The Top 10 Things to Eat at Disney World

by Steve Russo, staff writer
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By now, you know that I love a good list. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be good. If I’m flipping through a magazine in a doctor’s waiting room, I’m immediately drawn to the “Top10 Left-Handed Bowlers from Wisconsin." I’ll even spend 15-minutes with the “Five Reasons Lindsey Lohan Deserves a Sixth Chance." OK, that one was a bit of a stretch—I’d only give that five minutes; but I do love a good list.

Every now and then, as I’m contemplating ideas for a MousePlanet column, I’ll revert to my love of lists. For this column, I’ve decided to combine two of my favorite things: 1) lists, and 2) eating. Trust me when I say that those two items are not necessarily in priority order.

I know a lot of you folks have your favorite Walt Disney World restaurants. I learned about them with your response to the poll I took last year (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). However, what about a favorite food? Is there an item or two (or twenty) that you have to have on each trip? Something you will go out of your for? Something so mouthwatering you begin salivating as soon as you book the resort or make airplane reservations?

When I thought about this, in the context of a Top 10 list, I doubted I could list ten items for a “Favorite Things to Eat at Disney World." Do I have ten food items I would list as “must haves?" I forged ahead anyway, mostly to see how many I could catalog. As you probably guessed, my list soon topped 20 and I was now faced with an editing task.

To appreciate my taste in Disney food, you need to understand Rule #1 from Russo’s Rules of Food at Walt Disney World:

Calories do not exist at Walt Disney World. I don’t care how much you eat, or what you eat, you will walk it off.

Before I get into the list, let me offer up a couple of Honorable Mention candidates. These items are not on the Top 10 but that’s not because they lost a taste test—it’s because they’re no longer available.

  • Chocolate Truffles – The only time I had this particular item was at the France kiosk at the 2002 International Food and Wine Festival. Allow me to quote from that Trip Report:

“We finally stopped at France where we sampled the Chocolate truffles. These are $1 and taste like heaven in a ball. OK, we are chocolate lovers and we’re biased but these things get 4 stars, 10 aprons, 5 spatulas, and a couple of Veg-o-matics thrown in.”

That’s very high praise from me (the Veg-o-matics—I give stars, aprons and spatulas all the time.) I’ve found chocolate truffles since, even some at Disney World and even some at subsequent Food and Wine Festivals, but none has come close to equaling those we found that day.

  • Beaver Tails – Do you remember Trapper Bob's Beaver Tails? They were available from a kiosk near the Canada pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. I know there are a few of you that never tried one because the thought of eating a beaver’s tail was somehow repulsive—and think of all those poor tail-less beavers trying unsuccessfully to build dams. You should have sucked it up because they weren’t really a meat product—just a piece of cooked whole-wheat pastry, shaped like a beaver’s tail. It wasn’t real beaver, but boy— they were good. You had a choice of toppings that included chocolate hazelnut and sugar, maple and chocolate, strawberries and whipped cream, apples and cinnamon, or cinnamon and sugar. Alas, they stopped selling these little slices of paradise around January 2005.

OK, the “also rans” are out of the way so let’s get on to the real list—my Top 10 Things to Eat at Disney World, listed here for your reading pleasure but again, listed in alphabetical order by height (that’s a joke, they’re in no particular order):

1. A Sundae from Ghirardelli’s – Here’s Rule #2 from Russo’s Rules of Food at Walt Disney World:

At least once during each trip you may substitute ice cream for a meal—any meal (although I’ve yet to try breakfast.)

You’re liking my rules, aren’t you?

There are a number of very acceptable places to do this; Beaches and Cream, Seashore Sweets, and the Plaza Ice Cream Shoppe come to mind. In my opinion, the best of the best is the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop at Downtown Disney’s marketplace. Any sundae will do, but a personal favorite is the World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae: two scoops of vanilla ice cream overflowing with fresh homemade hot fudge, whipped cream, chopped almonds, and a cherry.

My second choice would be the The Haight AshBerry - Very Berry Sundae: strawberry cheesecake ice cream smothered in sliced strawberries under a layer of vanilla ice cream with blueberry topping, whipped cream, chocolate-covered blueberries and a chocolate dipped waffle roll.

I think I just gained three pounds writing that. I need a lap around World Showcase Lagoon… quick.


Ghirardelli's Hot Fudge Sundae. Photo by Steve Russo.


Ghirardelli's Hot Fudge Sundae - six minutes later. Photo by Steve Russo.

2. Potato Gratin from Narcoossee’s – What? Potatoes? Let me first explain that I don’t usually rave about a potato. In fact, there have been only two occasions in my long life where I’ve gotten excited about potatoes (actually there was a third but that involved propelling raw potatoes from a PVC pipe with a fairly substantial explosion—but I digress.) The first was in the late 1970s at a restaurant called the Old San Francisco House in San Antonio, Texas. They served a baked potato that is, to this day, the best I’ve ever had.

The second was when I ordered the filet mignon at Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian. The filet was accompanied by “Potato Gratin." To say they were very good is an understatement. In fact, they were so good I would encourage you to ask if they can be substituted for whatever other starch they serve with your entrée of choice. Tell ‘em I sent you (like that will get you anything.)

3. Barbecue Beef Short Ribs at Jiko – I rarely order any type of barbecued ribs mainly because they’re typically more trouble than they’re worth. Not so here. These ribs are cut-with-a-fork tender and, served with a potato-mushroom pavé and onion-garlic sauce, are the tastiest I’ve experienced. Jiko is located in the main building (Jambo House) at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It’s a little pricey but I’ve yet to have anything short of great food and service there… and the short ribs won’t disappoint.

4. Zebra Domes - While on the subject of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, we can’t bypass Boma. This is a favorite buffet and there are a number of items available that could make a Top Ten list—bobotie and/or potatoes with afritude (potatoes again, Steve? Really?) If I can only pick one, I’m going with the Zebra Domes. I had heard so many good things about these pastries, I knew it was probably going to be disappointing when I first tried one. It was not. Nor was the next one… or the next…

5 Mickey's Premium Ice Cream Bar - No trip to Disney World would be complete without a Mickey's Premium Ice Cream Bar. It’s only vanilla ice cream on a stick, coated in a frozen chocolate shell, and shaped like a classic Hidden Mickey… but they’re really good. Is there a better way to cool off on a hot Florida day than to find a bench in the Magic Kingdom and unwrap one of these frozen treats? I think not.

6. Blueberry Muffin from the Boardwalk Bakery - I’m a muffin kind of guy; which is to say I enjoy a good muffin for breakfast. I have also found that there is a fine line between breakfast and dessert. I once stopped at Starring Rolls in Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a coffee and a chocolate muffin. That chocolate muffin was much closer to a large slice of chocolate cake than any muffin I’ve ever had— not that I’m complaining, mind you. For my money, however, the class of Disney World quick breakfasts would be a blueberry muffin from the Boardwalk Bakery.


Yes, Hue G. Krazont does make a great muffin. Photo by Steve Russo.

7. A Beer at the Rose and Crown Pub - This item is not really something you eat, but no trip is complete for me without a beer at the Rose and Crown Pub. It’s a great way to knock off the dust of your trip on arrival day, or just a way to get out of the Florida heat. Sit back and relax while you enjoy the ambience of a British pub. If you time your visit appropriately, you could be entertained by the song stylings of Pam Brody or the Hat Lady. I don’t have a single favorite here but will usually choose from a Black and Tan (half Bass Ale and half Guinness), a Bass Ale, or a Boddingtons English Pub Ale. Cheers!


Ahhh. The start of another trip. Photo by Steve Russo.

8. Hamburger from the Big River Grille & Brewing Works - In my previously mentioned 2009 poll, I asked you to vote for your favorite on-site hamburger. Much to my surprise, you chose Pecos Bill's—and it drew 43% of your votes. I am certainly not looking to antagonize my readership but… oh, how wrong you were. I could live with the selection of a Beaches and Cream burger, but for my money, when I have a hamburger at Disney World it’s coming from the Big River Grille & Brewing Works.

9. Chocolate Shake at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater - This will probably generate some groans, but I almost listed the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater as a choice for my best Disney World burger. It almost seems fashionable to bash the food at the Sci-Fi but I think they make a great burger as well as several other menu items… but a Big River burger wins out, in my opinion of course. However, we do visit the Sci-Fi on many of our trips, and, when there, I have to have a chocolate shake. These shakes are so thick there’s a reasonable chance of a double hernia as you’re trying to suck it through a straw—a spoon actually works a bit better. They’re thick, tasty, and based in ice cream; what more could you want?

10. Dole Whip - Everyone has his or her favorite treat from the Aloha Isle in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. It may be a Citrus Swirl (frozen orange and vanilla soft serve ice cream), a Pineapple Float (pineapple or orange Dole Whip with pineapple juice), a Coke or Root Beet Float, or a Fresh Cut Pineapple Spear. However, if you visit Aloha Isle you owe it to yourself to grab a classic: the Dole Whip. On a hot Florida day, there’s nothing finer.


The home of the Dole Whip. Photo by Steve Russo.

So there you have it… my Top 10 Things to Eat at Disney World. Are any of these items on your list? Is there a specific food or drink item that you absolutely have to have on each trip; something you can only find at a Disney park or resort? Send in your favorites and let me know if you agree or disagree with mine. Writing this has made me hungry. I need to go find a Zebra Dome now…

Comments

  1. By Buckimion

    Back in 2001 we had lunch in the Crystal Palace and there was a potato pancake/artichoke/mushroom dish to die for. Alas, 5 trips and 6 meals later (out of desperation on one trip we ate lunch AND dinner) I have yet to encounter it's like again.

  2. By Empress Room

    I couldn't agree more about the beef short ribs at Jiko - simply the best I have ever tasted. But I have some horrible news...they are no longer on the menu.

    Yep, when we were down in early July, they were no where to be seen. Our server told us that they had just been taken off "a few weeks ago" and that many guests were complaining, but the chef had decided to change the menu around a bit. She told us to keep our fingers crossed that they would rotate back on

    No such luck. When we visited again during the first week in October, they were again notoriously absent. Our server told us that, yes, there were continued complaints but the chef had no immediate plans to bring them back. Such a shame!!

  3. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by Empress Room View Post
    I couldn't agree more about the beef short ribs at Jiko - simply the best I have ever tasted. But I have some horrible news...they are no longer on the menu.

    Yep, when we were down in early July, they were no where to be seen. Our server told us that they had just been taken off "a few weeks ago" and that many guests were complaining, but the chef had decided to change the menu around a bit. She told us to keep our fingers crossed that they would rotate back on

    No such luck. When we visited again during the first week in October, they were again notoriously absent. Our server told us that, yes, there were continued complaints but the chef had no immediate plans to bring them back. Such a shame!!

    Ach! Really? That is a shame. I had heard of a new chef rotating in to Jiko. Here's hoping they bring the beef short ribs back pronto.

  4. By jcruise86

    Thanks, Steve! Food is one of life's great pleasures.

    And now your top ten ways to get exercise at WDW?

  5. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by jcruise86 View Post
    Thanks, Steve! Food is one of life's great pleasures.

    And now your top ten ways to get exercise at WDW?

    Easy. Walk... walk some more... walk further... repeat.

  6. By danyoung

    Ahhh - one of my favorite subjects of all time - FOOD AT DISNEY! I try to mix things up and eat at least one meal at a restaurant I've never experienced, and after 15 years of trying there are still several places that I have yet to visit. Of course, you can never go wrong with a beverage from the Rose & Crown (a tasty vodka martini is my preference!). The favorites that come to mind make up a shorter list than Steve's, but these delicacies haunt my dreams! In order -

    3 - The classic turkey leg. After enjoying several of them at the Magic Kingdom, seated on a bench overlooking the Rivers of America, I finally got a little tired of ruining my clothes from dripping grease. Then I discovered the legs at Toluca Lakes Turkey Company in DHS. Now I enjoy the same tasty meat seated at a picnic table, with plenty of napkins to soak up the juices. Yummy!

    2 - The somewhat hard to get pineapple with caramel dipping sauce from 'Ohana. This used to be their dessert of choice, and it was light, tasty, and the perfect dessert after a meat-heavy meal. But they switched a few years ago to a banana bread pudding, which, while delicious, just isn't the same. I've been able to request the pineapple in the past, but I've heard that lately they no longer stock it.

    1 - The finest cut of meat anywhere on the planet can be enjoyed at the California Grill, high atop the Contemporary Resort. It's the tamarind bbq marinated beef filet, the one constant on an ever-changing menu. This filet is cut-it-with-a-fork tender, and has so much flavor to it that it has won the best cut of beef award from several culinary organizations. I've enjoyed many dinners at the CG, and while I'll change up the appetizer (current favorite is the spicy sushi roll!) or dessert, the main course is always the beef filet. Nothing like it on Earth!!!

  7. By kiki

    Thanks for that list. It make my planning for our summer 2011 trip that much more harder....LOL!!!! The sundae from Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop looks absolutely AMAZING!!!!!! Definitely on our must do list.

  8. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by danyoung View Post
    Ahhh - one of my favorite subjects of all time - FOOD AT DISNEY! I try to mix things up and eat at least one meal at a restaurant I've never experienced, and after 15 years of trying there are still several places that I have yet to visit. Of course, you can never go wrong with a beverage from the Rose & Crown (a tasty vodka martini is my preference!). The favorites that come to mind make up a shorter list than Steve's, but these delicacies haunt my dreams! In order -

    3 - The classic turkey leg. After enjoying several of them at the Magic Kingdom, seated on a bench overlooking the Rivers of America, I finally got a little tired of ruining my clothes from dripping grease. Then I discovered the legs at Toluca Lakes Turkey Company in DHS. Now I enjoy the same tasty meat seated at a picnic table, with plenty of napkins to soak up the juices. Yummy!

    2 - The somewhat hard to get pineapple with caramel dipping sauce from 'Ohana. This used to be their dessert of choice, and it was light, tasty, and the perfect dessert after a meat-heavy meal. But they switched a few years ago to a banana bread pudding, which, while delicious, just isn't the same. I've been able to request the pineapple in the past, but I've heard that lately they no longer stock it.

    1 - The finest cut of meat anywhere on the planet can be enjoyed at the California Grill, high atop the Contemporary Resort. It's the tamarind bbq marinated beef filet, the one constant on an ever-changing menu. This filet is cut-it-with-a-fork tender, and has so much flavor to it that it has won the best cut of beef award from several culinary organizations. I've enjoyed many dinners at the CG, and while I'll change up the appetizer (current favorite is the spicy sushi roll!) or dessert, the main course is always the beef filet. Nothing like it on Earth!!!

    Dan,
    I agree wholeheartedly about the filet at the CG but... a quick story. On our first trip, I had the pork tenderloin which was very good but, I tried my wife's filet with the tamarind sauce and immediately regretted not getting it.

    Next trip, I order the filet only it now comes with a terriyaki sauce. Not bad but no tamarind. I'm glad to hear it's changed back.

  9. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by kiki View Post
    Thanks for that list. It make my planning for our summer 2011 trip that much more harder....LOL!!!! The sundae from Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop looks absolutely AMAZING!!!!!! Definitely on our must do list.

    My pleasure.

  10. By danyoung

    Quote Originally Posted by srusso100 View Post
    Next trip, I order the filet only it now comes with a terriyaki sauce. Not bad but no tamarind. I'm glad to hear it's changed back.

    Well, I can't say for sure that it's tamarind. I do know I had it about a month ago, and it was just as mouth-watering tender, juicy and tasty as it's ever been.

  11. By mrshiny

    Yes, they are yummy! I distinctly recall though the first time we had dinner at Boma in mid-December 2001, they were labeled "Zebra Ball." So of course if you had two of them, you had a pair of, well, I noted they changed them to "domes" on our next trip.

  12. By DaLoon

    I fully agree that ice cream can and does sometimes substitute as a meal (maybe not substituted often enough). I also agree that he best of the best is the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop.

    But fine as the sundae is and thick as the malts are, if substituting for a meal you need to go all the way and have The Golden Gate (their banana split). It is in the old, traditional flavors of ice cream, chocolate, pineapple and strawberry topping, chopped almonds, whipped cream, cherry on top, fresh banana. There is The Earthquake, with more ice cream, but it is meant to share. The banana split is all for one person. Its only drawback is eating it fast enough when there is a warm breeze - not a major issue since even partially melted it is super.

  13. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by mrshiny View Post
    Yes, they are yummy! I distinctly recall though the first time we had dinner at Boma in mid-December 2001, they were labeled "Zebra Ball." So of course if you had two of them, you had a pair of, well, I noted they changed them to "domes" on our next trip.

    Is this the same Mr. Shiny I knew back in the RCH days?

  14. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by DaLoon View Post
    I fully agree that ice cream can and does sometimes substitute as a meal (maybe not substituted often enough). I also agree that he best of the best is the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop.

    But fine as the sundae is and thick as the malts are, if substituting for a meal you need to go all the way and have The Golden Gate (their banana split). It is in the old, traditional flavors of ice cream, chocolate, pineapple and strawberry topping, chopped almonds, whipped cream, cherry on top, fresh banana. There is The Earthquake, with more ice cream, but it is meant to share. The banana split is all for one person. Its only drawback is eating it fast enough when there is a warm breeze - not a major issue since even partially melted it is super.

    Thanks. Now I have to go back... soon!

  15. By madoka

    My husband and my number one WDW food craving is the school bread from the Kringla Bakeri in the Norway pavilion of Epcot. This sweet pastry is surprisingly light and fluffy, with a generous custard filling and flake coconut frosting. It is neither too sweet nor too rich but is simply delightful and reasonably priced. We have not been able to find anything resembling this unique gem anywhere else, so it is an absolute must-do (multiple times!) for us.

    The sundaes at Ghiradelli are wonderful and no doubt the best on property, but since we are from San Francisco and can go to their flagship store there any time, we don't go to the Downtown Disney location. With that said, have you tried their dark chocolate fudge sauce? I do hope it is available at the Ghiradelli Fountain in WDW. Their normal milk chocolate fudge sauce is delicious. The dark chocolate version? Divine.

  16. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by madoka View Post
    My husband and my number one WDW food craving is the school bread from the Kringla Bakeri in the Norway pavilion of Epcot. This sweet pastry is surprisingly light and fluffy, with a generous custard filling and flake coconut frosting. It is neither too sweet nor too rich but is simply delightful and reasonably priced. We have not been able to find anything resembling this unique gem anywhere else, so it is an absolute must-do (multiple times!) for us.

    The sundaes at Ghiradelli are wonderful and no doubt the best on property, but since we are from San Francisco and can go to their flagship store there any time, we don't go to the Downtown Disney location. With that said, have you tried their dark chocolate fudge sauce? I do hope it is available at the Ghiradelli Fountain in WDW. Their normal milk chocolate fudge sauce is delicious. The dark chocolate version? Divine.

    have not tried the dark chocolate fudge sauce, so there's a reason to go back (as if I needed one).

  17. By DisneyPrincessCat

    If you stay at the Polynesian Concierge level, the Concierge Lounge will have the pineapple dipping chunks with caramel sauce EVERY night. If you do stay concierge, I would recommned dipping slices of banana in the caramel sauce. It is heavenly. Pineapple and banana dipped into caramel sauce is my favorite treat at the Concierge lounge at the Polynesian Resort. YUM!

    Of course you can prepare this at home too. Buy a good jar of caramel sauce and some bananas and a pineappple to cut up (buy the canned pineapple pieces if you don't want to take the time or do not have the time to cut up the pineapple. Pour the sauce in a dish and dip away! You will feel like you are at the Poly looking across Seven Seas Lagoon at the Castle in the Magic Kingdom, just beckoning you to come over after your treat! :oP

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