My Favorite Counter Service Restaurants

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For those who are not as familiar with Walt Disney World lingo a counter service restaurant is one which serves quick meals without any sort of wait staff.  Think fast food, but generally a little bit better than your average McDonald’s.  Guests can make great use of these eateries if they are in a rush or on a budget.  Most of us couldn’t handle three table service meals a day between the amount of food, the cost, and the chunk of time they would eat up.  So I’d say it’s a fair assessment to say that just about every WDW guest will try out a counter service restaurant at some point during their stay.

My friends and I eat at counter service restaurants all of the time.  My first trip back to WDW after a long hiatus was all counter service since I was a college kid.  I also didn’t do much planning (and had very little idea what I was doing) for that trip so just winged it.  But now that I am a full fledged Disney geek and I continue to frequent quick places to grab a meal.  So I thought it might be helpful to point out some of my favorites to our readers.   There are a ton of counter service restaurants throughout Disney property, but some are definitely better than others. So what are some of my favorites?

Magic Kingdom

My favorite of the quick and convenient eateries was hard to pick.  After some pondering I settled on Peco’s Bills in Frontierland.  This restaurant is famous for their burgers so that usually what I go for although I’ve also been known to opt for the taco salad.  The best part about Peco’s Bills is the fixin’s bar.  Like a salad bar, toppings for your burger, fries, or whatever else will stand still are laid out for guests to grab.  There are hot selections like sauteed mushrooms and hot cheese as well as cold ones like lettuce and tomato.  The location is convenient centered between some of my favorites like Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Liberty Square attractions.

Honorable mention goes to Cosmic Rays for the rotisserie chicken that actually comes with a vegetable (gasp!).  However, the set up in this Tomorrowland location is a pain.  There are three bays each offering different types of food.  There is one for rotisserie chicken, ribs, and chicken sandwiches, one for burgers and hot dogs, and another for various sandwiches.  If someone in your party wants ribs and another wants a hot dog you have to go to two different windows.  I can’t imagine doing this as a family with kids.

Epcot

In Epcot I had to select a favorite from both World Showcase and Future World since it was just too hard to pick just one for the entire park.

World Showcase offers many quick service restaurants throughout its eleven pavilions.  Several of the countries have tasty and quick food for guests so it’s hard to say which is my favorite.  Boulangerie Patisserie is climbing up my list of favorites in the World Showcase.  This restaurant is tucked away inside the France Pavilion and could easily be overlooked by the guest on the run.  While most of the menu is full of sweet treats, they do offer some savory selections.  The sandwiches are quite tasty and cheap as far as Disney fare goes.  Cheese plates along with French baguettes are also available for something light so you can save room for pastry.  And there is plenty of pastry to pick from along with chocolate mousse and many other yummy delights.  The biggest negative aspect of this restaurant is that there is not a lot of seating available.

In Future World the hands down winner has to be Sunshine Seasons located on the lower level of the Land Pavilion near Soarin’ and Livin’ with the Land.  This is probably one of the easiest places to get a well balanced meal at a counter service restaurant in WDW.  Hot food is available at the Asian section as well as the grill offering options like grilled salmon, rotisserie chicken (which guests can actually see on the spit), and Mongolian ginger beef.  There is also a selection of soups and salads for healthy options.  And after you’ve had your salad head over to the dessert counter for some great choices.

Some of my friends and I like to hit Sunshine Seasons for breakfast too.  If we’ve gotten up for the opening of Epcot we’ll book it over to the Land and get fast passes for Soarin’ and then have some breakfast here.  The hot breakfast offerings are similar to those found at counter service eateries in the resorts, but it makes for a nice change of pace.  There is plenty of seating where you can hang out and enjoy a meal while you wait for your Soarin’ fast pass return time to roll around.

Animal Kingdom

Choosing my favorite quick eatery in the Animal Kingdom was easy.  Almost every time I visit I visit AK I head for the Flame Tree Barbecue.  Some of the menu’s highlights are ribs, rotisserie chicken, and a fresh fruit plate.  I usually go for the ribs since I don’t indulge in them very often elsewhere and they are really, really tasty.  Meals come with baked beans and corn bread.  Many times when we eat here we’ll split and order of the onion rings too.  While the meals here aren’t cheap they accept the Tables in Wonderland card (a discount card available to Florida residents and annual pass holders).  Seating for the restaurant is spread out over several levels with shaded shelters many of which have a view of Expedition Everest and the Discovery River (I’m a sucker for a water view).

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Picking my favorite at DHS was probably the toughest; the counter service selections at this park are not that exciting.  However, I’ve been told that the newly revamped menu at Studio Catering Company is pretty good so maybe readers should give that a go.  I’m going to steer away from the traditional counter service restaurant in the Studios and dub my favorite as the Starring Rolls Cafe.  Located at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard this eatery has some awesome sweet treats.  Take, for example, the butter finger cupcake which could probably feed three people.  My friend, Julie, and I split it once and still couldn’t finish it.  In addition to the dessert menu, there are sandwiches, bagels, and specialty coffees.  Starring Rolls does not offer any indoor seating so if you are seeking air conditioning on a hot day you may want to grab a bagel and keep on going, heading for a nice cool attraction.

Down Town Disney

At Downtown Disney I have two favorite places I like to hit after a few hours of shopping.  Earl of Sandwich is the first stop on the tour for lunch or dinner.  This eatery’s name is pretty descriptive of the kind of food offered here.  Most of the sandwiches are served hot and are really, really yummy.  During the holiday season last year they had a special sandwich made of the traditional left overs from Thanksgiving that I just loved.  I’m really hoping they bring it back during my December trip this year.  There are also several salad options for guests’ enjoyment.  There are always tempting desserts, but I’ve always managed to skip them in favorite of my other favorite location in Downtown Disney.

Ghirardelli’s is in the center of the Market Place action and has awesome ice cream.  Yup, that’s the same Ghirardelli who produces those scrumptious chocolates!  There are many sundae varieties on the menu including my favorite the Gold Rush with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and melted peanut butter.  Most of the selections are themed to Ghirardelli’s original San Francisco location.  A lot of these are huge so be prepared!  A great tip about this location is that they offer free water with small cups to help wash down your ice cream.  Also, after you order your frosty delight you can find a seat and a cast member will bring you your dessert.  Just be sure to put the provided number on your table so the wait staff can find your party.

Resorts

Captain Cooke’s at the Polynesian is pretty great as far as resort counter service restaurants go.  Here, guests can find famous items from other WDW locations conveniently available.  During the breakfast hours tonga toast, the fan favorite dish from upstairs at the Kona Cafe, is available during breakfast hours for a slightly cheaper price tag.  Later in the day, flat breads are available paired with a beer or soft drink make for a great lunch break from the Magic Kingdom.  Dole Whip from Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom is also offered here in a self service machine.  While you can’t get a dole float, but it’s a great way to get your pineapple fix if you don’t feel like heading into the parks that day.  There is both indoor and outdoor seating and food can easily be brought down to the beaches along the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Since I stay at Pop Century most often I have to give them a nod here as well.  Everything Pop is huge and handles the large crowds well.  I usually head here first thing in the morning for breakfast.  There are several options from cereal, to omelets, and special Pop waffles.  They also have nightly specials at dinner time every day of the week that always sound tasty even though I’m always in the parks at that time of day.  The ease of filling your resort mug and moving on is convenient here too.

I hope this helped steer you in the direction of some of the better counter service restaurants throughout Walt Disney World.  This post is particularly timely since the free dining promotion will start next month so many people will be looking for ways to spend their counter service allowance.  For a full guide to all of these eateries check out your copy of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

So what are your favorites?  Which ones have a I missed?  Let me know where you like to eat for a quick meal!

Next week I’ll share my plans for my upcoming WDW trip…

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Posted on July 14, 2010

26 Responses to “My Favorite Counter Service Restaurants”

  • Great picks! As a fellow fan of water views, on a nice day, I love to eat at the Yorkshire Fish Shop in the UK…it’s a great deal and the tables on the lagoon-side patio are usually fairly uncrowded around lunch time. I also love the Backlot Express in the Studios because they let you have free refills on the fountain sodas.

    • Thanks, Betsy! The fish and chips are pretty yummy, but I like the that Boulangerie Pastisrie is sort of hidden in the back of the pavilion. Thanks for the tips on the unlimited sodas at Backlot Express. Every time I’ve gone there I just get the standard chicken fingers so I didn’t think there was anything special about it. But your tip is great!

    • by Amy from KC on July 14, 2010, at 5:34 pm EDT

      I was just stopping by to add Yorskhire Fish Shop to the list. My whole family is happy here. You can always pick up something at one country and tote it down to another if your family can’t decide.

      • by Amy from KC on July 14, 2010, at 5:37 pm EDT

        Oh, and I forgot to say…

        Great article Kristen! I’m glad Flame Tree will be open again by the time we get there in December. I’m also going to have to look up that Thanksgiving sandwich at Earl of Sandwich, too. Do they put cranberry sauce on it? (That makes it scrumptious in my book!)

  • I hearily agree with the FlameTree BBQ! The food is great and the seating is heaven. I also think that the Yorkshire Fish Shop is definitely the way to go in World Showcase. Again great place to sit down and take some time from the business of the parks.

    But Hollywood Studios is a real dud. I’ve never been really happy with any of the selections there. Starring Rolls is good, but there is nothing for kids except PB&J, which my whole family hates.

    • Hi Michelle! Isn’t Flame Tree awesome? I’m so upset it’s going to be closed during my trip next month.

      I didn’t realize they didn’t have more offerings for kids at Starring Rolls since I don’t have kids yet. Thanks for letting me know about that! Some of their sandwiches could probably feel a couple kids! They’re huge!

  • Now we need someone to do one of these, but from the perspective of a vegetarian.

  • Can I use a snack credit at Ghirardellis? I’m using QSDP. Thanks

    • I did a quick search and Ghirardelli’s is not one of the restaurants listed on the Disney Dining Plan. Sorry, Scott! But if you ask me it’s worth paying cash for some of their ice cream.

      • Can you guys send a link of restaurant closings, like you mentioned the Flame Tree? How did you know it would be closed?

        Thank you a ton

        • There are a few sites who keep a running list of attractions, restaurants, etc. that are scheduled to be closed. I usually check out the weekly WDW update on mouseplanet.com. I checked for you and Flame Tree is the only restaurant on the schedule at the moment. It will be closed from August 9th thru September 19th.

  • I’m wondering where your second favorite counter service restaurant in the Animal Kingdom is, since Flame Tree will be closed on our next trip too. I’ve heard that the little Yak and Yeti place is good, but what if I’m not in the mood for Chinese food?

    • Yak and Yeti isn’t bad, bit it isn’t great. I’d stay far away from Pizzafari. Restaurantosaurus is just burgers and such, nothing exiciting. Flame Tree is far superior to all of them unfortunately! Tusker House used to be great too, but it’s now Table Service. I’d say Yak and Yeti is your best bet really.

      • I have to say, I am very disappointed that Flame Tree will be closed during our visit. Since most other options don’t sound very exciting, I am considering heading to a resort near by for dinner. Does anyone have an opinion about Pepper Market at Coronado Springs Resort?

  • by Amy From Kentucky on July 14, 2010, at 2:45 pm EDT

    I love Pecos Bill’s in the MK. I always get a chicken wrap which is massive, it may as well be a tree trunk, then I get the fries. Here’s my system. I eat about half of the wrap so I have room on my plate to spread out my fries. Then I go to the fixins bar & put hot cheese sauce & sauteed mushrooms on the fries. Continue wrap consumption, then when the cheese is cooled, I can eat the fries. I never finish everything but it’s fun to try. Favorite counter service meal ever.

  • Hello–I would have to say one of my favorite items from Pop Century is the rueben flatbread! It makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I got it more than once on our October 2008 visit.

    • Are there other flatbreads as well? I’m never at the resort for lunch/dinner so I don’t know what they have to offer. Sounds tasty though. Thanks for reading, Amy!

      • They do have a chicken mediterranean flatbread as well, which I did not try, but I am sure it is just as delicious! If you like olives, try the olive tapenade as well. If I am correct I think you can get the olive tapenade just about anytime as it is in the grab and go section. Thanks for replying, it was a great article!

  • by Caroline Baggerly on July 20, 2010, at 2:37 pm EDT

    Excellent Post, Kristen!!
    You rock!
    :)

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