the disney food blog Rotating Header Image

Review: Lunch at Bongos Cuban Cafe in Disney World’s Downtown Disney

Sometimes I need a little Gloria Estefan in my life, so I high tail it over to Bongos Cuban Cafe!

I’m just kidding. I rarely need any Gloria Estefan in my life, but I DO need the deliciousness that is Bongos. Seriously, you guys, I haven’t had a bad meal here…ever. It’s a hidden gem, and if you haven’t been there, start your planning engines for your next trip!

It’s Cuban food of awesomeness — tons of flavor, not-always-efficient-but-at-least-friendly service, and drinks that are BIGGER THAN YOUR HEAD. Plus souvenir glasses. And POPSYCAKES!

Atmosphere

Located in Downtown Disney West Side, most Disney guests know this eatery as “the place with the big pineapple out front.” During the evening, Bongos looks and feels like a nightclub that you’d find in Old Havana or South Beach. It’s like a party waiting to happen, this place.

Open and airy, you can imagine the celebration spilling out onto the “street” during especially festive times.

Outdoor Atmosphere

Outdoor Atmosphere

And a festive good time is what you’d expect here, as is evident from the two bars that dominate the inside.

Second Bar Area

Bar Area

Sit yourself down on actual bongos at the bar up front! Fun (and REALLY uncomfortable!).

First Bar Area

Bongo Bar Stools and Cool, Colorful Lighting in the Front Bar Area

So if you’re tired of sitting on the Bongos, no worries; this place offers a wide array of seating areas. The upstairs seating area — both inside and outside on the balcony — offer good views of the surrounding Downtown Disney area.

It may be a teensy bit quieter upstairs at night, but during the day (for lunch) the whole place is nice and relaxed.

Upstairs Seating

Upstairs Seating

Yep — two-story ceilings and lots of hard surfaces (like cement-hard) mean that this place can get pretty loud when it’s crowded.

Looking Down from the Second Floor

Looking Down from the Second Floor

If it’s a party you’re after, be sure to stop by on Friday or Saturday evening, when music and dancing take place from 11:30 pm until 2:00 am!

Seating Area by Live Music

Seating Area by Live Music

But don’t be scared away from Bongos if you prefer a more intimate seating situation. These booths, located adjacent to one of the two bars, offer a quieter spot — perfect for catching up with friends or a romantic evening.

The stenciled quotes are fun, but what do they say????!!! I need to know espanol better.

Quiet Alcove Seating Near the Bar

Quiet Alcove Seating Near the Bar

A huge, vintage-looking poster of owner Gloria Estefan (she owns the place) depicts the glory days of Old Havana, and is a really nice touch to the colorful, eclectic decor.

Gloria Estefan Decor

Gloria Estefan Decor

Although many of my photos show you what Bongo’s looks like at night, during the day, you get the same open, airy feel, as ceiling fans whir above and doors and windows let in plenty of light. Also, it’s much quieter and low-key.

Time to check out what’s on the menu!!

Eats

When I say that Bongos has an extensive menu, I mean it.

The options — Beef, Pork, Chicken, and Seafood — seem practically endless! And in addition to all of the meat-based options, you also have a couple of extra entrees that I think are interesting.

Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Menu — Click to Enlarge

And here’s a cool detail about lunch at Bongos. It includes a list of sandwiches that are only available for the noonday meal. Since we had sampled a few of the delicious entrees during our last visit, we decided to focus on this portion of the menu this time.

Lunch Sandwiches -- Click to Enlarge

Lunch Sandwiches — Click to Enlarge

Bongos also offers an extensive Drink Menu.

Beverage Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Beverage Menu — Click to Enlarge

Cuba’s most famous cocktail — the Mojito — figures prominently on the beverage menu, which features classic versions as well as interesting varieties. I’m not a big mint fan, but my friend tried a Mojito on our last visit and said it was terrific.

Mojito

Mojito

On this day, I wanted something unleaded to drink, so I went with the Non-Alcoholic Strawberry Daiquiri, which is offered on the menu. There’s also a Non-Alcoholic Bloody Mary and Pina Colada available. (Yes, I’m a lime freak, just in case you were wondering why there are so many limes everywhere. ;-D)

Non-Alcoholic Strawberry Daiquiri

Non-Alcoholic Strawberry Daiquiri

My husband chose a Modelo Especial (his beer of choice at home, too! well, that an Tecate in a can) and enjoyed it with a slice of lime.

Modelo Beer with Lime

Modelo Beer with Lime

We enjoyed some of the more interesting appetizers during our last meal here with the Bongos Combo — a great choice if you’re new to the flavors of Cuban cuisine.

Small bites of Caribbean-inspired Flavors, Like These Appetizers from Bongos, Would Be Perfect!

Bongos Combo Platter

For this visit, I wanted a little extra bread to start the meal, so we tried the Classic Cuban Garlic Toast. The pressed, toasted bread was buttery and lightly tasted of garlic. It was perfect to nosh on with our drinks and soup. Really wow.

Cuban Bread

Classic Cuban Garlic Toast

And speaking of soup, that’s the next thing to show you! We each opted to start with a cup of soup. I went for the Chicken Soup, which was brothy and comforting, with big chunks of Chicken mixed in with Noodles and Carrots.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken Soup

My husband chose the Black Bean Soup. He’s a black bean dip fan and absolutely loved this soup.

Black Bean Soup

Black Bean Soup

After a long morning, I was very hungry, and craving something that involved red meat! So I went with the Frita Cubana Burger.

Holy Fantastic Burger, Batman! Why have I never heard of this before??

It’s served with Plantain Chips, but I requested Fries, which were also very good.

Double Cheeseburger and Fries

Frita Cubana Burger and Fries

The burger itself is made up of two (two!!) Pork, Beef, and Chorizo (huzzah!!) Patties, sandwiched together with Cheese and Shoestring Potatoes! I’ve never seen a burger like this before, and it was amazing!

Double Cheeseburger -- Cross Section

Frita Cubana Burger — Cross Section

My husband decided on the Midnight (Medianoche) Sandwich. This is basically the same as a Cuban Sandwich, featuring Roasted Pork, Ham, Swiss Cheese, Pickles, and Mustard. But it’s served on a Sweet Egg-rich Bread that’s similar to challah or brioche, rather than Cuban bread.

The sandwich is pressed and toasted, so it’s served warm throughout. He thought it was delicious, and it compared favorably with other Cubans he’d had. The sweeter bread went nicely with the meats, almost like a less guilt-inducing Monte Cristo. :-)

Cuban Sandwich and Fries

Midnight Sandwich and Fries

Lunch was simple, but delish! And sometimes, that’s really all you’re after, right?

But we weren’t leaving without sampling something sweet! During our last visit, we had ordered both the Tres Leches and the Rice Pudding, and had been pleased with the very traditional takes on each of the dishes.

Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake

Rice Pudding

Rice Pudding

This time we decided to try an option that we never miss when we venture to Disneyland. So why not try them here and compare? That’s right — we’re talkin’ Churros.

Like the tres leches and rice pudding, these were completely traditional versions of a classic favorite. But the portion was generous enough to share, especially after such a hearty lunch.

Churros with Dipping Sauces

Churros with Dipping Sauces

The Churros are served with three — THREE! — Dipping Sauces! I love this! Because I lurve, lurve, lurve sauce.

Dipping Sauces for Churros

Dipping Sauces for Churros

All in all, they were a perfect cinnamon-y, crunchy, sweet ending to a wonderful meal. Sure I was ready for a nap…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing on vacation. ;-D

Overall

The trend holds — after several visits to Bongos Cuban Cafe, this Downtown Disney dining spot is quickly becoming another favorite place to grab a bite when I’m in the neighborhood. It is a little surprising to me that the menu hasn’t changed at all since my last visit. I mean, nothing. Every selection is the same — but so, miraculously, are the prices.

Bongos may not be for you if you’re after some kind of new take on Cuban cuisine, or a fusion of Caribbean-meets-(insert your other favorite here). It’s straight Cuban food, plain and simple. But I’ve discovered that I really love Cuban food, so for me, that’s a very good thing.

And together with the fact that the enormous restaurant is rarely packed, it’s also a great spot for a last minute lunch, or an evening during which you forgot to secure an advance dining reservation.

So I say it again. Give Bongos a try. And if you happen to be there, dancing the night away on a Friday or Saturday night, chime in and tell us all about it!

Is Bongos Cuban Cafe a favorite spot on your Disney Dining Agenda? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience there!

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

16 Comments

  1. Kev says:

    “Sometimes I need a little Gloria Estefan in my life, so I high tail it over to Bongos Cuban Cafe!
    I’m just kidding. I rarely need any Gloria Estefan in my life, but I DO need the deliciousness that is Bongos.”

    Ok, now that is very funny, and the family definitely agrees with the deliciousness part of your opener!
    The menu items are truly amazing virtually across the board, and although not the lightest of meal options in DTD, this is a great place to head to if you are in need of a great feast.
    One thing that always strikes me with Bongos, is that many of the dishes definitely taste a lot better than they look on the plate and everything we’ve ever tried there has raised eyebrows and vanished in seconds!

  2. Kristina says:

    Being that my mom is from Cuba (but never cooks cuban food!)….this is a MUST when I’m in the Orlando area. Food is so damn good, I dream of their criolla sauce.

  3. Joni says:

    May have to try it again. Went about 12 years ago and did not like it at all and never went back.

  4. Matt says:

    We’ve been there twice. The food was great both times, as were the drinks. The last time, May 2013, our service was VERY slow, and our waitress looked like she was overworked, too many tables. But we will definitely be back!

  5. Troy says:

    I’ve thought about eating there every trip I’ve taken and I never have. I really must do it on the next one. Thanks for the review!

  6. DropKick Dorothy says:

    My husband and I met my parents there for dinner on the first night of our trip. While the food was ok, the atmosphere was awful. We were seated practically underneath a stairwell. It was so loud you could not hear the others at the table, or the server for that matter. I won’t go back.

  7. Essie says:

    I’ve never been, but that burger really does look very good. I’ve also got to try some churros sometime.

  8. Angelina says:

    That burger looks like heaven!!!! And what exactly were the dipping sauces for the churros?? Maybe DL should start serving that with churros???

  9. Ashley says:

    My aunt & I ate at Bongo’s for the first time 2 years ago and really liked it. We wanted to try something different at Downtown Disney and we both thought the food was really good. My only complaint was that it was really noisy inside (and that was without the live music that was setting up as we were leaving).

    BTW, what were the 3 sauces that came with your churros?

  10. Kelly says:

    My wife and I ate there a couple of years ago and both decided it would be our one and only visit. Service was not good and food was so-so at best. Plenty of other places that are better to spend $$$ on.

  11. Kevin says:

    I ate here for dinner last year and had a great meal. My only very minor complaint was that it was on the loud side where we’re sitting but overall a solid option in Downtown Disney

  12. Mandi says:

    I really loved Bongo’s- the atmosphere is second to none when you’re sitting outside in mid-September overlooking the water. Being a picky eater, as well as new to Cuban food, I found them to be very accomodating as far as my ‘no this-this on the side’ requests. All of the appetizers and sides were delicious; however, my skirt steak entree was waaaay too salty but cooked to my perfect medium rare. Overall I would definetly recommend Bongo’s- don’t be afraid of the food you can’t pronounce!

  13. AJ says:

    Ashley — I think it was a chocolate, vanilla, and maybe berry or caramel? I’ll have to look at the pic!

  14. Susan G. says:

    You must be psychic! I’m going to be at DTD for LaNouba in June, and I’ve been trying to decide whether to make an ADR for Bongo’s. As in, I’ve had it pulled up on my computer three times and just couldn’t quite make the decision. After reading this, I made that ADR immediately! Thanks for a remarkably timely review.

  15. Rosemary says:

    My parent’s are cuban – so to say I love cuban food is an understatement. I had eaten here YEARS ago, and was dying to take my husband (not cuban, but LOVES cuban food). On our last trip – Nov 2013 we finally got the chance. I made a reservation since it was my husbands birthday. It would be our two boys, hubby and myself. We got there and I was so excited to finally eat here with him. We ordered, got our food a little TOO fast, which means it wasn’t cooked fresh. I had breaded steak which was thicker breading than steak, my husband had his fave cuban dish Ropa Vieja, it was warm not hot when it came out, it tasted like pure peppers and had HUGE chunks of it instead of thinner slices. I would have to say the best thing was the white rice & maduros!! My son had mac and cheese – and it was literally KRAFT mac & cheese! To go back to how fast we got our food brought out to us – it wasn’t HOT, the dishes were warm if best, which just goes to show that they have food sitting there waiting to be served. We actually decided to NOT get dessert here, and headed to Ghirardelli for some Ice Cream!

    I actually felt bad that I had chosen this place for my husbands birthday meal and it was such a let down.

    There is a restaurant called CUBA LIBRE in Orlando, I have only been to the one in Atlantic City. It is a more upscale version of typical Cuban Dishes, and it is a bit pricey, however it is DELICIOUS!!!! The Vaca Frita dish is amazing!!! & their drinks are Delish!

    Do yourself a favor….if you really want authentic Cuban food….don’t eat at Bongos. With that being said, their finger foods that you can get from the window on the side is pretty good.

  16. Carter says:

    I have had mixed experiences at this place. The few traditional dishes I had were really good…especially the chicken and rice. Ironically the worst thing I have eaten here is the Cuban sandwich. How you can mess that up is beyond me, but they did. The bread was so hard that I almost chipped a tooth. The meat was M.I.A. as well. I thought going for lunch would be a good value…but was sadly mistaken. We ordered a few mojitos, and then realized how terribly overpriced they were. I’m not sure how they get away with those prices.

Leave a Reply

Current month ye@r day *