Well, we finally did it. After dreading a trip back to Epcot’s San Angel Inn in the Mexico pavilion due to a couple of bad meals there, we booked an ADR. It was more a “we have to go because I write a food blog” thing than an avid desire to give the restaurant another chance, but…as it turns out…we’d been missing out for far too long.
Atmosphere has always been the main selling feature of San Angel Inn. Located inside the Epcot Mexico pyramid with seating along the Gran Fiesta Tour river, this restaurant offers a fun ambiance that you just won’t get anywhere else (besides Blue Bayou in Disneyland, maybe!).
Because the Mexico Pavilion’s pyramid is home to the set-up of a Mexican village in the evening, the restaurant is in a perpetual state of twilight. This gives it a romantic atmosphere even when the rest of Epcot is flooded in sunlight. And we were there during the holidays, which added to the warm, welcoming atmosphere.
It’s one of those theme restaurants that concept developers dream of — it’s able to offer guests the opportunity “dine in a story” without being too “kitschy” (as some complain is the case at places like T-Rex Cafe and Rainforest Cafe). Guests are served at big, chunky, colorful wooden tables and seated in beautifully painted chairs. The building facades located on three sides of the restaurant add to the outdoor village feeling.
Now, while I don’t advocate waiting forever for a river-side table here at San Angel Inn (like I do at Blue Bayou), it IS fun to sit by the water. There’s no harm in requesting it when you check in for your reservation.
While guest favorites remain, the menu at San Angel Inn has undergone an overhaul — and is probably still going through one (the posted menus were different from the menu we received at the table!). Like the rest of the Mexican Restaurants on property run by San Angel Inn, LLC (i.e. just about all of them), margaritas are now the star draw on the menu.
They’ll still bring you the old frozen lime, strawberry, mango, and fiesta versions, but having experienced those many times, let me suggest you go with the versions similar to what you’ll find at La Cava del Tequila, Maya Grill, and La Hacienda de San Angel.
I’d recommend any of the six “new” margaritas, but I happened to choose the Blood Orange on this trip. I wanted to compare it to the Blood Orange margarita I’d recently ordered at Flying Fish Cafe.
While I think I like Flying Fish’s version better, this was certainly no slouch. I have never and will never understand the appeal of adding “foam” to anything (unless you consider spray whipped cream or spray cheese to be “foam”), though, so it didn’t really add to the experience for me. Still, the margarita was powerful and tasted great, which is all I ask from a margarita.
The chips and salsa were delivered next, and were complimentary. On our last visit, the chips happened to be Tostitos, which my Texan husband found galling. I told him they’d probably just run out of their regular chips, but I’m not sure he ever got over being served Tostitos in an “authentic Mexican restaurant.” Happily, these were not Tostitos.
And, funnily enough, our server warned us that the salsa might be hotter than what we were used to in the States. We told him we were from Texas and Buffalo respectively, and that we were conditioned to enjoy spicy sauces. Sure enough, this was closer to ketchup than anything you’d be served in Texas Still, it passed muster for my husband, who’s the connoisseur of salsa in our house.
The appetizer menu was a happy surprise. My husband and I have come to understand that at Disney World’s Mexican Restaurants, you focus on margaritas and appetizers because those are the best parts of the menu; we were understandably nervous that the apps wouldn’t live up here.
No need. We ordered Tostadas de Tinga and were very pleased. They were fresh and flavorful, and we loved the queso fresco. My husband loved these so much he said he’d gladly order two orders for his entree next trip.
Speaking of queso fresco — down here where we live, ordering “queso” in a restaurant will usually get you melted cheese; however ordering extra queso fresco at San Angel Inn got me a bowl of white cheese crumbles like you see on the top of the Tostadas de Tinga! Live and learn… no “queso” as we know it at San Angel Inn, sadly.
On to the entrees! I knew before I even arrived at the restaurant what I was going to order: the Pollo a las Rajas was the redeeming factor for me on the last trip to San Angel Inn, and I couldn’t wait to order it again. While the recipe has changed slightly, it’s still a great dish, and is perfect for folks who might not be 100% into Mexican food, yet.
Basically, it’s chicken, cream, peppers, onions, cheese, and rice — you can’t really go wrong, and I enjoyed it much more than the entree I had at La Hacienda de San Angel. What can I say — a little cream sauce goes a long way for THIS girl! However, I didn’t eat much of the rice since it had such a strong cilantro flavor (which, as you know, is a spice I cannot tolerate in high doses — blech!).
We also ordered the Tacos de Rib Eye — again, a very picky-eater-friendly dish. With steak, avocado, pepper sauce, and scallions, there’s not much to dislike. The steak was perfect (surprisingly NOT overcooked!), and tasted great with the additional flavors. Nothing was overwhelming in this dish, either; flavors blended very well.
Now, we know from experience that many San Angel Inn, LLC, restaurant desserts are overpriced and pretty bad, but we ordered some anyway — for research purposes!
It was flan and white chocolate bread pudding for us this time, and, really, we should have skipped it. Neither of us really love flan, and we ordered it hoping we’d change our minds. We didn’t. And the portion was too small (that’s NOT a big strawberry, so you can deduce how tiny the flan portion was) to cost $6.50.
The white chocolate bread pudding would have been much, much better if the caramel serving had been quadrupled. We loved the caramel and will choose the ice cream with caramel sauce, hands down, on our next visit. But we’ll ask for extra caramel. No matter what. Heck, we might even just go up to the podium and get a bucket of caramel sauce to go.
For years, I considered San Angel Inn an atmosphere-only restaurant. During my previous experiences, the food hadn’t been stellar, and the service had been even less so.
However, this trip really changed my mind. I have a feeling that some management changes (yay, Hilda!) and some improved menu development and service strategies have paid off. While the food still isn’t the best I’ve had on property, I will certainly be happy to head back to San Angel Inn when I have the chance!
Unfortunately, La Hacienda de San Angel still has the trump card of Illuminations viewing at night, so San Angel Inn will likely be only lunch for me for the foreseeable future.