Beauty and a feast, in a palatial dining room
You’ll recognize Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast -- it’s modeled on the Beast’s castle, complete with a trashed West Wing and a wilting rose. Here we have a rare hybrid, offering quick service breakfast and lunch, in addition to full-on sit-down dinner service. Pro tip: Book in advance, or risk becoming one of the sorry-looking groups snaking out the door and across the bridge waiting for a table. And make sure you try the legendary grey stuff while you’re there -- it’s much, much better than it looks.
Meat feasts with views of Expedition Everest
Considering Disney World is deep down south, deliciously dirty barbecue is strangely hard to come by. Take a walk on the smoky side with this outdoor BBQ quick-serve, and gorge on pulled chicken sandwiches and ribs, glorious ribs. Grab a table looking out onto Expedition Everest’s summit, and watch out for the scavangering local birds who might, understandably, try and pick off your meal.
Californian craft beers and charcuterie
California is king at Hollywood Studios, and the recently-opened BaseLine Taphouse continues the theme with a range of craft beers from the Golden State, like Stone, Golden Road, North Coast and Lagunitas. Pair your poison with plates of select cheeses and charcuterie, or a Dijon-dipped soft pretzel. Edison bulbs and Underwood typewriters make this the hipster-est joint in town.
Drive-in movie theater-inspired diner
The spirit of sci-fi B-movies lives on at this drive-in theatre homage. Take your seat in a classic ‘50s convertible, and settle in to watch black-and-white science fiction under the (ceiling-painted) stars. The menu fits the occasion, with diner-style milkshakes and bun-bursting signature burgers (they do a decent pasta too, but that’s not really in the spirit, is it). Themed cocktails and Florida craft beers round out the experience.
Seafood under the sea (kind of)
Enjoy shrimp cocktail, lobster tails, crab cakes and more with panoramic underwater views of the SeaBase aquarium -- and don’t feel too guilty, because none of the 4,000 animals who call the aquarium home are on the menu. If you’re lucky, you might catch a scuba-diving Mickey amongst his aquatic friends, and ‘90s kids might recognize the restaurant from episodes of "Full House" and "Boy Meets World."
Tropical cuisine in a pun-derful exploration-themed setting
As one skipper led us to our table, she promised to show us three of the restaurant’s highlights. “There they are!” she said, pointing up at a a trio of twinkling chandeliers. Luckily, the food is as good as the jokes are bad. If you’re into spice, the Perkins Thai noodles won’t disappoint, and true Jungle Cruise nerds will delight in the safari-inspired chocolate kungaloosh for dessert. The restaurant is directly opposite the Jungle Cruise ride, so it’s easy to find even with the worst case of sealegs.
Comfort food fresh from the farm
Art Smith was once Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef, which tells you all you need to know about the quality of this Southern barbecue and chicken joint. Newcomers should prioritize the restaurant’s signature dish, a monumental mound of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, along with moonshine cocktails, served ice-cold in copper mule mugs.
Charcuterie, cheese and wines you can’t (normally) afford
The brainchild of George Miliotes, one of about 250 master sommeliers in the entire world, offers something unique: one-ounce pours of wines priced at up to $3,000 a bottle. How is this possible? A device called a Coravin, which preserves the integrity of the cork with a surgical-grade needle and extracts the wine using argon gas. This nifty innovation allows Wine Bar George to serve an international selection of fine wines, including the “Most Outstanding” list, where you’ll find that three-grand bottle. Order the sinfully-delicious charcuterie plate and mac & cheese balls to go with your pours, then stop by the takeout window for a gorgeously-frosted rosé sugar cookie.
Wilderness Lodge resort
Rustic elegance and National Park vibes
Even diehard Disney fanatics occasionally suffer from theme-burnout, and that’s where Artist Point comes in -- a sophisticated, high-ceilinged dining room nestled in Wilderness Lodge. OK, so it’s based on the Pacific Northwest, but it’s gimmick-free and nails the region’s understated elegance. The cedar-plank salmon with ramps and garden squash is the pro choice, even if the paella for two looks sexier on the menu.
Family-focused Hawaiian house of fun
As we learned in Lilo & Stitch, “‘ohana” is the Hawaiian word for family -- so it’s no surprise that this themed restaurant in the Polynesian Resort was created with kiddos in mind. If the hula dancing and coconut-shell races are a little much, you can take the edge off with Sichuan sirloin, spicy grilled shrimp and a stiff rum cocktail served in a pineapple. Save room for the bread pudding -- you’ll need it.
A Disney must-try: Sweet and summery Dole Whip
Where you can get venerated Dole Whip, enough said. If you don’t know what a Dole Whip is, why are you still reading this? Get thee to Aloha Isle, friend.
Special occasion spot for sushi and fireworks
For a flagship restaurant in the Contemporary Resort, California Grill looks a little dated -- but there’s nothing fusty about its New American and Japanese menu. It’s famous for sushi, but the ramp spaghetti with dungeness crab is even better. You can watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks, and place bets on whether the next guy to get down on one knee will get a “Yes!” or a “Isn’t it time for dessert?”
Mexican street food in the World Showcase
You can’t go wrong with any of the World Showcase food stands, but this tiny counter in the shadow of Mexico’s Mesoamerican pyramid is particularly special and straightforward. Come here for your peppercorn margaritas, tacos, and the exquisite pumpkin-seed guacamole, all without standing in line for a table at the pavilion. If you’re after a non-alcoholic thirst-quencher, look no further than the mightily refreshing pineapple/grapefruit/orange juice conga.
Kid-free secret tiki bar
This hidden tiki bar and Jungle Cruise offshoot is hands-down the most kid-free place in Disney past 8pm, when only guests over 21 years of age are allowed in. Prepare for a wackadoo evening of sarcastic bartenders, loose hippos, angry gods, and sneakily-sinking barstools. Be prepared to sing for your Polynesian Pearl, too…
Bavarian beer hall for wurst and pretzels
The World Showcase moves on to Germany with this cavernous Bavarian hall celebrating all things lederhosen, wurst, and beer. You might not think you’re an all-you-can-eat buffet sort of person, but these sausages and nudel gratin will change all that. And besides, where else can you order a beer that’s literally the size of your head? All the while, the in-house oompah band teaches you to zicke-zacke-zicke-zacke-hoy-hoy-hoy like a native. Prost!
American brasserie on Restaurant Row
Led by Tim Keating, the former head chef of the legendary Flying Fish at Disney’s Boardwalk, this upmarket brasserie confidently straddles French and American cuisine. Go for the mussels, coated in lemon and seasalt butter and served in a sizzling cast-iron pan, or plump for the light and delicate Argentine shrimp risotto. For dessert, do yourself a favor and order the honey-laced baklava cheesecake.
French fare in a Parisian brasserie
This is Disney’s best impression of Paris, with views of the World Showcase promenade and a laid-back brasserie vibe. It’s the place to put an end to your onion soup craving or escargots curiosity, and there’s a boeuf bourguignon that won’t take “non” for an answer too. Finish up with a cygne au chocolat, carefully crafted by the resident patissier to look -- but not taste, thankfully -- just like a swan.
Ethical coffee roaster in industrial digs
This artisan coffee roaster is one of many new additions to the trendy Winter Park food scene. Amongst the subway tiles and polished copper you’ll find friendly, knowledgeable baristas and the hands-down best bean juice in greater Orlando. If you want to “do it for the ‘gram,” order a cone latte, a chocolate and sprinkle-dipped ice cream waffle cone, filled with warm latte. Take a nibble of the cone, and then sip the latte: the ideal mix of sweet and bitter.
Tip-top tacos and slow-cooked stews
You can’t go wrong in this sassy fast-casual taqueria. Get some tacos, sure, but don’t forget at least one tamale and a side of crispy caramelized plantains. The tres leches is a winner for dessert, and grab a signature watermelon drink to beat the Florida heat.