May 022012

The Disney World resort complex holds over 100 choices for restaurants. While we very much enjoy the table dining options, our family eats a lot of meals at the counter service restaurants.

For those of you who do not know, the counter service restaurants at Disney World are the equivalent of fast food (wikipedia) options. Luckily, in our experience we have found the quality of the Disney World counter service restaurants to be vastly superior to everyday fast food fare.

Today we are listing our five favorite counter service restaurants at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. This is a subjective list which takes into account quality of food, price and value, menu options, and of course theme.

In all cases, we advocate eating during non-peak hours to avoid overcrowded restaurants. For instance instead of eating lunch between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm when everyone else is pushing their way into the restaurants, shoot for a quick bite between 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm. This time period is also a great time to get out of the hot afternoon sun and slow down for a bit.

The Magic Kingdom at Disney World holds some of our favorite counter service restaurants on the resort complex. There are plenty of options scattered across the theme park. This allows you to base where you eat on any given day on the types of food you prefer, and what park land you are touring.

Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Cafe and Inn

Pecos Bill Inn and Cafe

Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn by Samantha Decker

Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Cafe and Inn is located in Frontierland next to the Country Bear Jamboree and Splash Mountain.

Popular items on the menu include barbeque pork sandwiches, angus cheeseburgers, chicken wraps, and taco salads.

You will find the usual fast food sides like french fries and onion rings, but you might want to take a shot at the hot ground beef chili.

Interesting desert items include slices of carrot cake, and a tasty strawberry yogurt treat.

The restaurant is nicely themed in an old west manner, and includes perhaps the best toppings bar in all of Walt Disney World. We spend a lot of time in Frontierland because of Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Cafe is very conveniently located here. You can sit indoors and cool off. Or you can sit outside and watch people plummeting down the final drop of Splash Mountain. It’s a lot of fun!

 Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe

Second only to the incredible toppings bar at Pecos Bill is Cosmic Ray’s toppings bar. While we prefer the food quality of Pecos Bill, Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe is a quality choice with lots of options. The restaurant is conveniently located near the front of Tomorrowland, not far from Main Street USA and very close to the Tomorrowland Speedway.

Tomorrowland Restaurants at Night

Cosmic Ray’s at Night by Jeff Krause

There are bays which divide poultry lovers from burger lovers. If you want a better choice than burgers and grilled chicken, you can opt for the impressive half rotisserie chicken dinner which includes seasonal veggies and mashed potatoes.

I’m a big fan of the angus and veggie burgers. There are also veggie sandwiches and kosher meal options, as well as the typical chicken nuggets and hot dogs fare for the kids.

One of the biggest draws is the huge main room which includes a singing alien named Sonny Eclipse. Personally I have always referred to him as “the singing dinosaur,” because to my eye he looks more like a dinosaur than an alien. Not that I have seen either up close. Sonny performs a campy Vegas style set of songs which cover menu items, and even poke fun at the House of Mouse.

Two caveats. Our advice about eating during off-peak hours especially applies to Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. The restaurant can turn into a madhouse during lunch and dinner. While the divided bays are probably necessary for the rapid flow of queue lines, it can get awfully confusing. If you want poultry, but your kids want burgers, you will be standing in line twice to fill orders.

Columbia Harbour House

The Liberty Square located Columbia Harbour House is largely considered one of the most improved counter service options in the Magic Kingdom. If you haven’t eaten there in a while, you might want to give the menu a gander.

Columbia Harbour House

Columbia Harbour House by George Thomas

There are plenty of new food items, and guests regularly comment that the breaded seafood items are much higher in seafood content than breaded content, unlike the typical fast food restaurant.

There are plenty of healthy options to be had at Columbia Harbour House, including a Broccoli pepper corn salad, a tuna and lettuce sandwich served on multi-grain bread, grilled salmon, and lobster rolls. If you like seafood, Columbia House is probably the best counter service option going at Magic Kingdom.

The downstairs can get crowded during peak hours. However there is additional seating upstairs which many people miss. This provides for a nice getaway from the hustle of the parks.

Pinocchio Village Haus

I struggled for a long time over whether Pinocchio Village Haus deserved top 5 status among Magic Kingdom

Pinocchio Village Haus

Pinocchio Village Haus by Jeff Krause

counter service dining options. In the end, I decided that although the menu items were not particularly special, the theme and location helped pull this old favorite into our top 5.

If you spend a lot of time in Fantasyland (an especially strong bet if you tour with young children), you will love the location of Pinocchio Village Haus. It is right in the middle of the action, next to It’s a Small World.

One of the big draws for guests is that a few of the corner tables overlook a window which looks in on Small World. Do you ever wave to people overhead when you are starting your boat ride on Small World? Those are the folks partaking in Pinocchio Village Haus.

Healthy options include Caesar and Mediterranean salads, as well as a Chicken Parmesan served with pasta. There is also a tasty strawberry shortcake desert, and choice of vanilla and chocolate milk shakes.

Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant

Located in Tomorrowland not far from Cosmic Ray’s is the Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant. For years this was one of our favorite counter service restaurants because of the varied food choices, its excellent location, and its huge area of sheltered outdoor seating.

Tomorrowland Terrace

Tomorrowland Terrace by Christian Lambert

When I travel all the way from cool upstate New York to the sun and heat of Disney World Florida, I like to stay outside and enjoy the nice weather. Eating outside with a roof over your head gives you a break from the sun beating down on you, but also allows you to stay in the fresh air.

The menu items have changed quite a bit over the years. And although you won’t find anything unusual or special on the menu, what the Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant serves, it tends to prepare well. Lines seem to move faster here than in many other choices in the Magic Kingdom.

You can get lobster rolls and citrus shrimp salads. There is also Pasta Alfredo and Primavera options which allow the addition of chicken and shrimp respectively. A beef and blue cheese salad is topped with a tasty Balsamic vinaigrette. Interesting desert and side dish options include yogurt and carrot cake.

So these are our favorite five counter service options for the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. If you will be touring Epcot Center, check out our five favorite Epcot counter service restaurants.

What are some of your favorite counter service options and menu items?

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  6 Responses to “Top 5 Magic Kingdom Counter Service Restaurants”

  1. Thanks for these suggestions, and they are good ones, but even these places can be expensive for a family of four or five. I don’t fuss about lodging expenses, because a family can always stay off ground, or stay in one of the economical resorts, but a family must eat, and you can carry only so much with you into the parks. Besides, what is a trip to Disney without having one of the Mickey head ice cream bars?

    I agree with your other article that Disney is pricing itself away from the average family, and food is one area that I feel concerned about, as well as the park admissions.

    • Thank you Carol Jean.

      We regularly visit Knoebels Grove in central Pennsylvania during the summer. The food is top notch (it wins many awards for best food in U.S. amusement parks), and it a good 35 to 50 percent cheaper than Disney. Disney prices items based on what people are willing to pay, rather than on merit. Unfortunately prices will continue to rise as long as there are enough people still willing to pay.

  2. We really like Cosmic Rays. The chicken/ribs are a real deal on the meal plan.

  3. We love Pecos Bills. For some reason we usually end up in adventureland or frontierland around lunch and we really like what we get for our money.

    • I agree Angela. It’s one of the better values among counter service at Magic Kingdom. I enjoy sitting outside and being able to watch Splash Mountain while I eat at Pecos Bills.

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