On a recent whirlwind trip to Disney World, I planned to get together with friends for lunch. I had a hankering for the totally incredible Butter Chicken at Sanaa, so I couldn’t wait to head over there for lunch!
This wonderful restaurant, located at Animal Kingdom Lodge‘s Kidani Village, still flies under the radar. However, in the past, it has been the location of some of my very favorite meals.
And, let me tell you dear DFB readers, it is going to be VERY difficult to edit this review considering how much I want a big ol’ plate of that Butter Chicken right now. I had half a twix bar in preparation, but I don’t think it’s going to do the trick.
That said…we’re off to the races!
You’ll find Sanaa at Kidani Village, the portion of Animal Kingdom Lodge that’s a Disney Vacation Club property.
The same care and attention to detail that went into the decor of Animal Kingdom Lodge is at play here as well. The soaring lobby greets you with colorful African decor and a thatched roof! I love it!
Once you get to the restaurant downstairs, you’ll see why they chose the name. The word “sanaa” is Swahili for art, and is the perfect description of this beautiful spot that marries handcrafted artisan touches with food that’s prepared with care and tradition.
Sanaa is open for lunch and dinner. We suggest lunch or an early dinner for first timers — more about that in a minute.
The entrance features some beautiful, handcrafted African artwork. The beads that line the podium are gorgeous.
Look closely at the mats on the wall and you’ll likely spy a Hidden Mickey! We have two more hidden mickeys for you in this post — can you find them all??
The waiting area outside of the restaurant features large windows that look out onto Sunset Savanna, the same view that you’ll enjoy once you’re seated inside.
Upon entering, you pass by the comfortable bar and lounge area. Open continuously from 11:30 until midnight, I love this quiet spot for a drink and a bite. It’s a great location for an early dinner if you don’t have a dining reservation.
Rich detail surrounds you. Look up; the ceiling is patterned as though you are inside a wonderfully decorated African building.
In the main dining room, the view above changes to resemble a tree canopy with rustic lanterns hanging from the branches overhead.
One of my favorite pieces in the restaurant is this wonderful Coffee Pot from Zanzibar. The plaque beneath it gives some history.
Throughout Sanaa and all of Kidani Village you see these wonderful African proverbs painted right onto the walls.
Seating is mixed, with cushioned booths and large, comfortable wooden chairs. The feeling is eclectic, casual, and fun.
Be sure to take some time to explore all of the different lanterns hanging from above. They’re gorgeous and offer the restaurant a cozy feel.
And you may have a special friend waiting for you on your table — be sure to check when you sit down!
But a feature that’s certainly worth discussing is the view onto Sunset Savanna. You’ll want to request these window-side tables when you check in if possible.
Chances are great that you’ll have an opportunity to see an array of animals as you dine.
The zebras were clearly the star of the show on this particular day!
If seeing animals is important to you, here’s a TIP: be sure to book your Advanced Dining Reservation for earlier in the day. Choose either lunch or an early dinner. Later seatings might fall after dark, and you won’t be able to see much except your reflection in the glass at that point.
With our wonderful tour of Sanaa wrapped up, it was time to take a look at the menu.
When it came time to order, I pretty much knew what I was getting. You know how much I’m craving Butter Chicken right now while I edit this post? Yeah, that’s pretty much how much I crave Butter Chicken every waking moment. BUT, I suppose you should take a look at the menu anyway.
While we decided to bypass drinks during our lunch, I can heartily recommend both the Mango Margarita (how can you possibly go wrong with van der hum?!?) and the Safari Amber that we sampled during a previous visit.
If you’re dining at Sanaa for the very first time, you should know that bread service here is not complimentary. However, it is very much worth the price. Choose from incredible breads and accompanying sauces and spreads.
While we chose not to have the service on this visit, I’ve had it previously and could make a meal of it. Seriously, you could easily order three helpings of Naan and I would be totally, 100% OK with it.
Here are some pics from a previous visit to show you the awesomeness of the Sanaa bread service.
Today we were focused on entrees, however (Butter Chicken). The cool thing (Butter Chicken) about Sanaa is that you can be as exotic as you’d like to be (Butter Chicken) — or not.
A lot of people get nervous knowing they’re going to an “African” restaurant, but I promise you’ll find something you can enjoy — even if you’re picky. Just order minus sauces and extras if need be. The servers and chefs are very accommodating.
So, you already know what I’m getting. It’s from a selection of braised items from the portion of the menu entitled “Slow-cooked in Gravy, Simple and Well-seasoned.” Isn’t that a lovely way to explain what you’re gonna get?
To be fair, I HAVE eaten other things at Sanaa, so be sure to check out my previous reviews for stuff like Beef Short Ribs and Shrimp with Green Curry Sauce. But this time it was all about the Butter Chicken and Spicy Durban Chicken. The braised meats come with your choice of Basmati Rice or Five Grain Pilaf.
The Butter Chicken (a.k.a. heaven in a bowl) has a rich, delicious sauce, full of complex flavors. Traditionally made with a combination of butter (natch), tomato puree, garam masala, and other spices, it’s seriously awesome. I think I’m going to sneak over to Sanaa on my next visit and just order three big bowls of it. To heck with the menu.
It was fantastic with the nutty Pilaf. In fact, just ask for a big bowl and dump it all in together. It’s like African jambalaya.
On this visit, I couldn’t help but get the Spicy Durban Chicken again, too. I LURVE spicy stuff, and I LURVE chicken, so this is perfect mix. Something interesting to note: this dish originates in Durban, South Africa — which is home to one of the world’s largest Indian populations outside of India. As such, it’s the perfect place to celebrate African-Indian fusion.
Now, after hearing from so many readers how much they enjoyed the burger here, we decided to go ahead and order the Grilled Angus Chuck Burger as well.
As much as I love a good, traditional burger, this one is a completely new twist! Served on naan (hubba hubba!) and topped with minted greens, tomato, onion, and cucumber raita, it’s the perfect choice for someone wanting to experiment with new flavors while enjoying an old favorite.
Plus, just look at that burger patty! It was awesome.
We also ordered the Turkey Club Sandwich, which came with a choice of Fresh Fruit or Chickpea Salad. My friend chose the latter, and said that the platter was filling, fresh, and delicious.
We were soon ready to end our meal with something sweet. I’ve enjoyed the Dessert Trio before and wanted to sample something a little different, so we took a peek at the menu.
But just so you get the chance to see it, the trio sampler offers a small version of the famous Chai Cream, chocolate cake, and tropical fruit kulfi.
On this visit, I ordered the Banana Kulfi Sundae! It was a bit deconstructed as you can tell…
Kulfi is a traditional Indian frozen dessert that’s similar to ice cream, but more dense and frozen because it’s not whipped.
Served with warm chocolate sauce in the well of the kulfi, and accompanied by strawberries, spiced cashews, a dollop of whipped cream, and a beautiful dried pineapple garnish, this was yummo and refreshing. Note that it’s a small serving, though, so not great for sharing among multiple people.
If tea is more your style, they’ve got your covered as well.
As an avid tea drinker, something I really enjoy at Sanaa is the wide range of loose leaf teas available. With the options of Indian black teas and South African Rooibos options, we see a beautiful fusion of Indian and African flavors.
Check out the tea box at the front of the restaurant when you first walk in. This certainly gives you a chance to make an informed decision — and to try something new. Teas come brewed in a 17-ounce pot — enough to share between two people.
And with that, we were left with fond memories of yet another relaxed Sanaaa luncheon.
Sanaa remains one of my absolute top picks for dining at Disney World. Due to the nature of this blog, I have to eat everywhere I can so that I can give a good, balanced review of the food on property. But Sanaa really is one of the restaurants I would frequent over and over again if I had the opportunity.
Sure, it’s a little inconvenient, with its waaaaaaay off the beaten path location in Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village. It’s true: you will likely need to mark off a few hours if you dine here. But it’s so worth it! The food is phenomenal.
In addition to that, the great care that Imagineers took in creating this restaurant is evident everywhere. The view of the Sunset Savanna — free with a meal!! — is unparalleled. Usually, you must pay big bucks to see animals like this. And don’t forget — once you’re at Animal Kingdom Lodge, there’s plenty to look at and see there as well.
For now, I’ll continue to tell you how much I love Sanaa. AND I’ll be thankful that, because so few folks want to sacrifice park time to get there, I’ll always be able to get a reservation whenever my heart desires it.
Have you tried Sanaa? Leave a comment below with your impressions!