The Walt Disney World Theme Park Restaurants -- Round One

It’s a new year, but of course, some things never change. We all still argue about the films of the Coen Brothers, football referees make terrible decisions, and yes, the brackets still continue.

We just wrapped up the Disney sidekicks/henchmen bracket yesterday. Congratulations to Kronk for taking the whole bracket, and just barely. And now, let’s discuss important matters. I hope you’re hungry, too. It’s time for the Walt Disney World Theme Park Restaurants bracket. Take a look.

As usual, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have before we get started.

So, I’m a little confused. I don’t see any restaurants from the Walt Disney World hotels here. Where’s Sanaa/’Ohana/Narcoossee’s/etc.?

That’s why this is the Walt Disney World Theme Park Restaurants bracket. In short, this bracket is only deciding the best restaurant or dining establishment inside the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

So…what about the resorts or Disney Springs?

It is entirely possible that the restaurants located at the hotels and Disney Springs will be part of a separate bracket.

That sounds like you’re saying they definitely will be.

I can neither confirm nor deny. (I can, however, thank Joe from Parkscope for giving me the idea.)

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So, the last bracket had a few days off. Is that going to happen again?

I have no plans to take days off for this bracket. But, uh, here’s the thing: three-plus weeks ago, I did not have plans to take a day off because armed domestic terrorists attempted a coup of the U.S. Capitol. (Isn’t that an incredibly terrifying and dystopic sentence for you to read? It sure as shit felt horrific to type!)

Right, I get it. But these brackets are a nice break in my day, when I’m otherwise reading about…y’know. Everything else.

I appreciate that. (And while you and I both know I’m typing the questions and answers out here, I do want to acknowledge that I have received remarks like this, and it means a lot to me.) There are just some days where even the tiniest balm against the horror of living in a country where a large chunk of the citizenry are so profoundly unwilling to abide by the purported principles that we’re all supposed to admire and emulate….well, it’s just hard.

Long answer short: I don’t plan on taking any breaks during this bracket. But who the hell knows.

So, here’s a more frivolous concern: I am not a theme-park person. I should just ignore this bracket, right?

Wrong. Whether or not you love the Disney theme parks, whether or not you visit Walt Disney World and remember the food or the locations, I encourage you to vote. We have had an immensely chaotic election season in America. The only place I invite and welcome chaos in polls is in these polls. I harbor no ill will against you if choose not to vote. But I encourage you to vote no matter what.

So, I missed the Disneyland restaurants bracket. What should the criteria be for me to vote for any of these selections?

Honestly, I leave that up to you. It could be a favorite dish, a memorable experience, the ambience, the background music, or all of the above. Hell, if you don’t know the restaurants well enough, you might just vote by flipping a coin or preferring one name to the other. That’s your call.

All right, let’s do a rundown of the first round and all the restaurants I would send onto the second round.

Day 1

(1) Cinderella’s Royal Table vs. (16) Lotus Blossom Cafe: One reason why I am endorsing chaos in this bracket is simple: I will be embracing chaos myself. Put it a different way: while I have visited Walt Disney World a few times before, I have not eaten at a good chunk of these restaurants. (In going through the list, I’ve eaten at less than half of these locations.) So here, for instance, I’m voting for Cindrella’s Royal Table simply for the notion of getting to eat in the castle. That castle is huge! I’d love to eat there! One day. Anyway, I vote for Cindy.

(8) Kringla Bakeri og Kafe vs. (9) Tusker House: I vote for Kringla for two reasons: I like their pastries and, unlike Tusker House, I’ve eaten there. (This will not always be a reason for me to vote for a restaurant.)

(5) Rose and Crown Pub vs. (12) Gaston’s Tavern: For ambience alone (thanks to YouTube for showing me), I will vote for the man who’s roughly the size of a barge.

(4) Spice Road Table vs. (13) PizzeRizzo: So, if you’re curious, I get the strong sense that PizzeRizzo is going far in this competition. I, however, will not be supporting in this round. I have only ever eaten at its previous iteration, when it was themed to Pizza Planet from Toy Story, but that experience was unpleasant. And Morocco’s food is generally very impressive. I stick with Spice Road Table. (I expect it to lose, though.)

Day 2

(6) Oga’s Cantina vs. (11) Docking Bay 7: Man, I haven’t even visited the versions of these restaurants in Disneyland. But I will vote for the cantina.

(3) La Hacienda de San Angel vs. (14) Sleepy Hollow Refreshments: My friends, we have arrived…at the first matchup here where I have actually eaten at both restaurants. (Listen, if I lived on the eastern half of the country, I would visit more. I would! I wish I could! Moving on.) Though I do enjoy the waffle-based concoctions at Sleepy Hollow, I will side with La Hacienda, because its waterfront location is to die for. The food was decent enough, but it’s the fact that you can see World Showcase Lagoon from your table, and all but touch it, that wins my vote.

(7) Restaurant Marrakesh vs. (10) Yak and Yeti Local Food Cafes: Another matchup where I’ve eaten at both restaurants! What a delight. Restaurant Marrakesh, I feel, is somewhat underrated (or was, since it’s been a while since I visited, if you haven’t gotten that message yet). The dinner-show performance is entertaining and the food’s delicious array of flavors is matched by the authentic feeling that within a few steps, you’ve slipped from a theme park into an entirely different country.

(2) Monsieur Paul vs. (15) Regal Eagle Smokehouse: So, this is entirely a stab-in-the-dark vote for me. I’ve visited neither of these restaurants. I will vote for the Regal Eagle entirely because this time around, I am all for the Muppet theming.

Day 3

(1) Hollywood Brown Derby vs. (16) Plaza Restaurant: It’s gotta be the Brown Derby. Classic cuisine with an unbeatable atmosphere.

(8) Columbia Harbour House vs. (9) Liberty Tree Tavern: This one’s tough for me. I’ve dined at both locations (yay!), and I greatly enjoy Liberty Square. (I can’t tell you how much more I will enjoy it once the Hall of Presidents goes down for its inevitable springtime refurbishment. If you’re not a theme-park person, you may wonder why an Audio-Animatronic attraction goes down for refurbishment mere weeks after the inauguration of a new president, and I hope that connected the dots for you.) I like the food at each location, but I will go with Columbia Harbour House for its ambience and the fact that it’s got two stories. How many other restaurants in the Magic Kingdom like this have two stories?

(5) Biergarten vs. (12) Aloha Isle: Another toughie. We’ve got two different establishments in this round that represent the Dole Whip, and frankly, I like the other one more. I’m sticking with the big buffet in Germany.

(4) Tokyo Dining vs. (13) Restaurantosaurus: Tokyo Dining takes this for me, if only for its atmosphere.

Day 4

(6) Rose and Crown Dining Room vs. (11) Yak and Yeti Restaurant: I’m going with the Yak and Yeti. I’ve dined at both of these locations, and yes, Rose and Crown has a waterfront view. But I frankly enjoyed the Yak and Yeti’s food and atmosphere (if you’re an old friend of the Substack, you know that atmosphere counts for a lot with me) more.

(3) San Angel Inn vs. (14) Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater: Talk about a battle of atmosphere. On one side, we have a restaurant next to a volcano. On the other, we have a restaurant where you eat in cars in front of a drive-in movie theater. Now, fair is fair: I haven’t eaten at either of these places in my scant few visits to the resort. So, it’s simple. I will vote for the restaurant next to a volcano, are you kidding me.

(7) Akershus Royal Banquet Hall vs. (10) Crystal Palace: Two dining establishments with character appearances are going head to head here, and I’ve eaten at neither of them. I will stick with Akershus, one of the few remnants of the Norway pavilion I’d want to revisit.

(2) Pongu Pongu vs. (15) Flame Tree BBQ: I’ve eaten at Flame Tree, but not at Pongu Pongu. But…even typing out the words Pongu Pongu is fun. (Flame Tree has decent if unremarkable food, and it’s largely outdoors.) Pongu Pongu for me.

Day 5

(1) Le Cellier vs. (16) Tony’s Town Square Restaurant: Hey, I’ve eaten at both of these places, too! And this is absolutely no contest: Le Cellier may be slightly overrated and overpriced, but it’s a solid meal and Tony’s Town Square Restaurant…is not.

(8) Coral Reef vs. (9) Garden Grill: Two excellent restaurants in Epcot, each with a fun twist. Coral Reef is situated right next to a massive aquarium, and Garden Grill is a rotating restaurant overseeing Living with the Land. As you may know if you’ve paid attention to my Twitter in the last few weeks, I am a big fan of the David Attenborough-narrated BBC documentaries (so you know I subscribed to Discovery+ literally as soon as it was available). So eating next to fish is A+ for me. (Even if I’m eating fish.) Coral Reef it is.

(5) La Cava Del Tequila vs. (12) Tamu Tamu Refreshments: Yes, Tamu Tamu is fun to type out, but tequila is tequila, so it’s La Cava for me.

(4) Chefs de France vs. (13) Hollywood and Vine: Chefs de France is a solid experience, and it gets my vote handily.

Day 6

(6) Boulangerie Patisserie vs. (11) Diamond Horseshoe: While I do enjoy the Frontierland area in both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, and the Diamond Horseshoe is no small part of that in Orlando, authentic French pastries are…authentic French pastries. They’re impossible to ignore. I vote for the French.

(3) Nomad Lounge vs. (14) Backlot Express: This time, it’s less that I’m voting for a location I’ve never visited (Nomad Lounge) than I am voting against a location that I’ve visited and wasn’t impressed with. Sorry, Backlot Express.

(7) Satu’li Canteen vs. (10) Skipper Canteen: Sometimes, all it takes is a good soundtrack. Skipper Canteen is the home of one of my favorite background-music loops. (And you can already tell I’ve eaten at neither of these locations.) This one gets my vote.

(2) Be Our Guest vs. (15) Dino Diner: Here, again, I’m voting against one place instead of voting for another. But I’d really have to be too chaotic to dismiss Be Our Guest, which gets my vote.

Day 7

(1) Tiffins vs. (16) Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano: I’ve not visited Tiffins, but I have visited Mama Melrose’s. The latter has solid enough atmosphere, in that it has the old-school Italian-style design from its tablecloths to the dim-lit lighting. But everything I read about Tiffins tells me I’d like it a lot more. Tiffins it is.

(8) Tangierine Cafe vs. (9) Sunshine Seasons: I do like the Morocco cuisine at World Showcase. But I’ve already voted for it a couple times with other options here, and Sunshine Seasons is the rare counter-service option that’s willing to offer items beyond basic theme-park fare. Sunshine Seasons for me.

(5) Ronto Roasters vs. (12) Woody’s Lunchbox: Ronto Roasters. Accept no substitutes.

(4) ‘50s Prime Time Cafe vs. (13) Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe: Atmosphere off the charts at both of these locations, to be sure, but the ‘50s Prime Time Cafe is a genuine hoot, with its throwback decor, its playfully grouchy waitstaff, and a killer meatloaf.

Day 8

(6) Takumi-Tei vs. (11) Sunshine Tree Terrace: I haven’t visited Takumi-Tei. And I have had Dole Whips. Sunshine Tree Terrace wins my vote.

(3) Teppan Edo vs. (14) Nine Dragons Restaurant: Funny thing about these two restaurants, in the Japan and China pavilions at World Showcase, respectively, is that you can find some similar kind of restaurant in the real world. The former has teppanyaki, and the latter is upscale Chinese food. You can find these options anywhere. (And I’ve eaten at both locations in Walt Disney World.) I stick with Teppan Edo, because a good show is hard to beat.

(7) Via Napoli vs. (10) Tutto Italia: Via Napoli has incredible pizza. Incredible pizza. It gets my vote.

(2) L’Artisan de Glaces vs. (15) ABC Commissary: This one’s both a vote for a place I’ve visited, and a vote against another place I’ve visited. L’Artisan de Glaces wins.

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