A trip to Walt Disney World isn’t complete without a stop at Disney Springs, where the array of culinary options can feel overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. Consider these recommendations your introductory course to the enormous collection of restaurants.
Disney Springs, the promenade at Walt Disney World Resort, has attracted visitors and Orlando locals alike with a dining scene that’s beginning to rival the Las Vegas strip. Between all the Top Chef alumni and James Beard Award winners, you have to wade through Michelin stars and celebrity chefs simply to look at a menu, much less land a reservation at one of these popular eateries. Which restaurants are worth booking in advance? And how can you try all this exceptional food if you don’t plan in advance? Here’s our take.
What to book in advance
The newest addition to Disney Springs is Jaleo by José Andrés, which opened in March 2019. The menu features both traditional and modern Spanish tapas, meaning you can have classic Ibérico ham with manchego cheese beside a nifty “liquid olive” spherification. The endivias con queso de cabra y naranjas—endives with goat cheese, oranges, and almonds—are exactly as divine as they sound. Reservations are a must. (Pro tip: If you’re dining with a group of eight or more, consider ordering an entire pan of paella, which is prepared to order and served tableside.)
Fans of small plates should peek inside Wine Bar George, which features Italian-inspired appetizers, cheese and charcuterie boards, and a handful of family-style entrées for the entire table to share. The expensive cheeses and vast wine selection could easily lend a pretentious air to the restaurant, but instead, owner and master sommelier George Miliotes keeps the vibe warm and casual. Many of the servers are certified sommeliers who aim to make your experience as customized as possible. They’re happy to discuss tasting notes and pairings as you zero in on the perfect sips for your palate. While walk-ins are possible, reservations are encouraged for peak times like dinner and brunch.
Around the corner from Wine Bar George is Morimoto Asia, brought to you by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto himself. The menu incorporates mainstays from all over Asia—Japanese toro sashimi, Chinese shumai dumplings, Singaporean laksa noodles, you name it. Whether you’re here for an intimate dim sum date or eyeing a Sushi and Sashimi Pagoda for a large party, you can’t leave without trying the Morimoto Spare Ribs. Braised for four to six hours and glazed with a hoisin chili sauce, these pork ribs are so good that they appear on more than one menu in Disney Springs (more on this later). Unsurprisingly, you’ll need a reservation to secure a table.
Compared to the upscale ambience at the first three table service restaurants, eating at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ feels like having dinner with that longtime family friend who cooks the comfort food you crave on a rainy day. Art Smith, formerly Oprah’s personal chef, grew up in Florida and showcases the state’s local ingredients on the southern menu. Fried chicken is the big draw here, making an appearance not just as a platter and on a sandwich, but also on biscuits with bread-and-butter pickles, on salad with cheddar biscuit croutons, and with house-made sugar doughnuts and creamy mashed potatoes. When you make reservations, remember: Come hungry.
What to try on the fly
Speaking of comfort food, let’s talk about Cookes of Dublin. This counter service offshoot of sit-down favorite Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant is a family-owned operation and nods to its roots with details like the black-and-white tiled floor that alludes to the decor of old Irish “chip houses.” The menu leans into fried food meant to pair with draughts from Raglan Road—ultra-crispy fish and chips, a hamburger with a fried patty—without forgetting about gluten-free guests. A batter consisting of champagne and rice flour makes breaded items safe for those with gluten allergies, and separate fryers ensure there’s no cross-contamination. Keep an eye on Cookes of Dublin as it undergoes a remodel and menu update later this year.
For equally filling fare, check out the Polite Pig. The quick service restaurant’s bias toward barbecue comes not only in the form of smoked meats and grilled sides (barbecued cauliflower or crispy brussels sprouts, anyone?) but also in dishes you wouldn’t normally expect. Imagine the burnt ends of barbecued brisket in meatballs, or bacon-sorghum vinaigrette on a garden salad. Now open your eyes, because both of those are on the menu. Be sure to take advantage of the massive drink menu, which boasts over 50 bourbons and about a dozen beers on tap. The small-batch cocktails, made as both single servings and pitchers for the table, offer another way to quench your thirst.
Remember those mouthwatering spare ribs I said we’d get back to? If reservations aren’t available, there’s one other way to try them: Morimoto Asia Street Food. The fast casual extension of the main restaurant serves several items that echo its parent menu, including “baby ribs” that are prepared exactly the same way as the spare ribs, making them exactly as tasty. Another callback to the parent menu can be found in the ginger chicken ramen, which has a duck broth that adds a subtle richness you wouldn’t expect from a quick service restaurant. Since Morimoto Asia serves so many Peking Ducks each day, it’s able to boil the remains and create a delightful duck broth for counter service. Balance that hot ramen goodness by sipping an iced green tea with kiwi boba that pop in your mouth and call it a day.
Where to go for dessert
The most important decision you’ll have to make in Disney Springs is where to get your sugar fix. The cakes at Amorette’s Patisserie are so adorably decorated, you almost won’t want to eat them. Just as cute are the picture-perfect cupcakes at Sprinkles, which come in flavors ranging from red velvet to banana peanut butter to Cuban coffee. The made-to-order s’mores at the Ganachery are no joke, constructed with house-made cinnamon graham crackers and thin layers of chocolate that melt over toasted marshmallows (also house-made, of course). Less scorched sweet treats can be found at Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC, which offers vegan soft serve in gluten-free cones on Fridays and weekends, and at Pepe by José Andrés. Pepe uses the same ingredients as Jaleo to create jamón y queso sandwiches similar to the ones you’d find while wandering around Spain. The real star of Pepe, though, is the leche merengada soft serve, which balances flavors of sweet cream, cinnamon, and just a hint of lemon. Ask for it swirled with the seasonal sorbet, and then ask yourself why you didn’t save more room for dessert.