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Reader Favorites: Best Walt Disney World Counter Service Restaurants

Whelp, it’s time to re-visit one of our favorite topics around here: Best Disney World Counter Service Restaurants!

We polled our readers back in 2009 for their favorites, and things are looking slightly different these days… ;-)

We recently asked our Disney Food Blog Facebook Fans via the Disney Food Blog Facebook page for the best counter service restaurants inside the theme parks at Walt Disney World. Let’s find out where everyone is eating…

Best Magic Kingdom Counter Service Restaurants

Winner: Columbia Harbour House
In a quiet corner of the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square, the Columbia Harbour House sets the scene for traditional Americana in a colonial village — and steals our Best Magic Kingdom Counter Service title away from Pecos Bill’s this year!

Columbia Harbour House

The decor of the restaurant emphasizes a nautical theme with plank flooring and hurricane lamps. Downstairs, seating is divided into small dining rooms giving the space a colonial charm.

Here’s a Favorite DFB Tip: The upstairs seating area is usually the quietest and offers some tables with quaint views. Brick hearths add even more “warmth” to the dark-wooded rooms.

Grilled Salmon… this meal belongs on a real plate.

Serving popular soups (awesome clam chowder!), salads, and sandwiches such as the Lighthouse (hummus with tomato and broccoli slaw) and Anchors Aweigh (white tuna with lettuce and tomato) served on toasted multigrain bread; and recently adding a Lobster Roll and Grilled Salmon to the menu, Columbia Harbour House offers selections beyond the usual chicken nugget fare. (Although, there are those too!)

Lobster Roll with real chunks of lobster at Columbia Harbour House

Runners Up: Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Be Our Guest Restaurant (lunch only), and Casey’s Corner.

Best Epcot Counter Service Restaurants

Winner: Sunshine Seasons
Soarin’ isn’t the only main attraction in The Land pavilion! According to our readers, Sunshine Seasons gets a lot of traffic too.

Epcot's Sunshine Seasons

With five food stations including a wood-fired grill shop and fun Asian options, this quick-service location is a gem due to the variety of selections on the menu.

Sunshine Seasons Menus -- click for larger image

The oak-grilled rotisserie chicken, slow-roasted pork chop, and Mongolian beef dishes all get great reviews. For lighter meals, sandwiches and salads are available as well as some great grab-and-go vegetarian options.

Strawberry Shortcake at Sunshine Seasons

And for your sweet cravings — the Strawberry Shortcake will impress.

Runners Up: Tangierine Cafe and La Cantina de San Angel

Best Disney’s Hollywood Studios Counter Service Restaurants

Winner: Starring Rolls Cafe
Apparently, we aren’t the only ones flocking to Starring Rolls Cafe!

Nestled in a small courtyard next to the Hollywood Brown Derby, this quaint shop pleases palates with too-die-for cupcakes. Sure, there are sandwiches, sushi, and other goodies too, but let’s just be honest — we’re stopping here for the behemoth butterfinger or chocolate peanut butter beauties.

Butterfinger Cupcake

Limited seating is available at outdoor, shaded tables, which fill up fast during the breakfast hour. Our strategy is to send one family member to Toy Story Mania for FastPasses, and the rest of our party snags a coveted table at Starring Rolls. Get your day of Disney magic revved up with this morning cupcake routine!

DFB Tip: Starring Rolls closes at 4pm, so snag your treats before that deadline.

Runners Up: Backlot Express and Pizza Planet.

Best Animal Kingdom Counter Service Restaurants

Winner: Flame Tree Barbecue
The runaway winner — Flame Tree Barbecue — was the most recommended counter-service restaurant in all of Walt Disney World by our readers.

The house-smoked entrees have our taste buds salivating at the first wondrous smells of barbecue wafting from this grill. The meat — seasoned with a special Flame Tree barbecue rub — is hot off the grill. Choose from St. Louis Ribs, Chicken, and pork with baked beans and/or cole slaw sides.

Flame Tree Barbecue Ribs with Beans and Barbecue Sauce

Outdoor seating is secluded underneath the jungle of trees and covered pavilions. DFB Tip:Some seating near the water’s edge overlooks Discovery River with an earth-shattering view of Expedition Everest.

Expedition Everest View from Waterside Pavilion

Runners Up: Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe and Pizzafari

Thanks to everyone for sharing their favorite Walt Disney World theme park quick service locations! Stop by and read the rest of our Best Disney World Restaurants series for more reader favorites!

What’s YOUR favorite counter-service spot while on a Disney vacation? Let us know in the comments section below.

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46 Comments

  1. Jill D says:

    Yeah Columbia Harbour House!! Love this restaurant not just for the food, but for some fantastic attention to detail. Also you can sub a mac n cheese for the bag of chips to make your tuna sandwich a great meal!

  2. Kristina says:

    Flame Tree is the one place that has NO vegetarian/pescetarian options available…..you would think for a BBQ place, at least mac n cheese would be on the menu!

  3. Carolyn says:

    Flame Tree BBQ used to be one of my favorites, but now on AK days I like to take a bus over to AK Lodge and eat at the Mara.

    I also love WPE in Downtown Disney, good pizza, salad, sandwiches, and a number of actual entrees.

  4. Good job guys! I love Columbia Harbor House, and I’m glad it’s number one. I think Pecos Bill’s usually takes the cake based on the toppings bar…but the food is pretty un-inspired. Long live the Lighthouse Sandwich!

  5. Katie says:

    I have a DFB request. Could you do a spread on the best counter service meals in all four parks for people that will be running in PM half marathons…like the Wine and Dine in November for instance? That would be awesome! We’re going to be trying to look for places around the World (but probably most likely in HS or AK) that have high-carb counter service entrees but aren’t weighed down with fat, too much dairy, or anything else that could be yucky for the race that night.

  6. Nicole says:

    Kristina- Yes! I’d love to try Flame Tree, but there’s nothing there for us to eat! Bummer, because that view is incredible!

  7. Jeff Kober says:

    I can’t agree with Starring Rolls–the line is always long and poorly engineered. You’re not getting great variety. And it’s closed by four or five in the afternoon! Unfortunately, the other choices aren’t that great. Studio Catering Company has great menu choices, but is also closed too often, and has a very unattractive setting. Backlot Express has plenty of great indoor seating, but a mundane menu. ABC Commissary is usually more desirable.

    I agree with the rest of the choices, but I’ll say that Restaurantasourus has made some tweaks to their menu and can be more welcoming in the summer heat. Also, have you ever dined on the right side of the restaurant? It’s often closed off in preference to the restroom side of the restaurant being opened, but there are some really cool corners, especially with the airstream trailer. Check it out some time. It’s a cool setting.

  8. Zachary says:

    Last trip to the World included both Columbia and Sunshine Seasons. I even remember taking a photo of the menu board at Sunshine so we could read it from the booth instead of getting up and going over there to read it! It was a long day at Epcot, LOL!

    Unfortunately I also had a not-so-great experience at Sunshine. That grilled vegetable flatbread didn’t quite agree with me, and I haven’t been able to stomach Mediterranean food since. Just the thought of that meal makes me queasy…

    Thanks for the great list! Despite my less than perfect experience, I would definitely agree with these as the top counter service. As always, I come away from the blog hungry…If I could offer a suggestion, it would be the invention of tasteable blog posts so we could have a little sample of the food in each picture ;-)

  9. AJ says:

    Jeff Kober — Restaurantosaurus is one of my very favorite counter-service spots in all of Disney World. It’s definitely my favorite in Animal Kingdom. I always feel slightly cheated when I can’t sit in my favorite booth in the airstream. We did a pretty nice overview of the rooms in our post here!

  10. Dana says:

    Staring Rolls and Flame Tree Barbecue are always must-dos for us. The trick at Staring Rolls, since the line moves so slow, is to send one person into the never-ending line, and have the other wait outside for a table to open up. It can take a while, but then again, so does the line! :) But it’s totally worth it!

    I didn’t have the best experience the last time I ate at Sunshine Seasons, but my husband’s food was great, so maybe I just should have picked something else. We usually try to do all our meals while at Epcot over in the World Showcase, so it may be a while before we try it again.

  11. Shayne says:

    Does the Yorkshire County Fish Shop count? I absolutely cannot leave WDW without a dose of fish & chips!

  12. Beth says:

    Columbia Harbor House is always a must for my family. My daughter loves seafood, with the exception of tuna fish (champagne taste, Faygo budget), and loves the clam chowder in a bread bowl. She will definitely want to try the lobster roll and the grilled salmon looks pretty good. My husband loves the Flame Tree BBQ and that is always a stop for us as well. I have to admit that I have never tried Sunshine Seasons as there is so much interesting food to try in the World Showcase, but maybe we will have to stop by and give it a try. My daughter and I have become cupcake fanantics so we will have to make it to Starring Rolls on the next trip as well. Bon Apetit!

  13. Sandra says:

    Columbia Harbor House is one of our favorite places to eat in the World. We are anxious to try the updated menu, although it may mean two meals there since we can’t skip the Lighthouse and Anchors Away sandwiches. The only issue I have with it is no elevator, which means I must find a seat in the often crowded lower level. But I’ve never eaten standing up, so it’s a minor thing.

    We also like Sunshine Seasons (although the noise is something else!), especially the goat cheese and beet salad and the Asian dishes. The grab and go case there has enough choices that you could make up a picnic-type lunch and take it outside to eat on a bench. Tangierine Cafe also gets our vote, especially for an afternoon break of coffee and pastries.

    In the Studios, we like Starring Rolls desserts, but the slow line and lack of seating means eating there is a matter of seeing an opening and seizing it. Key lime tart for breakfast, mmm. We usually choose the Writers Stop for an afternoon break, but for lunch, we do like Backlot Express, because of the theming, refillable drinks, and a great grilled veggie sandwich.

    At AK, we have tried the Y&Y CS several times with our QSDP and fail to see the attraction. Sticky-sweet sauces, gummy rice, mystery meat; the only food we found there we really liked was the egg rolls–accompanied by a Yak Attack, of course. The CS Chinese in Epcot was much better. The tea stand across the way is worth a stop for exotic teas and a great view of Everest. There are no veggie entrees at Flametree, which is why we have skipped it. They could do a seasoned rice dish with grilled veggies or as someone else suggested, offer mac and cheese. We have eaten at Restaurantosaurus twice. The shrimp po’ boy is pretty good although last time the sauce was quite skimpy. Theming is great though!

  14. Keith says:

    Flame Tree is a BBQ restaurant – of course they don’t have vegetarian food! It’s about meat. That would be like going to a veg. restaurant and complaining about their steaks. If you don’t eat meat, then don’t go – that simple.

  15. Kristina says:

    Keith – that’s not quite how it works when you are vacationing with people.

    I never have a problem with modifying foods to my choices (heck, I’ve eaten a condiment sandwiches when desperate). BUT, when family would like to go somewhere and they wouldn’t go b/c they feel bad if I don’t have anything to eat. And that is the problem with Flame Tree….there is NOTHING to eat as a veg. Also, Disney food is expensive and I’ve only had prices modified when meat is taken out at smaller venues. To charge $10 to eat a bun with sauce is a bit much.

  16. Kristina says:

    Keith – that’s not quite how it works when you are vacationing with people.

    I never have a problem with modifying foods to my choices (heck, I’ve eaten a condiment sandwiches when desperate). BUT, when family would like to go somewhere and they wouldn’t go b/c they feel bad if I don’t have anything to eat. And that is the problem with Flame Tree….there is NOTHING to eat as a veg. Also, Disney food is expensive and I’ve only had prices modified when meat is taken out at smaller venues. To charge $10 to eat a bun with sauce is a bit much.

  17. Dale says:

    I think Sunshine Seasons won EPCOT because of variety maybe? I would pick pretty much most of the WS CS over anything in FutureWorld. The cantina has some of the best quick Mexican food ever, and the France bakery, you pretty much can not go wrong over there . . .

  18. Sandra says:

    Keith, Keith, Keith, barbecue isn’t just about the meat. The meat is important, but so are appropriate sides, which could serve as a veggie plate. I live in VA now but spent a considerable time in TX eating barbecue before I gave up most meat. In TX, a favorite lunch for even my meat-eating coworkers was from the local barbecue joint: a giant stuffed baked potato, crackling with smoky goodness, and topped with butter, sour cream, cheese, green onions and bacon if desired. Yummy and filling. Similar potatoes would be easy to pull off at Flametree and would be an acceptable entree for me with a salad or fruit on the side.

    I have also chowed down on pulled pork with a variety of regional sauces and the all-important sides. In our area, we have a chain called Red, Hot and Blue that is a barbecue restaurant, and my family eats there several times a year. What do I eat? Their lovely eggy potato salad, mac and cheese, hush puppies and greens. Now THAT’s good eating–and no meat. As Kristina said, vacationing with folks at WDW is not quite the same as the guys going out for barbecue and beers (although that sound really good right about now). It’s not a big deal to offer at least one choice that will appeal to veg folks AND meat folks alike.

  19. Madison says:

    You would think they would be able to at least add a fish option to Flame Tree BBQ. There are no pescetarian options in AK and the only veggie option is the Pizzafari and you might as well just eat ketchup on cardboard instead of paying for the pizza. For a park that’s supposed to be about caring for animals, they sure want you to eat them!

    I think Sunshine Seasons is the best CS in WDW because there’s an option for everyone. No matter your tastes, you can find something there and it will be fresh and delicious. I also never have trouble finding a seat there, which always seems to be a problem at CS in WS.

  20. Nice!!!!!We usually choose the Writers Stop for an afternoon break, but for lunch, we do like Backlot Express, because of the theming, refillable drinks, and a great grilled veggie sandwich.

  21. jagdrury says:

    I’ve not eaten at Sunshine Seasons, so I can’t judge on that one, but the counter service at Epcot I enjoy the most is Katsura Grill. Very good sushi and dessert, and LARGE portions. Service was a little slow (it had just reopened after renovation), but the food was excellent. the 2 runners up listed (Cantina Sa Angel and Tagerine cafe) are not even in the same league as Katsura Grill.

  22. Joan says:

    When can I get the prices for January 2013 Ohana, Cape May, Whispering Canyon Cafe
    We are a group of 11 & are staying at a home outside WD I’ve stayed at WD Resorts over
    30 times & would like to show my friends a great time

  23. Peachkins says:

    While I completely agree that Columbia Harbour House is probably the best counter service option in the Magic Kingdom, I will say that I did not care for the lobster roll. It looked good, but honestly the bell peppers in it were all I could taste. Very disappointing- especially for someone that pretty much only tolerates peppers. The fried shrimp on the other hand? Deeelicious.

  24. ToddandLorinda says:

    We had dinner at the Mara quick service restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and it was great! Best chicken corn chowder I’ve ever eaten and good salads and flatbreak pizzas too. The whole Lodge was decorated well for Christmas, and catching a glimpse of the roaming (and sparring!) animals in the twilight before dinner was an added touch. Wish we’d thought to go there sooner! I’m glad you don’t have to be staying there to eat there…

  25. Liz E says:

    I miss the bread bowls they used to serve the clam chowder in,

  26. Catherine says:

    Starring Rolls doesn’t make my list as they can’t provide sandwiches without mayonnaise. Note they are not able to customize the sandwiches at all, because they are pre- made elsewhere.

  27. Catherine says:

    If you want exact prices, call 407-WDW – DINE and ask for them.

  28. Paul Saint says:

    I have been a fan of Flame Tree Barbecue, since I first went to the park on the Cast Members’ Preview in March of 1998. I have NEVER been disappointed by anything I’ve gotten at this wonderful eaterie. My standby is the Barbecue Chicken, with the beans and cole slaw. I usually throw in some Onion Rings, which I enjoy, as well. I also want to point out that this is one of the most economical places to eat in all of WDW, too. You can not go worng here!

  29. Raelynn says:

    In early Dec, we ate at Restaurantosaurus and I was pleasantly surprised. We had eaten there in 2006 and my memory of it was as an upscale McDonald’s. Was so glad we gave it a second try.

  30. Mark says:

    These surveys are great and I agree with this one almost 100% but what I’d really like to see is the counter services that where at the bottom of the list. I’d not only like to know what to avoid but also that Disney is paying attention and working making them better. One place that comes to mind for our family is the ABC Commissary in Hollywood Studios – we haven’t eaten there in years. We opt for the Backlot express every time.

  31. ChrisTy says:

    Be interesting to poll again on the mk with the new fantasyland options. I’d guess the new CS lunch at Be Our Guest will surpass Columbia Harbor House.

  32. Burgos says:

    Getting a lobster roll for around $10 is insane. Great bargain.

  33. Jennifer says:

    Be our Guest was a complete disappointment as far as food goes. Let’s be honest with ourselves here… you don’t eat there for the food. It was a cool experience, but the food was nasty. Do yourself a favor. Go, get dessert, and leave with your money.

  34. Maureen Brown says:

    Hi :) Have you done best counter service for Resorts?… maybe a top ten of the resorts?

  35. Sandra says:

    Jennifer, I didn’t find the food “nasty” at BOG, but I agree that it wasn’t the most exciting meal I’d every had. My lunch salad was too lightly dressed for my taste, but the cupcake dessert was perfect, and we enjoyed the benefit of refillable beverages. I also agree that BOG is mostly about the theming and atmosphere. Hopefully, they will tweak the menu a bit to offer things that people will like better.

  36. AJ says:

    Maureen — We’ve got a “best of the resorts” coming up soon!

  37. Cheryl D says:

    Disney does seem to change up the menus at the CS restaurants on a regular basis, and I have sometimes found it hard to find current menus. Because of all of the recommendations on this blog, I tried Columbia Harbour House for lunch in June, and I like it very much. I always avoided it before because I’m not a fish lover. I had the tuna fish sandwich and was very happy with it. I plan to return when I go back in 3 weeks with my husband and niece. When I was in the Studios, I had planned to go to either Backlot or Studio Catering for dinner, but both were closed! (At 8 PM?) I reluctantly ate at the Commissary, and my salad was delicious! (My reluctance was based on outdated menus.) My favorite in Epcot is Sunshine Seasons. I always seem to get the Chinese stir-fry. Yum! This last time I decided to try the fast food place in Japan, as I had always liked it in the past. I got the Beef Udon – YUCK. Never again. I really liked the sandwich I got at Les Halles Boulangerie, and if you’re on the dining plan they have so many delicious desserts! I used to like going to the Cantina for lunch, but now they seem to only have snacks. I guess my point is, since things seem to change every year, it might be a good idea to bypass some old favorites, and give other places you used to pass by another look.

  38. Paul H says:

    Just an FYI…Starring Rolls has variable closing hours. Some days, it closes at 3 pm. Other days, it closes at 4 pm. It depends on the attendance for the day. Please check the sign at the front of the dining area for location hours. :-)

  39. Drew says:

    I know they have a limited menu but Gaston’s is very good and my first choice in MK. Don’t overlook it and try LeFou’s Brew!

  40. Matt says:

    As far as the resorts go, I cannot say enough good things about the Landscape of Flavors at the Art of Animation resort. On my last trip, I made a point to stop by there despite not even staying at that particular resort that trip.

  41. Winnie says:

    Far better than the Columbia Harbor House in Magic is Pinocchio Village Hause. Great vegetarian options!

  42. Beth W. says:

    One of our favorite Disney memories is sitting outside Columbia Harbor House, eating our delicious dinner (malt vinegar on fish and fries…mmmm), and watching Wishes!

  43. Alexandra K. says:

    I’m going to be a little bit one-sided on this, but when my family went in November, we fell in love with Be Our Guest for lunch! It’s perfect for us, as long as we have a Fastpass to get there, instead of waiting in that huge line!

    As for the others, we were at all of them this past November!

  44. Chris C. says:

    Disappointed with no mention of ABC Commisary. Love the burgers with fried shrimp on top.

  45. Erin H says:

    We love Columbia Harbor House – so glad it finally took out Pecos Bills (yuck!) And the salmon, broccoli and couscous is AMAZING. At Epcot, I’m not a huge fan of Sunshine Seasons. I’ve never had anything there that I’ve actually enjoyed. I much prefer anything in WS – specifically La Cantina. Have never and will never eat at Starring Rolls and it shouldn’t be on this list. Technically it’s not a full service meal option unless you want prefabricated sandwiches. I’d much rather eat at ABC Commisary. I think they’ve had a menu tweak since the last time some of you have been because I’m shocked to see so many people write negative things about it. and the salmon salad is delicious. At AK we prefer the Yak & Yeti walk up – pretty good chinese and delicious eggrolls. We’ve never done Flame Tree, but now want to try. We live in Orlando – so we’ve eaten at many of the places in WDW. Fun read. Thanks for sharing!

  46. Rune says:

    Prefer Yak & Yeti take away to Flame Tree, we always seem to enjoy the food there although snagging a table during peak hours can be a task.

    Love Starring Rolls too, although I can never quite work out why the line takes so long to move when the sandwich / dessert options aren’t customizable. Is it simply slow service or fixing the drinks? Also with Starring Rolls, the one thing that put me off during one visit was the amount of times that the bakery options such as Danish, muffins, turnovers, etc that you can pick up from the sides as you wait in line, were handled. Kids (and adults) were picking them up, putting them back down again, picking up another one – not nice. Add to that it was winter so there were coughs, colds, and runny noses aplenty and the place was packed. It certainly spoiled my appetite for anything except what was behind the glass counters needing to be picked by staff. I’ve not been for a year so I keep hoping Disney has addressed this because I love Starring Rolls but this is kind of icky =P

    Agree with a previous comment too, the Mara over at AK is lovely, and although we enjoy QS restaurants in the Magic Kingdom, our usual trick for a good meal when there is to nip over to the Contempo.

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