If you're planning your first trip to WDW, you may be expecting traditional theme park food - burgers, chicken nuggets, pizza, & fries. Sure you can grab those staples most anywhere, but there are some locations with amazingly diverse & tasty menu offerings worth passing up on one more cheeseburger. Even better are the locations with unlimited soda refills for those of us with Diet Coke addictions. It would take days to cover all the quick-service eateries in just the parks alone, so I'm sharing some pearls of wisdom of what makes some better than others! I'll split it up by theme park & Disney Springs & my thoughts on quick services at hotels I'll save for a later post.
Pinocchio's Village Haus - The best part of this location is an area just off to the left of where you order where you can watch the loading of the 'It's A Small World' ride. I love waving to the kiddos eating their flatbread lunches while we load up into the boats to embark on the happiest boat ride on Earth. If you've got to eat, you might as well have some good people watching!
Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe - This is a great option if no one can agree on what to eat & if you have older kids that can order & pay for themselves (especially if you've got the dining plan). There are three different counters to order from with everything from barbecue to grilled chicken sandwiches to all the classic burger staples. I highly recommend the 1/2 rotisserie chicken with green beans. Sure that may not sound appealing now, but it will feel like home after you get close to maxing out your grease coefficient. Those green beans are so good. I must warn you - the entertainment here is Sonny Eclipse, a very cartoony, not-scary, alien-monster type animatronic that sings in the main dining room. Sure he's stuck a bit in the nineties, but I still love the fact that I can sing along with him (in my head) the songs he's been singing on repeat for decades. This is a great stop to cool down in the AC that even has space for the littles to run around, as long as you can tolerate Sonny's music!
Columbia Harbor House - The offerings here are straight out of New England. Clam chowder. Fish sandwiches. Lobster rolls. The inside is a bit dark, but the decor makes me think I could take a chance at witnessing the Boston Tea Party if I looked out the window at the right time. But in reality you would just see the Haunted Mansion. All in all, the options here are great for a change of pace for your tastebuds.
Casey's Corner - I personally haven't eaten here (mostly because my Casey's experience at Disneyland Paris ruined it for me...think a two inch diameter footlong covered in congealed cheese), but my extended family loves the corn dog nuggets. Casey's is right on Main Street just down from the castle, so you can grab lunch or a snack and take a break in the new grassy areas around the castle hub and catch part of the parade or castle show. Or just stare at the castle. Maybe not the best option on the hottest of days (read as: no shade), but a fun lunch break none the less!
Sunshine Seasons - Located in 'The Land' pavilion in Future World, this is another great option where everyone can grab whatever they are feeling at the moment. There's usually sandwiches, salads, asian options, pork chops, & even fish tacos. Best part? Drink refills! This a great option for a meal before or after Soarin' (or if you sit out, it's a great place for a snack).
La Cantina San Angel - Honesty alert: I really could live my life without ever eating Mexican food again. But unfortunately I come from a family that could eat tacos & enchiladas twice a day, so we tend to make a pit stop to dine in the Mexico pavilion on most trips. The secret here is to come for quick service at lunch & you can sit inside the restaurant that is open for dinner as a table-service establishment. Once you order, walk around the back towards the water & you can have lunch with a view in the AC. Bam.
Katsura Grill - There are two sit-down restaurants in Japan, but I love this hidden gem that's up the stairs facing the left side of the pavilion. There are koi ponds & water gardens outside the building where you order & I love sitting outside attempting to finally master the use of chopsticks. Indoor seating is limited, but I love sitting in some of the shady spots outside because it feels so immersive surrounded by the gardens with traditional music being played.
Backlot Express - Truthfully there have been few places at HS over the years where I have genuinely enjoyed the food. Backlot Express is by far the best option for counter-service. First off - drink refills. Grilled veggie sandwiches for the vegetarians in your life. Random movie props covering every surface gives plenty of scenery to keep your eyes busy while you eat. Fair warning: avoid the spicy nuggets - they practically come doused in a vat of tabasco sauce, so much so that your mouth will feel like its melting off just like your skin is on a hot July day at WDW.
Restaurantosaurus - This is the spot for free drink refills! Sure you'll be stuck with burgers, nuggets, & fries, but sacrifices must be made.
Flame Tree BBQ - This is our go to because the food is tasty & there's shaded seating. It really is the small victories of the perfectly sized table under the most shade possible, right? Entree options range from St. Louis ribs & barbecue to a watermelon salad.
Wolfgang Puck Express at Disney Springs Marketplace - So I love love love this place, especially if you are on the dining plan (the meals cost more than most other quick-service locations so you can max out your "savings"). I love the four cheese pesto pizza & the cavatappi chicken alfredo with peas, mushrooms, & goat cheese. To me, this feels like the menu of a table-service place without the formality. Note, there are "waiters" who fill up your drinks and bring out your food, so expect to leave a small tip. We left our mark here a few years ago - when you walk in the main door to get in line to order you can see into the larger room of the main seating area. If you look closely, you'll notice a light shade missing over a table to the back left. The tables had been rearranged one day when we were there, and my 6 foot 5 better half stood up and shattered the lampshade with his head. Talk about awkward & a headache, but we laugh about it now. In February we noticed it still hadn't been replaced, so it's like a part of us is still there. You're welcome Wolfgang!
Earl of Sandwich - A great stop for unique sandwiches. My other half loves the Holiday Turkey sandwich (turkey, cornbread stuffing, turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, & mayo) - and yes you can get it year round. I always always get the Hawaiian BBQ (chicken, ham, swiss, pineapple, & barbecue sauce). This is a chain and they tend to offer deals to their "club" members. Lsat trip I think they had a BOGO offer via a email coupon, so sign up on their website if you want a potential deal (though these always change, so no promises)!