Dueling Disney: Table Service Eateries

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Animal Kingdom, Disney, Disney Hollywood Studios, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Epcot, Features, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

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Published on July 31, 2013 at 3:00 am with 28 Comments

Last time around, Keith and Jeff tackled the never easy task of finding a good quick service restaurant. If they thought that was tough, just wait until they try to make reservations at all of the full service restaurants…less than 180 days in advance! While they won’t have time to explore every single full service restaurant, they will do their best to talk about as many as possible. So sit down, relax, and order a full meal, as they are about to begin!

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


Topic 14: Table Service Eateries


Keith: So! It looks like Disneyland was the clear winner in the realm of Quick Service. And it’s no surprise. We have fewer options, sure, but tastier ones. That said, I think I have my plate full (pun so intended) in trying to come out on top in the Full Service Eatery battle. Nevertheless, I shall fight the good fight, and eat the good meal. Forks up, Heimbuch! For now, we finish it.

Jeff: But Keith, I am sooooo full from all that Quick Service stuff. Do I really need to eat some more? I mean, I guess I can squeeze some still in there…

Magic Kingdom has a handful of table service restaurants, all of which are quite tasty. For example, the second you step into the park, you can enjoy Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, which has some delicious dishes. Perhaps a character meal is more your style, so you can head on over the the Crystal Palace for some fine dining with some even finer company.

But honestly, you’d be missing out if you didn’t check out the brand new Be Our Guest restaurant over in New Fantasyland. I went when it was in previews, and I was THOROUGHLY impressed by what I saw, ate, and experienced. It’s definitely an experience worth having, and one of the best sit down meals you’ll experience on property.

Keith: “When I went it was in previews…” What a show-off.

Disney California Adventure has a few tasty Full Service selections to choose from. Wine Country Trattoria is a great option for lovers of Italian specialties. The decor is meant to emulate a Tuscan villa, and you can dine either inside or outside. They also offer World of Color dinner packages, allowing you to take your time as you eat, and stroll on over to your designated area before the show starts.

Are you a fan of dining with princesses? Jeff Heimbuch is! That’s why you’ll find him at Ariel’s Grotto, where he waits to get his tiara signed from the bevy of Disney royalty that parades through the dining area. Ariel’s Grotto features the standard steak and chicken entrees, but also offers some great seafood dishes, which I find odd considering it’s Ariel’s Grotto. Guess she doesn’t mind you eating her friends?

The best dining experience in California Adventure resides at the end of beautiful Buena Vista Street. The Carthay Circle restaurant sits on the second floor of the wonderfully-reproduced Carthay Circle Theatre, the iconic location best known for housing the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Lounge, which occupies the first floor, is a great place to relax and soak up the ambiance of Hollywood’s heyday. Feel free to enjoy appetizers and cocktails as you wait for your table to be ready. And when it is, be sure to take it all in. From the main dining room’s vaulted ceiling, to the two open-air terraces, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. On the menu, choose from dishes like the Grilled Angus Rib-eye, or the Colorado Rack of Lamb Chop with Braised Lamb Osso Buccoa. Um, I am getting hungry again.

Jeff: Aside from all sorts of amazing futuristic and cultural experiences, you can have an unforgettable food coma at EPCOT. I mean, sure you can take a dive under the water, and eat at Coral Reef (which isn’t bad and has great views), but eating in the different countries is more my style. You can get a taste of flair from all over the world! Try La Hacienda or the San Angel Inn in Mexico, where you can either enjoy deliciousness along the waters of the World Showcase Lagoon or inside a simulated, Mexican nighttime atmosphere. Or perhaps you’d enjoy some steak over at Canada’s Le Cellier! Teppan Edo is another favorite, with a traditional habitaci set up.

But by far, the one dining experience most people walk away from feeling the most amazed and full is Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco. It is delicious! The fact remains that EPCOT has 16 full service restaurants for you to choose from…and that’s exactly the problem: being able to choose just one!

Keith: I have been to the San Angel Inn. Isn’t that eatery adjacent to some sort of attraction?

Jeff: One of the best attractions ever, mind you. None other than Gran Fiesta Tour starring The Three Caballeros!

Keith: Haha. Three Cabs for the win! Always.

As I mentioned in our Downtown Disney installment of Dueling Disney, I am a big fan of Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen. With a name like that you know you’re gonna get Cajun and Creole dishes, and this place doesn’t disappoint. Pasta Jambalaya, BBQ Shrimp & Grits, and Black & Blue Filet Mignon are just a few of the great options here. Another thing you should be able to deduce from the name is, live jazz. You can catch live jazz every night at the Jazz Kitchen. Be sure to enjoy the recreated feeling of the French Quarter during your meal. And for authenticity, Disney brought in twelve different New-Orleans based artists to create original pieces of art specifically for the Anaheim location.

If character brunch buffets are your thing, head on over to Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel. If you’re in the mood for a steak, do not pass up the chance to have some of Anaheim’s best. Steakhouse 55, named after the year Disneyland opened, is consistently ranked amongst the best in the area. It was awarded four stars by the Orange County Register, and a Golden Bacchus by the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association. Zagat declared the restaurant was home to “the best rib eye in town.” And like at the Carthay Circle, Walt fans will be pleased with photos of the man himself adorning the walls.

While the Steakhouse 55 is my favorite hotel restaurant in the Disneyland Resort, many folks consider the flagship hotel eatery to be the Napa Rose, in the Grand Californian Hotel. I’ve actually had the short ribs there once, and they may have been the best short ribs I’ve ever had. Too bad I was still starving afterwards.

The Napa Rose, led by head chef Andrew Sutton, has won multiple awards. The restaurant also has expert sommeliers to help you select the perfect wine to accompany your meal. And if you ever want to get super fancy, request the “Vintner’s Table” and enjoy a 4-course tasting menu that changes every week, as to utilize the freshest flavors of the moment.


Jeff: It’s almost unfair for me to continue, because I have so many more options to give to people. I mean, we have four theme parks, numerous resorts, and a Downtown area to try to consider. So, in the interest of time, I’ll do my best to wrap up the rest of them here!

My absolute, cannot-miss restaurant is at Animal Kingdom (of course!), and is the Yak and Yeti. This Asian-inspired cuisines is DELICIOUS. I don’t care who you are or where you are from, you will most certainly enjoy your meal there. Not to mention the Yak Attack…deliciousness in liquid form.

Hollywood Studios also has a few good offerings, despite it being a half day park, such as the 50s Prime Time Cafe, where you can get yelled at for having your elbows on the table, or the Sci Fi Dine In, which simulates the feel of a drive in movie theater. Martha’s Milkshakes are amazing, and the last time I ate there, Martha herself was my waitress. In any event, both restaurants do have pretty good food, such as Mom’s Meatloaf (which even I would eat) and some out of this world entrees like the Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie.

Heading to the resorts, you have your choice from many options. To name a few, you can dine in style at the California Grill at the top of the Contemporary or at Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian. You can also have a nice luau at the Polynesian or sample some of the tonga toast there as well at the Kona Cafe. There really are no shortages of fantastic table service restaurants at any of the hotels. Did I mention Boma? I’ll just say Boma, because it’s great, and fun to say. Boma.

Downtown Disney offers tons of choices, such as Wolfgang Puck, Rainforest Cafe, T-Rex, Fulton’s Crab House, and much much more. There are just way too many to even list! I’m sure I’ll get yelled at for leaving some out, but that’s the problem. There are more than enough options here!

Keith: Friends, Romans, Heimbuchians: lend me your, er, eyes. It is now time to enter a little park often referred to as Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom. We don’t have a plethora of sit-down options, but in this case, the quality shall stand up to the quantity. We start on Main Street, at a charming little eatery known as the Carnation Cafe. Here you can get an inexpensive yet tasty a la carte Full Service breakfast, just like that one place in the Magic Kingdom. You know that place, right Jeff? It’s called “The Don’t Exist Cafe?” At our Cafe, chef Oscar Martinez has been whipping up deliciousness since 1967 (he actually started with Disney in 1956)! Holy cow. A little further down Main Street you can have breakfast with Minnie and friends at the Plaza Inn, and come lunchtime, why not stuff your face with delicious BBQ at the Big Thunder Ranch? Come for the ribs, stay for the S’mores.

Now let’s saunter over to one of the prettiest lands in any Disney park, New Orleans Square, which alone is home to three Full Service options. Cafe Orleans offers more Cajun-Creole delicacies, and has one distinct advantage over Ralph Brennan’s: the view. Not too dissimilar from the French Market, sit outside and gaze upon such sights as the Rivers of America, and the majestic Mark Twain Riverboat. Now when it comes to ambiance, very few eateries in all of Disney can compete with The Blue Bayou. It’s always twilight in this indoor Full Service location, where you can enjoy more Cajun-Creole inspired dishes as you listen to crickets chirping, sit under strings of balloon lanterns, and watch boats float by ferrying passengers off to adventure with salty old pirates. The restaurant of course shares the building with Pirates of the Caribbean, and has since March 18, 1967, the day they both opened.

Club 33, easily the most desirable dining experience in the Disneyland Resort, is a members-only restaurant that resides on top of the Pirates of the Caribbean. Originally meant to be a private dining room for Walt and his family to use, as well as host special guests, it was meant to compliment the new apartment also being added over the Pirates of the Caribbean building. Sadly, Walt passed away before either was completed. For a while the restaurant space was used to entertain VIPs. It wasn’t long, however, before they decided to turn it into a private club offering paid memberships.

If you can somehow manage a reservation, prepare yourself for one of the most luxurious dining experiences you’ll ever enjoy in a Disney park. I’ve had the privilege of eating there twice, and this is not hyperbole, the steak I had during dinner was the best steak I’ve ever had. It is also the only place in all of Disneyland to obtain an alcoholic beverage. It is expensive, and pretty hard to get into, but this is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience you should never pass up if presented with the opportunity.

So yeah, Disneyland is going to get creamed when it comes to availability of options. But as you can see, the ones we do have are pretty darn good!

Jeff: We do have more options. But I do have to say some of the offerings at Disneyland Resort are pretty spectacular. That said, Walt Disney World, with all of its offerings, has it beat. I mean, the international cuisine at EPCOT alone should be enough to tip Disneyland off the scales. And it’s hard for me to give you a point for Club 33, because it is not accessible to normal, every day guests.

I’m sorry, Keith, but you just don’t have it made at Disneyland.

What say you folks? Does Disneyland have the best table service restaurants? 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 Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at www.communicoreweekly.com Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at www.itskindofacutestory.com

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  • Bongo

    Carnation Cafe, Cafe Orleans, and Buena Vista Theater are my all time favorite table service restaurants available at the Disneyland Resort. Having a perfect Mickey Waffle and coffee for breakfast to start off the day. Then heaving on over to Buena Vista Theater in the afternoon for the lamb, which I agree, is absolutely fantastic, with a side order of the House Biscuits with sauce and either a Shirley Temple or Roy Rogers to drink, or if I am in the mood, a Rose Petal Soda. Soon ending the most perfect day with a perfect meal of French Onion Soup and Monte Cristo Sandwiches, all topped off with a simple Earl Grey Tea letting the night and crowd of New Orleans Square surround me as I take sips from my tea cup in the outdoor seating area.

    I’d hate to keep on having a bias for the Disneyland Resort, but I absolutely love the table service restaurants over there.

    • danyoung

      Buena Vista Theater?

  • clewandowski

    EPCOT – My culinary dream. MMMMMMMHHH TAKE ME NOW

  • eicarr

    Unfortunately I rarely have time for table service restaurants at the Disneyland resort since they are full day parks. I remember when they built DCA 1.0, they said it would be like EPCOT, designed as the park to go to for fine dinning(with few attractions at DCA to get in the way I guess).

    WDW and EPCOT( with its pavilions shutting down) is a different story. Without having to rush around to attractions I always enjoyed killing an hour at the Living Seas restaurant. I do hit the Jazz Kitchen at DL though if the park closes early (since Downtown Disney is a 30 sec walk from the parks).

  • Orlando71

    My favorite restaurants at WDW
    MK: Liberty Tree Tavern and Tony’s (havn’t neen to be our guest)
    Epcot: Coral Reef and San Angel Inn
    Hollywood Studios: The Brown Derby and 50′s prime time cafe
    Animal Kingdom: Rainforest Cafe

  • lionheartkc

    Disneyland has the WOW experiences with Napa Rose and Club 33 (for those lucky enough to get in), but Disney World buries them with the sheer number of top quality dining experiences. I’m going for my 17th time in October and I still haven’t tried every single quality restaurant offering in the resort. At Disneyland, on the other hand, the only place I haven’t tried that I want to is Carthay Circle (also lead by chef Sutton, by the way), and that is just because I haven’t been there since it opened.

  • Skimbob

    I have to say that my all time favorite restaurant is Be our Guest. In my opinion the food was way better than Carthay by far and the amount of food was like night and day. The cost is also better. I have a reservation again for my trip in October which was not an easy task with the popularity of the restaurant. I also like the Brown Derby. I have done the lunch with an imagineer twice at the Brown Derby which was a memorable experience. I also like Liberty Tavern, Rose and Crown Pub and the Italian restaurant in Epcot whose name escapes me at the moment. I haven’t gotten to try a lot of the restaurants at Epcot but I am slowly working my way around the world. Trex is also a fun experience at DD.

  • DisneyDesi

    - Cinderella’s Royal Table (where else can you dine inside the castle, such a royal atmosphere)
    - Be our Guest (well I guess you can also dine inside a castle here too haha, just like the movie)
    - The Plaza Restaurant (such a quaint, little place out of the way)

    - Biergarten Restaurant
    - Chefs de France
    - Coral Reef Restaurant
    - Le Cellier Stakehouse
    - Nine Dragons Restaurant
    - Restaurant Marrakesh
    - San Angel Inn
    - Teppan Edo
    - Tutto Italia Restaurante
    - Via Napoli

    - Brown Derby (can’t believe you forgot this one!)
    - Sci-Fi Dine-In
    - 50′s Primetime

    - Yak & Yetti

    - Artist Point
    - Beaches and Cream
    - Boma
    - California Grill
    - Cape May Cafe
    - Crockett’s Tavern
    - Earl of Sandwich
    - Jiko
    - Kona Cafe
    - Ohana
    - bluezoo
    - Trail’s End Restaurant
    - Victoria and Alberts

    Now at Disneyalnd:
    - Big Thunder Ranch
    - Blue Bayou
    - Cafe Orleans
    - Carnation Restaurant

    - Carthay Circle
    - Golden Vine

    - Napa Rose
    - Ralph Brennan’s
    - Steakhouse 55
    - Tangaroa Terrace

  • Gregg Condon

    This is absolutely no contest. Even if the contest was EPCOT vs. all of the Disneyland resort WDW would still win.

    On every trip to WDW we eat at ‘Ohana at least twice, I can’t think of any sit-down place I need to eat at twice in a year at Disneyland. The only one would possibly be breakfast at Steakhouse 55 which is the best value at the resort.

    Also, including Club 33 is kind of cheating a little bit since it’s not somewhere anybody can get into. I also don’t consider French Market and Plaza Inn to be sit-down restaurants. If there is no waiter and you have to carry your own food to your table it doesn’t count. It’s glorified quick service at full-service prices.

  • StevenW

    As good as the meals are, you can take it too far. Don’t let the reviewers pursuade you to try things beyond your comfort level whether you can afford it or want it. I enjoyed some good meals at the casual cafeteria restaurants. Other times, I brown bagged it on occasion.

  • Big D

    I’m with’ Gregg Condon on this one. Those are my thoughts exactly (except I’ve never eaten at Ohana). I’m a loyal Disneylander, but they don’t hold a candle to WDW’s sit-down dining restaurants. Also, as Greg mentioned, Club 33 shouldn’t count since it is member’s only, and French Market and and Plaza Inn shouldn’t be considered table service. Disney can call them what they want, but they are buffets. Jeff barely even scratched the surface of all of the amazing restaurants they have there, like the California Grill, Jiko, the one at the Wilderness Lodge (don’t know the name), Kat Cora’s restaurant at the Boardwalk, the ice cream one at the Beach Club, and much more. I would take Disneyland’s Blue Bayou, Carnation Cafe, and Cafe Orleans over the Magic Kingdom’s table service restaurants however.

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    WDW table service is much better than Disneyland Resort if only for the variety of great options. That isn’t to say that Disneyland Resort doesn’t have some spectacular options (Carthay, Blue Bayou, Napa Rose, Steakhouse 55), but WDW has equally awesome choices and then some.

    WDW for the win on this contest.

  • daveyjones

    “I would take Disneyland’s Blue Bayou, Carnation Cafe, and Cafe Orleans over the Magic Kingdom’s table service restaurants.”


  • daveyjones

    also, the dueling column isn’t making a fair comparison here. if you compare disneyland ‘the park’ to magic kingdom ‘the park’, the happiest place on earth wins by a landslide. but comparing resort to resort, of course WDW has the upper hand due, if nothing else, to the sheer square miles of dining options available.

    it’s apples and oranges.

  • PinkMonorail

    See, but most of you didn’t eat at EPCOT Center, when the quality was top-notch all around. When I went back years later, WDW dining had slipped to a point where it was unacceptable to me for the costs involved, except Victoria and Albert’s.
    I’m with the Andrew Suttonites here…and making bunny ears behind his head.

  • DobbysCloset

    Dobby was disappointed with this article. He is willing to sit and stay when there’s a reason, but he didn’t find one here. Whereas the Carnitas Burger from California Adventure had him drooling, this found him licking his toenails in boredom.