With all the quick service options throughout the WDW parks and resorts, it’s the ones that have irresistible theming, healthy menu options, or can be counted on in a pinch that will entice us to give it a try and will sometimes keep us coming back year after year. Highlights this year included the newly opened Satu’li Canteen in Animal Kingdom’s Pandora and the always entertaining Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café. NOTE: Although the Epcot Food and Wine Festival was in play during our visit, the booths—and their offerings—change annually, and therefore are not included in this write-up. Let’s start with the Boardwalk…

Quick-Service Pizza Window (Boardwalk)

Image Source: Disney Photo

Pizza Window (Boardwalk)

After an indulgently rich and filling late lunch at Le Chefs de France in Epcot’s France Pavillion, followed by extra Magic Hours that took us well into the night, dinner had been skipped in favor of covering more ground and enjoying Epcot at night which we’d never gotten to do. By time we  got back to our hotel, the Boardwalk Inn, we realized we were hungry and the options were few given the late hour. Still amped from a long, fun, active day, we opted for the convenient simplicity of Pizza Window over the late-night room service menu limited to wings, nachos, a turkey sandwich, Caesar salad, or a whole pizza.

It was a beautiful night on the Boardwalk, and enjoying a couple slices while watching the colorful lights shimmering on Crescent Lake ended up being an unexpectedly romantic meal.

We each ordered the Pepperoni Pizza Combo (there’s also a Cheese Pizza Combo and a Signature Pizza Combo with Italian sausage, onions, peppers, and balsamic glaze), which comes with two slices of thin-crust pepperoni pizza and a choice of salad or chips. We went with the salad option, which was surprisingly plentiful for a side, as in, it wasn’t just shredded iceberg lettuce with a token underripe tomato, but in fact, a variety of crisp mixed greens with fresh, flavorful plum tomatoes and grated carrot.

For $21 we were sated and happy. For under $24 you can get a whole pizza (Cheese, Pepperoni or Signature); and for less than $12, you can get a Kale Chicken or Caesar Salad. If you’re staying at a nearby property, you can bring your order back to your room and call it Room Service DIY.

Boardwalk Bakery (Boardwalk)

Between the Pizza Window and the Arcade you’ll find the Boardwalk Bakery. Open from 6:30am to 11:00pm, the Bakery can come through when timing is tight, you’re on the move, and you just wanna grab something and go. Everything is made fresh on the premises, including the meatballs in the sub sandwich, and everything we had tasted as good as it looked.

Admittedly, we partook only in the muffins, but they were wonnnnnnderrulllll.

Quick-Service at Sunshine Seasons (The Land, Epcot)

Image Source: Disney Photo

Sunshine Seasons (The Land, Epcot)

Our plan was to have breakfast at Boardwalk Bakery looking out on the ducks, the boats and the goings on along the Boardwalk before taking a bucolic stroll over to Epcot. Unfortunately the weather had turned and a cold wind was blowing accross the lake. An outdoor breakfast had lost all charm and the quick-service breakfast window was starting to narrow if we wanted eggs over pastry—and we very much did.

We power-walked from the Boardwalk to the far end of Epcot, to The Land, where our tried and true, never had anything we didn’t like, quick-service go-to gem, Sunshine Seasons, would be serving breakfast until 11:00. Two Breakfast Platters later, we’d had two of the best breakfasts we’d ever had on the Epcot side of WDW. The scrambled eggs were real scrambled eggs: perfectly cooked, fluffy and just a little creamy—nothing like what we might have expected from a food-court counter at the end of the breakfast service. The two link sausages were more to our liking than those at The Grand Café, and the two strips of bacon weren’t too fatty or too crispy. The breakfast potatoes were nicely seasoned and cooked and even had the addition of green peppers, and the Cinnamon French Toast Pudding was more interesting than toast.

Satisfying, filling, tasty, and consistent (for we did it twice!), and all in all a very appreciated breakfast option when you’re on the go but prefer an indoor setting. (And then you can board Living with the Land and officially start your day at Epcot!)

Sunshine Seasons is a good source for hot sauce packets, which are actually better than the standard Tobasco offering at most WDW sit-downs.

Quick-Service at Tangerine Café (Morocco Pavillion, Epcot)Tangerine Café (Morocco Pavillion, Epcot)

When we’re in Epcot, we have a hard time resisting the Morocco Pavillion’s Tangierine Café, even when the day’s plan doesn’t include the World Showcase. Before Tangierine, we wouldn’t have imagined going out of our way for falafel, hummus and pita, but ever since our first experience we’ve been hooked. What started as a result of dietary restrictions became an all out, year-round craving for the perfect meal of shaved Moroccan meats with a robust assortment of vegetarian sides that make for the perfect healthy solution to a calorie burning day at the park.

We’ll usually share a Chicken & Lamb Combo Shawarma Platter, which consists of shaved, slow-roasted meats topped with tzatziki (a yogurt-based sauce) and marinated onions, and is accompanied by hummus, tabouleh, couscous and pita; and the Falafel Wrap, which comes with pita, couscous and a lentil salad. This winds up being a very filling and satisfying meal without leaving us feeling heavy and sloggy. There’s a lot of texture and zing to these dishes that incorporate a lot of fresh herbs, like mint, parsley and cilantro, which are brightened by the tang of lemon juice and cooled by the lightly creamy and zesty yogurt sauce. All the elements combine beautifully for an energizing experience that’s a lot of fun to eat.

And if you’ve never had a falafel that didn’t taste like a 20-year-old foam antenna ball, Tangierine Café represents.

Our biggest complaint is how big a role weather plays in the pleasantness—or not—of the available seating: even the limited number of indoor tables are somewhat exposed to the elements, which can be a huge detractor on really hot, rainy or windy days. We’ve encountered them all—and sometimes all at once—and yet that’s how much we love the food that we still managed to have our meal and walk away happy.

Our minor complaint is that the quality of the side dishes can be inconsistent depending on whether the Moroccan dignitaries are visiting or the castmembers are spread too thin between the Food & Wine booth and the Café. Still, that doesn’t diminish our appetite for this quick-serve Mecca in Morocco.

Harambe Marketplace (Africa, Animal Kingdom)

Quick-Service at Harambe Marketplace (Africa, Animal Kingdom)Flavor and quality go hand-in-hand at Harambe Marketplace, where healthy ingredients come together with fun and indulgent fare given an African flare:

The Beef and Pork Sausage fried in Curried Corn Batter is a tasty twist on a corn dog, and the African Spice-rubbed Ribs with a Barbecue Glaze is a rich, succulent and filling, fall-off the bone serving of ribs. The Tikka Masala Chicken (marinated chicken in a spiced curry sauce) also impressed for being bold with the flavor and also for being a satisfying serving with good quality chicken cooked that was both buttery and moist. It was accompanied by basmati rice, which was plentiful and fluffy; and black-eyed pea salad and Greek flatbread.

We’d purposely gotten the three dishes to share, and we enjoyed all three dishes equally. Our only complaint is the ubiquity of the Green Papaya Slaw and Black-Eyed Pea Salad that literally comes with every single dish! While it’s a really good accompaniment for all those dishes, as it brings a crisp, bright and refreshing balance to the rich and flavorful meats and sauces it’s paired with, at the same time, we had three of them! So, what started out as an element we really enjoyed and appreciated became tiresome by the end and we so wished there had been a choice of side—like the globe tomato,broccoli and red onion accompaniment from a year ago—or the ability to opt-out and pay a little less. We also wished the watermelon lemonade either came in a large-sized cup or was refillable, as it was absolutely delicious, but not nearly enough to accommodate our meal.

We love sitting at Harambe Marketplace. To us, it’s romantic because it feels so far removed from the familiar and so believable as an African food court. But it’s also the atmosphere itself: the African music, performed live by African musicians in “authentic” garb and playing uniquely African instruments, is fun and captivating; and every table presents a unique experience and a unique view.

Harambe Marketplace is always an adventure and it’s one of our favorite places to spread out, relax and regroup.

Avoid the long wait times caused by people clogging the line with dining-plan questions and take advantage of the online ordering system.
Quick-Service at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café (Tomorrowland, Magic Kingdom)Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café (Tomorrowland, Magic Kingdom)

It was a rainy Saturday night, but that didn’t stop us from taking advantage of Magic Hours in the Magic Kingdom. We had no plans for dinner, which is what we were discussing as we took the People Mover around Tomorrowland, taking in the colorful lights at night and their lively reflections in the rain.

By time we were disembarking we knew where we were going: Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café, where Sonny Eclipse is always “on,” and there’s more to the menu than burgers and fries. We always try to catch some of Sonny’s act when we’re in town, but we’re usually just blowing through, and timing is everything if you want a table near the stage.

On this particular rainy Saturday night, the Starlight Café was mostly empty and we chose a table in the front row just left of center where we thoroughly enjoyed our 1/2 Rotisserie Chicken served with mashed potatoes and green beans and the clever songstylings and one-of-a-kind humor of Sonny Eclipse.

If you’ve never seen Sonny Eclipse perform, you’re in for a treat. If you have, it’s still a treat. Sonny’s still got it, and the food’s pretty darn good, too—including the healthy options, which are always on the menu.

Quick-Service at Nomad Lounge (Discovery Island, Animal Kingdom)Nomad Lounge (Discovery Island, Animal Kingdom)

On a past visit we enjoyed the wraparound outdoor seating, where we could really spread our and relax after a rigorous day of jungle trekking and safari-ing. On this visit, a cold spell drove us inside, but resentfully, as heat lamps would have kept the outdoors in play.

It’s not that the indoor part of the lounge isn’t nice or inviting, with its oversized cane and carved-wood furnishings and long curved bar, but it feels less imagined and immersive than we expect from a Disney space and a lot like a lounge in the middle of a museum exhibit about travel.

However, while the experience wasn’t transformative, the cast member and cocktail experience rated an A+—both times: The first time, our drink ambassador advised Amy to specify one squirt of the sweet syrup integral to the cocktail—instead of the four normally used—in order to reduce the overall sweetness factor by 75%, which made all the difference and made it possible for Amy to enjoy a really fun drink without the sweetness overload. On this second visit, our conscientious server brought our dry Hendricks martinis without olive or twist of citrus, because he didn’t remember if he’d asked what garnish we wanted and he didn’t want to risk ruining our drinks with the wrong one. He chose perfectly and made the correct decision. We had actually requested no garnish (in lieu of a cucumber slice), and we left respecting the Nomad Lounge yet again, even though it doesn’t live up to the Disney’s best theming efforts.

Quick-Service at Satu'li Canteen (Pandora, Animal Kingdom)Satu’li Canteen (Pandora, Animal Kingdom)

Based on the menu at Satu’li, it’s easy to see why the Na’vi are so lithe and fit: everything is fresh and freshly made, and all the selections are balanced to a healthy diet whether you’re carnivore, vegetarian, or vegan. In fact, the base of every Satu’li bowl is vegan: Quinoa and Vegetable Salad, Red and Sweet Potato Hash, Mixed Whole Grain and Rice, and Romaine and Kale Salad. Looking at the pictures on the menu out front, we thought everything looked good—but… how often do pictures of food look better than the actual food—even at Disney? We decided to do a little recon and take a closer look…

As we strolled to the entrance through the expansive outdoor seating area, we were impressed to see that all the food we were passing looked exactly like the appetizing offerings on the menu. And then, upon entering, we see the chef, working in a glass enclosure for all to see, as he grills everything fresh to order. We decided to change our plans in favor of going back to Satu’li.

In an effort to try a few things, Mark went with the Slow-Roasted Sliced Grilled Beef Bowl, with brown rice and whole grain and a green onion chimichuri sauce; and Amy had the Sustainable Fish Bowl with cod, quinoa and greens (kale, romaine) and chimichuri sauce. Both were topped with a vegetable slaw and boba. We also got the Steamed Vegetable Curry Bao, which was the only “eh” part of the meal, as there was more bao than curry, and the curry was a little less curry and a little more bland. But the bowls were as good as they looked: the beef was rare and tender and the fish was perfectly cooked with nicely seasoned breading. And not only that, but the environment was completely immerse and believable within its theming. Indoors or out, Satu’li is a place worth spending time in, and even more worth eating at.

Columbia Harbour House (Liberty Square, Magic Kingdom)

Quick-Service at Columbia Harbour House (Liberty Square, Magic Kingdom)
A perennial favorite, this riverfront gem has some real standout fare for the seafarer to the healthy eater. Although peak meal hours are dauntingly crowded, Columbia Harbour House is run like a tight ship and there’s plenty of seating upstairs and down throughout this charmingly themed nautical tavern. Dedicated restrooms on both floors make this quick-serve establishment feel more like full-serve restaurant, as do the comfortably spaced tables throughout the many uniquely differentiated rooms, each with their own name.

We can’t resist the Anchors Aweigh tuna sandwich on yummy toasted multigrain bread and the thick and creamy New England clam chowder, with lots of meaty clams and plump potatoes. The lobster roll is also a top attraction, with plenty of succulent lobster mixed with the right amount of celery for a satisfying crunch, but a bit too much mayo for some. We also really appreciate that the fresh steamed vegetables that are always perfectly fresh and perfectly steamed, and make for a refreshing add on when you’ve reached your limit of chips and fries.

We always recommend trying to go a bit off-hour for a less frenetic table-hunting experience and more romantic seating options like a cozy table looking out on the Rivers of America or a secluded nook for two.

A bit of advice: 1) The plates are small and flimsy and just barely big enough to accommodate your order; so, if you prefer your ketchup on the side, instead of on top of your fries—or just want to give your sandwich a bit of breathing room—ask for an extra plate at the counter.  2) If you’re not a fan of Magic Kingdom tap water (and we aren’t!) don’t get the iced tea.

Contempo Café (Contemporary Resort)

For a quick and convenient bite made fresh with quality ingredients at counter-service prices, we recommend Contempo Café. Eggs, sandwiches, salads, pasta… it’s all good, and at times life-saving when you need that certain something and don’t want to have to go to a full-service restaurant (which might come with a hefty wait time) or go back into the park after a long day.

One of our favorite indulgences (shhhh!) is bringing our Contempo order up to our park-view room at the Contemporary where we can mix a couple of cocktails with Odwalla grapefruit juice from Contempo and a nice vodka from home and enjoy a “homemade” meal in our room before the fireworks show begins. A couple of favorites are the hot turkey sandwich and the half chicken. In our opinion, the burger was comparable to The Wave, and half the price. Grab a few homemade cookies for later, just in case ?

While every Disney hotel has its quick-serve option, Contempo is one of the more extensive and consistent.

Wrap-up

Unlike our full-service experiences,where our expectations tend to be higher and service and seating are weightier factors, our quick-service experiences all proved memorably positive for being fun, easy, and, dare we say, surprisingly good. Quality is clearly on the rise as more and more guests are self-described “foodies,” and healthier options have become more prevalent as more guests are requesting specialized menu items that address gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and Kosher diets. Burgers and fries are still as ubiquitous as ever, but Disney is going in the right direction by expanding the “fast food” palette.