flavor and never dissapoint.

    Plaza Inn- Some of the best fried chicken I eat. And the portions are huge thus causing the rather high prices.

  4. Disneyland wins. Between Plaza Inn, Riverbelle, Market House, Earl of Sandwich, Taste Pilots, Flo’s and my favorite…Paradise Garden Grill, I’m very happy to enjoy a quick meal at Disneyland! However if a place at WDW is getting downgraded for touch screen ordering, than so should Tangaroa Terrace, it should also be downgraded for not offering the steak for lunch because that’s the only thing I really like on that menu.

  5. Disney California Adventure has the most awesome counter-service restaurant of any park — Flo’s V-8 Cafe. Amazingly great food there, in a fun atmosphere.

    In second place, but pretty far back, is the Sunshine Seasons at Epcot.

    (Speaking of Epcot, please note the correct capitalization of the park’s name. It is not EPCOT. EPCOT was only properly all-capitalized when the park was named EPCOT Center. When the name of the park was officially changed to Epcot, it stopped being all caps. This is exactly the same as the change from Disney’s California Adventure to Disney California Adventure. You might prefer the old way, but it is now wrong.)

  6. Jeff, you won me over with the Electric Umbrella. I have very fond memories of that place from my trip back in ’01, haha!

  7. I feel like a lot of these match-ups are almost unfair since DL is superior in so many ways. That’s definitely the case here, where the Counter Service is a big step up, especially when you compare Disneyland to the Magic Kingdom.

  8. They did try touch screen ordering at Taste Pilots at DCA. It only lasted a few months and was removed. I thought it was fine, but it seemed to slow things down for people who didn’t understand the system or just took longer since there was no cast member waiting for them to order. I think people preferred the personal touches of a cast member taking their orders too. Part of what makes Disneyland special is the greater human interaction.