Disney World’s Best Signature Dining

There are so many Walt Disney World restaurants to choose from!  Frequent visitors, like our family, develop a passion for certain snacks, an emotional attachment to a few quick-service places, and we’re downright territorial about our table service favorites!

Let’s talk about Disney’s Signature Dining.  If you’re going to splurge on a meal either out-of-pocket or by burning two table service dining credits on the Disney Dining Plan, it’s important to choose wisely!  While we haven’t quite made it to all the finest dining Disney has to offer (I’m looking at you, Victoria and Albert’s), we’ve tried a good many and have indeed developed enough of a fondness for a few to do what we can to squeeze them into our budgets for both time and money as often as we can.Signature Dining - Yachtsman Steakhouse

For those of you with little ones, fully enjoying a Signature Dining experience can be challenging.  You know you kids best and whether or not they’d like to sit in a fancy restaurant for a lengthy meal.  This is Disney World so signature restaurants are kid-friendly, but they are not as fun as character dining (like at Tusker House or Chef Mickey) or some places with funny servers (think Whispering Canyon Café or 50’s Prime Time Café) and cool themes (Sci-Fi Dine In Theater).  These places also tend to have more “adult” foods on the kids’ menu.  The list I’ve put together here is mainly geared towards families with older children and groups of adults.  If you’ve got something to celebrate, like an anniversary or graduation, signature dining is the way to go!

Disney World’s Best Signature Dining

In The Resorts

Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Hands down this is our favorite Signature Dining Experience, but it’s not for everyone!  Jiko is best enjoyed by diners with adventurous palates.  That’s not to say that picky eaters won’t find something to love, but it may take a little creative work with the cooperative servers and chefs.  We’re game (see what I did there?) for trying exotic dishes made with wild boar or buffalo.  We welcome new flavors from African-spiced dishes of all kinds.  Options like pork and lamb shanks, beef short ribs, scallops, halibut, lobster, and vegetarian dishes make up the creative menu.  We have never been disappointed.  The wine list is as fantastic as the food.

California Grill (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) – The food’s good, but the setting is great!  The view from the top of the Contemporary Resort is fantastic and at sunset it’s downright awesome!  The California-inspired menu is broad and boasts a great selection of sushi along with other, many very complex, dishes.  Service is excellent and compared to Citricos and Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian (also signature), California Grill manages to seem extra special.  No matter what time you have dinner, you’ll be welcome to stay (or return) and enjoy Wishes (Magic Kingdom’s fireworks spectacular) from the restaurant’s outdoor viewing area.  We celebrated our 25th anniversary at California Grill and our experience was wonderful.

Flying Fish (Disney’s Boardwalk) – Recently renovated and with a new chef, Flying Fish has an awesome location (a short walk from Epcot) and has been very popular in the past.  One of our best vacation meal memories is of dinner at the Flying Fish.  Disney's Flying Fish Cafe ExteriorI don’t know firsthand how the restaurant’s new version compares to the old, but our next Flying Fish dinner is just days away.  The new menu looks fantastic (albeit expensive!) and it may well be worth two dining credits.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club) – A solid choice for steak-lovers, Yachtsman’s proximity to Epcot makes it a stellar alternative to Le Cellier in World Showcase’s Canada Pavilion.  Good service, solid menu, and the butcher/meat viewing area is cool!  We thought the atmosphere a bit more laid back than some of the other signature restaurants and that complimented, rather than detracted from, the overall experience to us.  If you’re not a steak fan, there are better places to eat.  If you love a good steak, I found even the smallest one on the menu (6-ounce Black Angus Filet) to be perfectly cooked, tender, and delicious.

In The Parks

Tiffins (Animal Kingdom) – As I mentioned in the review I did recently, this place is probably not for picky, non-adventurous eaters.  If you love Animal Kingdom for the incredible theming and you want to feel like you’re eating in an exotic far away place with amazing service, consider Tiffins.  It can be a bit expensive, but is very special, so worth it in my opinion (at least once).  The menu is extraordinary and the beer and wine lists are carefully cultivated and unique.  While all signature dining restaurants try to offer exceptional service in a special atmosphere, Tiffins succeeds in a way few others manage.The Hollywood Brown Derby / Disney's Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Brown Derby (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) – While this may be our least favorite of the group I’ve listed here today, it’s worth mentioning.  The Derby has many devoted fans and it offers a wonderful respite from park noise and crowds.  The atmosphere is very cool and the menu offers a good variety.  The Cobb Salad is famous as is the Grapefruit Cake dessert.  If you’re on the dining plan, don’t waste two table service credits here.  If you want a nice meal at a low-ish price for signature dining and/or want the best meal in the Studios, give the Hollywood Brown Derby a try.

What did I miss?  Do you have a favorite signature restaurant that didn’t make our list?


WDW Resortloop Quick Service – Contempo Café

RM-Mary-Blair-MuralAs I’ve mentioned before, we love the Contemporary Resort!  We love the expansive, soaring Grand Canyon Concourse with the monorail station inside, the shops, the Mary Blair mural (Hello, Five Legged Goat!), and the restaurants.  Chef Mickey’s has always been our favorite character dining experience.  Right next to Chef Mickey is a counter-service restaurant we’d seen and heard of, but had never tried until our most recent visit to Walt Disney World.  We ate there twice – Lunch on our arrival day and breakfast on our last day of vacation.  We were quite pleased with our meals, so I’m sharing this review with you today…

WDW Resortloop Quick Service – Contempo Café

The first impression of this eatery is that it’s both wide open and, in keeping with the theme of the Contemporary, quite modern.  Orders are placed at automated, self-service kiosks that print out a ticket for you to carry to the checkout counter, along with any extras you select from the self-serve sections for bakery items and bottled beverages (I chose beer at lunch).  After you pay for your meal, you then wait for your ticket number to be called so you can pick up your tray(s) and find a seat.RM-Contempo-Cafe-Interior RM-Contempo-Menu RM-Contempo-Cafe-Self-Serve

The bakery items looked good and the menu offered a broad selection.  The beer selection was a bit sparse, but didn’t keep us from enjoying lunch.  We ate right after we arrived and checked in, so I took care of ordering and getting our table, while Raymond took some things to our room.

For Raymond I ordered the Caprese Flatbread ($8.49) and I chose the expensive Lobster Roll  ($16.29).  Normally, I wouldn’t spend that much on lunch, but I was thinking of you.  So in the interest of culinary research, I sprung for it.  Both orders looked tasty and weren’t heavy, which was important since we had a dinner reservation later at the Kona Café (Polynesian Village Resort).  The food was good!  We were both pleased with our lunches (if not the price) and decided the Contempo was convenient with good choices and needed to be added to our list of quick-service favorites.RM-Contempo-Cafe-Flatbread RM-Contempo-Cafe-Lobster-Roll

On the last day of vacation, we had some time to spare before our Fort Wilderness Back Trail Adventure tour, so we decided to see what the Contempo Café had to offer for breakfast.  We already knew about the bakery counter, but ended up ordering off the menu.  I ordered the Breakfast Burrito ($6.49) and Raymond had the Breakfast Sandwich ($6.49), we also decided to share an order of grits ($3.19).  RM-Contempo-Cafe-Breakfast-Sandwich RM-Contempo-Cafe-Breakfast-Burrito-and-GritsIt’s a thing we do, like a test.  See, living in Louisiana, we eat grits just about every weekend.  I make some pretty amazing garlic cheese grits and they’ve become a staple on our weekend breakfast lineup.  We often try grits in restaurants to see if we can find anyplace that does them well.  I’m happy to report that so far, the Contempo Cafe’s grits are the best we’ve had at Walt Disney World!!!  They’re served with white cheddar cheese, which makes them taste great!  We will most definitely be visiting the Contempo Café again.

See the complete Contempo Café Menu here.

Which Resortloop Quick-Service restaurants do you like best?

More Love for Raglan Road

Raglan-Road-InteriorWith all the new shops and restaurants opening in Disney Springs/Downtown Disney, it’d be easy for most people to pass up an old favorite and try someplace new, I suppose.  Not for us, though.  We’d have to put aside a many-years-long vacation tradition to visit Disney’s shopping and nighttime entertainment center and not stop at Raglan Road.

At first glance, Irish Pub and family friendly seem a strange and unlikely combination, but that’s the draw of Raglan Road to us.  It really is a great place to enjoy excellent food and fantastic entertainment – for the whole family!  If you’ve read my dining reviews before, you know I want a good place to sit, decent service (at a leisurely pace), and great food.  Raglan road has never let us down on any of those criteria plus they have the added bonus of some fun and wonderful entertainment.Raglan-Road-Pub

A couple of months ago, we visited Raglan Road once again and, to me, we had the best seats we’d every had.  We got there early and stayed late – our only goal for the evening was to be back in the Magic Kingdom for Wishes and the Main Street Electrical Parade.  Plenty of time with an early 5pm ADR (advance dining reservation) to relax, eat too much, and enjoy some excellent music and watch some fun and lively Irish Dancing.Drink-Menu-Raglan-Road

We arrived to find we were a few minutes early and there was plenty of room open at the bar.  We checked in at the reception desk first, picked up our pager, and selected a couple of beers to enjoy while we waited.  Beer-Raglan-Road Beer2-Raglan-RoadIn no time at all, we were being shown to our table…and an excellent table it was.  To the right of the stage, we had excellent seats to see and hear the live music and dancing.Raglan-Road-Singers

Our server arrived promptly and (let me just disclose now that we were hungry…very hungry) took our appetizer order.  If you’ve never had the ribs at Raglan Road, I feel sad for you.  “Heaven on Earth – Baby back ribs tossed in a Guinness glaze.” – they are both sweet and savory, tender and crispy, perfect bites of meaty goodness.  Raglan-Road-RibsWe also enjoyed (we always do) the bread and dipping sauce.  This sauce, like the ribs, makes use of a Guinness reduction.  Words cannot describe, so trust me when I say, the hearty bread and the slightly sweet, dark sauce combine perfectly.  If I could only duplicate it at home…wait, no, that would be bad and counterproductive to my weight management goals. Raglan-Road-Bread

We ordered a salad to share.  Did I say we were hungry? “Cashel Castle – Crumbled Cashel blue cheese, caramelized pecans, grape tomatoes, raspberries, pancetta crisps, crostini’s & raspberry vinaigrette.”  You can add shrimp or chicken, but we just wanted the salad as is.  The flavors sounded like a wonderful combination – and they were!  Ribs, bread, salad, and still hungry.  Time for the main course!Raglan-Road-Salad

Raymond chose the ham and I chose the lamb.  Honestly, I was totally shocked by my sweet, but kind of picky, husband’s decision to order something with cabbage in the description:  “Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – Irish Mist glazed loin of bacon with savoy cabbage, colcannon potatoes, parsley cream sauce and a raisin cider jus.”  Must have been the description of the ham that sealed the deal and, sure enough, he was quite pleased with his choice.  Raglan-Road-Entree-HamUpon our server’s recommendation, I ordered the lamb – ” Lambo – Lamb shank braised in rosemary jus with mash, leeks, shitake mushrooms & baby carrots.”  This absolutely yummy dish did not disappoint.Raglan-Road-Entree-Lambo

Full as can be, don’t ask me why, we got a little crazy.  Must have been the music, but we decided to stay for dessert.  We still had plenty of time to spare, so with dessert we ordered up a couple of Irish coffees.  Raglan-Road-Irish-CoffeeI’m so sad I could not do justice to my selection!  The menu said, “Ger’s Bread & Butter Pudding  Like no other pudding you have ever tried.  Believe us.” – and the menu was right!  Holy Moly – that concoction was nothing short of amazing!!!Raglan-Road-Bread-Pudding Raglan-Road-DessertIn fact, I took a picture of Raymond’s chocolaty plate, but I have absolutely no idea what he ordered.  I wasn’t sharing mine, so I certainly wasn’t going to ask for a bite of his.

I’m not exaggerating when I say we could barely waddle out of Raglan Road that night, but we had an absolutely wonderful dinner.  AND we made it back to Magic Kingdom in plenty of time to lower our overly-full selves down onto a Main Street curb in plenty of time to see both Wishes and the Electrical Parade.

Have you eaten at Raglan Road?  What did you enjoy most about it?

Disney Dining – Olivia’s Cafe at Old Key West

Relaxed Dining at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key West / Walt Disney World“All in all, we found Olivia’s Café an unexpected, hidden treasure.  Our experience there seemed pixie-dusted since it was a spur-of-the-moment restaurant choice and the evening turned out to be one of the loveliest of our trip.” – Me, once again channeling my inner restaurant critic.

While Staying at Old Key West, we found ourselves with an open evening – no reservations booked, no major plans.  Our vacation was winding down and we returned to the resort after a long day that had started at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and ended in the Magic Kingdom.  We had intentions of making sure our transportation on the Magical Express to the airport the next morning had been arranged, scheduling someone to collect our luggage from our room then returning to the parks for a last night out at Walt Disney World.

We’d just gotten off the bus at Old Key West’s Hospitality House to check on our morning Dining room at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key West Resortdeparture schedule (sad, so sad) and we realized we were starving!  That’s when I remembered having heard good things about Olivia’s Café and suggested we stop in and see if any tables were available.  We checked, a table was immediately available, and we had a fantastic dinner with delicious food and terrific service!

The atmosphere in Olivia’s is laid-back and very old-fashioned-Florida-Keys.  It’s open and airy as one would expect, yet homey and comfortable – very welcoming.  You can dress very casually here and be yourself.

One thing you can count on at Olivia’s (I’ve read this over and over and our own experience Olivia's Tomato-Mozzarella Saladconfirms it) is outstanding service.  It felt to us as if, knowing they’re a bit out of the way for many Walt Disney World guests, the staff at Olivia’s goes above and beyond normal Disney service.  They seemed genuinely appreciative of having us there.  Our server was Moe – super friendly and attentive (without hovering).  Moe started us off by bringing us some bread and butter.  Fans of ‘Ohana over at the Polynesian will recognize Olivia’s delicious pineapple-coconut bread.  SO unexpectedly scrumptious!  Even the super-picky one among us enjoyed it.

Olivia’s menu is made up of “home-style American cuisine with a Caribbean twist” (as Olivia's Cafe / Conch Chowderdescribed by Disney World’s web site) and is full of abundant choices sure to satisfy any diner (view the entire dinner menu here).  Raymond started off with the tomato-mozzarella (with mixed greens and balsamic syrup) while I had the Conch Chowder (reminded me of Manhattan-style clam chowder) which was hearty and delicious.  I don’t recall if either of our children had an appetizer – I believe I may have been too busy enjoying the bread and the chowder!

Main courses for the four of us were:  Raymond and Megan both had Shrimp and Grits (“Sautéed Shrimp with Vegetables, Tasso Ham, and fresh Herbs served over Olivia’s Famous Shrimp and Grits at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key WestGrits”) while Joseph and I both ordered burgers.  His was plain, mine…not so much.  I ordered what has to be one of the most delicious, extravagant, decadent burgers in all the World – The Duval Street Burger.  This behemoth burger described as being “topped with Grilled Shrimp, Pepper Jack Cheese, Avocado, and Pico de Gallo on our Pineapple-Coconut Roll” was unbelievable and I’m sorry to say I could not do it justice – I managed to finish about half.  The burgers were served with fries, coleslaw, or chips.  Joseph and I both chose the fries which were nicely crisp on the outside.  Old Key West, Olivia's Cafe / Duval Street Burger

Full as we could be, we excused Megan and Joseph so they could hit the parks for their last night of vacation.  Raymond and I lingered a while over coffees (mine of the “Irish” variety) and were a little bit sad that we had no room for dessert.  The Banana Bread Pudding Sundae and Mascarpone Cheesecake sure looked tempting.  For our last meal at Walt Disney World, we couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable one.

Olivia’s accepts the Tables in Wonderland discount card and is one table service credit on the Disney Dining Plan.

Have you eaten at Olivia’s?  What was your favorite part of the meal?