Disney Dining: Ultimate Smackdown!

by on April 6, 2012 19 Comments

Filed under: Dining

Making Walt Disney World Dining reservations is like a chess match. Except there’s no board and game pieces, and dining reservations are much more high-stakes because the fate of your stomach depends upon them. Actually, now that I think about it, making advance dining reservations is nothing like chess. It’s more like an episode of WWE Smackdown, except without the farcical nonsense.

Two competitors, both jockeying to be the champion (i.e. the restaurant at which you ultimately dine) enter the ring, and only one may exit. At least this is the case for us. On an average trip, we want to eat at approximately 24 table service restaurants. Unfortunately, we can actually only eat at a few. If you’re anything like us, you face the same dilemma: so many excellent Walt Disney World dining options, but so little time.

To that end, I’m here to help you knock-out and eliminate some similar dining options that you may be considering. While I believe that every restaurant on this list is pretty good, 10 enter the ring, but only 5 may exit. NO HOLDS BARRED!

'Ohana (menu) v. Kona Cafe (menu) – Just to show that I’m serious, I’m starting out with quite possibly the biggest showdown. This is the main event, featuring two great restaurants. In my Disney dining reviews, both restaurants scored a 9/10. With these two heavyweights squaring off in the ring, things are about to get real. REALLY real. If you’re staying at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, I’d recommend giving both a try. If you’re not, and are only planning on making one stop at the Polynesian, I’m going to give the edge to ‘Ohana. ‘Ohana steals the win here almost entirely because of its ambiance, as I think the food is actually slightly better at Kona Cafe. However, Kona Cafe’s open-air setting doesn’t offer much in the way of theming, and actually exposes patrons (ironically) to the hordes of loitering guests waiting for their reservations at ‘Ohana. By contrast, ‘Ohana offers a very relaxed tropical setting that is enriched by storytellers and fun interactions for kids. As childless adults, my wife and I would normally prefer a restaurant with a more restrained atmosphere, but ‘Ohana just exudes fun and this is really captivating. I can’t say I’d recommend it as a nice romantic date-night meal, but it definitely feels like a family venue in the Polynesian should, and when we’ve visited, all guests have really gotten into the spirit. It’s tough to see one of my favorite Walt Disney World restaurants eliminated right from the get-go, but in a match-up between ‘Ohana and Kona Cafe, I’ll take ‘Ohana!

Les Chefs de France (menu) v. Bistro de Paris (menu) – By contrast, this challenge isn’t difficult at all. At least, not for me. Bistro de Paris is one of my new favorite restaurants in Walt Disney World, offering an incredibly romantic ambiance and a surprisingly affordable menu given that ambiance, its location, and “Signature” status. On our last visit to Chefs de France, I was underwhelmed. The cheeses and the entrees we had were unimpressive, and the disinterested attitude of the servers was disappointing. Heck, I even hear that the place is infested with rodents! If you’re paying out of pocket, choosing Bistro de Paris is a no-brainer for me. Especially if you’re not taking kids. That said, if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, it becomes a much closer call. Chefs de France is the #2 restaurant on my objective rankings of table service restaurants to maximize your value on the Disney Dining Plan (behind only Tutto Italia) and Bistro de Paris is one of the least-expensive 2-credit Signature restaurants (which are also mostly bad values on the standard Disney Dining Plan–making this a doubly bad standard Disney Dining Plan option). If I were on the Disney Dining Plan and I had to choose between using 1 credit at Chefs de France or 2 credits at Bistro de Paris, I’d choose neither. I’d go to Tutto Italia, or Le Cellier for lunch. If that cop-out weren’t an option, I’d probably give Chefs de France another chance, as I have heard some good things about it, and it would be cool to see that rodent-chef they have.

Narcoossee’s (menu) v. Citricos (menu) – The Grand Floridian is Walt Disney World’s best restaurant for table service dining, a crown it earns thanks to both of these contenders. In the historic “Battle of the Grand Floridian,” several restaurants entered, and only one was left standing.  Victoria & Albert’s. Unfortunately, it’s not fair to compare Victoria & Albert’s to any other dining options at Walt Disney World, so we’re going with the two Signature restaurants at the Grand Floridian instead. Both offer great service and menus, but Narcoosee’s gets the nod. I think its cuisine is a bit better, it’s a better value for people on the dining plan, and I prefer the more isolated ambiance of Narcoossee’s. On top of that, window tables at Narcoossee’s offer great views of Wishes!, so it gets added points for that.

Jiko (menu) v. Sanaa (menu) – The smackdown of Jiko and Sanaa is a modern-day David and Goliath story. Jiko is frequently considered one of the best restaurants at Walt Disney World (it’s one of my top five restaurants) and it has earned many accolades since it opened its doors. By contrast, Sanaa has been overlooked since it opened, with a location that’s way out of the way. It frequently offers deep Cast Member discounts just to fill tables, and we’ve eaten lunch here on a couple of occasions when almost every table around us was empty. Yet, David beats Goliath. Sanaa is arguably the most underrated restaurant in Walt Disney World. It offers a complex menu with interesting tastes that will please a wide range of  tastes. It offers great views into the savanna. It’s a 1-credit restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan, and it offers some really expensive meals (so you can maximize your value if you want) and some really inexpensive options (so you can save money if paying out of pocket). Most importantly, the food is wonderful at Sanaa. On the other hand, Jiko is an expensive 2-credit Signature restaurant, but the food is absolutely amazing. If money or Disney Dining Plan credits are no issue, go with Jiko. I’d recommend that everyone else give Sanaa a chance instead. It’s the feel-good winner!

Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (menu) v. 50’s Prime Time Cafe (menu) – The two restaurants with the zaniest themes and backstories at Walt Disney World are Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater and 50’s Prime Time Cafe. Growing up, we dined at 50’s Prime Time Cafe every year because my mom loved the atmosphere so much. I still love the atmosphere and the schtick. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater doesn’t have the same type of crazy servers, but the setting alone is pretty zany. Both are incredibly impressive, and are the epitome of Disney dining theming to me. Considering ambiance a draw, this one comes down to menu. Given the amount of animosity online towards Sci-Fi Dine-In, my decision here is likely to enrage 99% of those reading, but I’m giving the edge to Sci-Fi Dine-In. Sci-Fi Dine-In received a new menu around September 2011, and that new menu has kicked things up a notch (so before you go decrying my decision, when was the last time you dined at Sci-Fi Dine-In? If the answer is “before September 2011,” your opinion is a bit stale…). 50’s Prime Time has great milk shakes and Mom’s Sampler, but I have to give a slight edge to the new menu at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. Since these restaurants are the epitome of Disney theming and show in dining, I would highly recommend visiting both, but I can’t in good conscience recommend visiting the Studios on two separate days of your trip!

There you have them, the 5 champions of this Disney Dining Battle Royale! While these recommendations aren’t one size fits all (as explained above), I really think you can’t go wrong with any of the winners here (or most of the losers, for that matter).

What do you think of my winners and losers? What picks did I get wrong? Let us know your “ultimate champions” in the comments!

Posted on April 6, 2012

19 Responses to “Disney Dining: Ultimate Smackdown!”

  • I always thought Sanaa was a 2 credit meal. Thanks for pointing out that it’s only one! *Goes to make an ADR while drooling*

  • Crystal Palace VS. Chef Mickeys
    1900 Park Fare VS. Cinderella’s Royal Table
    Yachtsman Steakhouse VS. Le Cellier
    Rose & Crown VS. Raglan Road

    So many great similar matchups you can do & so much great food to do it with. Bravo to your choices & here’s to finally getting to try Jiko & Kona Cafe later this year.

    • For this one, I tried to stick with locations that were near one another (same park or resort), but the possibilities and matchup combinations are endless!

  • Wow. What an interesting idea… Disney dining showdowns… I wonder where you got that idea… lol!

    • It’s definitely an interest topic, but certainly nothing unique, you’re right. I’ve seen people discussing it on forums for years (and obviously on your Twitter account).

  • Tom,

    Totally agree with you that Sci-Fi gets a bad rap. I’m not sure what people are expecting from it. I bought a burger and fries there that was perfectly prepared and exactly what I was expecting for a restaurant with a drive-in theme. Our waiter was great too. If I had any criticism it would be that they need to make the film loops longer.

    We’re trying both Bistro de Paris and Narcoossee’s for the first time on our next trip(three weeks from tomorrow). Can’t wait!

  • Kona, for definite! Who needs theming? You’re in the Polynesian! And as a total carnivore, I’d rather a juicy pork chop than the slightly dry offerings at ‘Ohana.

  • I’m going to Disney in June and am LOVING your blog for restaurant tips. We made reservations at both the Sci-Fi Dine In and 50s Cafe and can’t wait to try both! The themes/decor combined with the menu is what guaranteed these should be on our go to list.

  • We are trying to decide between ‘Ohana and Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian. We have plenty of dining credits…but aren’t sure which meal would be more fun for a 7 year old girl who is a serious carnivore. Recommendation between the two? I have been searching reviews from both, but was haven’t found any that compare the two directly.


    • To Sasha – I’ve just recently had breakfast at ‘Ohana and did the Spirit of Aloha a couple years ago.

      ‘Ohana is an interactive experience for breakfast with characters coming to your table. For dinner they have a lot of kid-friendly activities like coconut races (but no characters). And at dinner there a lot of meat for your little carnivore!

      I can’t think of anyone who goes to the luau for the food. But the show is entertaining with different Polynesian dances, music, and even a fire twirler at the end.

      My pick for a 7 year old would be ‘Ohana unless you knew your seat at the luau would be right at the stage so you’d feel like you were in the middle of the show.

      Hope that helps!

  • by Laurel Stewart on April 8, 2012, at 10:41 pm EST

    Sci-Fi v. 50s Prime Time? Are you saying death is not an option?

  • I was at the Sci-Fi and 50’s Prime Time last month and I think you are crazy for picking the Sci-Fi based on food. But that’s ok, more of Mom’s sampler for me.

  • Yeah that is truly grotesque and interesting to read your dwI expectation you never quit! This is one of the unexceeded blogs Ive ever translate.

    Gourmet Secrets

  • by Aliceinwonderla on April 19, 2012, at 9:42 am EST

    So glad you are praising Sanaa! This is my family’s new favorite. Theming is fantastic and authentic, view is peaceful and unique, menu varied, and food delicious. Service has been our best yet at WDW. Thanks for the tips on choosing between similar restaurants.

  • We found out recently that Citricos would be closed for the summer, and we were rebooked to Narcoosees. I suppose this is a good thing (according to this review), but seafood is not our favorite, and 1900 Park Fare sounds like a zoo.

  • When my family gets to visit Disney World, we try to make 75% of our reservations at restaurants we’ve never been to before. The last trip, we stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge so definitely had to try Boma and Jiko. In a couple of weeks, we’re at the Wilderness Lodge, so it’s Artist Point and Whispering Canyon Cafe for us.

    That said, out of all the places I’ve eaten at Disney, these are my favorites:

    Lunch at Tusker House: the variety of good quality – and interesting – food available is wonderful.
    Jiko: great atmosphere, very good food
    Biergarden: absolutely fun, and a great buffet to boot.

    And my favorite:

    San Angel Inn -or- Hacienda: Our family loves eating “in” Mexico, and both of these restaurants have been top notch.

  • From your smackdown list I’d choose: Kona Cafe, Chefs de France (did that close though? Which one is Monsieur Paul?), Citricos (I don’t like seafood), Sci-Fi Dine-In (better milkshakes I swear!). Sanaa and Jiko’s was a close, close call, but I went Jiko’s just because the flavors at Sanaa were a little underwhelming. But Jiko’s vs. Sanaa vs. Boma’s, Boma’s would always win for me!

    I think the most underrated restaurant on property is The Wave.