Jiko: Disney's Animal Kingdom
This restaurant is a warm and visually stunning spot tucked into the lowest level of Disney's Animal Kingdom Resort. Jiko specializes in African cooking, spices, and wines. It's creative, surprising, and true to many of the traditional flavors of Africa. For starters, try the Maize Tamales, a mixture of decadent truffle oil, corn pudding, and mild spices wrapped in a corn husk ($7.25). The sauce atop my entrée, a berbere-braised lamb shank, took me right back to the first time I had this dish in the Sahara desert. The cuisine here will make you forget you're in the middle of Mickey country. (407) 939-3463. Entrées: $19-$33.
Liberty Tree Tavern: Magic Kingdom
Cinderella's (in the castle) may be the prime place to see a Disney character, but Liberty Tree Tavern at lunch is the best spot in the Magic Kingdom for a bit of calm. In the heart of Liberty Square, you'll find a building straight out of Williamsburg. But don't be taken aback by ye ole atmosphere. Liberty Tree Tavern boasts a fresh, healthful menu and highly efficient waitstaff. Our server, Mark, deftly suggested I try the Colony Salad, a dish that came packed with rotisserie chicken, Washington apples, sweet pecans, and apple wood-smoked Cheddar ($12). I tried many other items on the menu--none disappointed--but nothing measured up to the dessert selections. Mark pushed the butter-grilled pound cake served with warm pecan-caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream ($4.29) and the caramel-apple tart, a perfectly prepared New England classic ($4.29). I left thinking Mark was a genius. (407) 939-3463. Entrées: $11-$14.99.
The Hollywood Brown Derby: Disney-MGM Studios
Though the West Coast original no longer graces Hollywood and Vine, its legacy lives on in meticulously reproduced detail at Disney-MGM Studios. The decor itself is a treat--burnished wood, beamed ceilings, Gothic-style sconces, and heavy curtains recall the golden age of Hollywood. The food doesn't disappoint either--their Cobb salad and grapefruit cake, both invented at the original Brown Derby, remain the best I've ever tasted. But not all the food here is retro. For a 21st-century twist on the Cobb, order the powerful Tuna Cobb, served on edible rice paper with dark, salty udon noodles and a sharp wasabi vinaigrette that will clear your sinuses (in a good way). (407) 939-3463. Lunch entrées: $13-$20; dinner entrées: $16.99-$27.99.
Reserve Your Spot
Reservations at all of these restaurants may be made up to 90 days in advance by calling (407) 939-3463 ( WDW-DINE). From within the park, touch 55 on any hotel lobby phone. We also found that walk-up patrons are sometimes taken after a minimal wait, even during peak times.
Dining at Walt Disney World morphed from fair food to flair food during the past decade. Resort dining at the California Grill (atop the Contemporary Resort) and Victoria & Albert's (in the Grand Floridian) began this trend, and it has quickly spread to every corner of the property. Epcot serves up some of the best food in the park, and Chefs de France makes no exception to that rule. The reasonable prices, airy setting, and attentive French staff accompany a delightful lunch menu. A three-course meal of a croque monsieur (grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich), French onion soup topped with Gruyère, and a finisher of sweet crème brûlée costs just $15. More creative menu options spring from the kitchens of some of France's most notable chefs. Don't miss the yellowfin tuna served on a tricolored orzo with a succulent shrimp-and-calamari salad ($17). (407) 939-3463. Lunch entrées: $10-$16.
Disney Dining Tips
"Dining at Disney: The Best Food in the Park" is from the November 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.