Review: Frontera Cocina by Rick Bayless in Disney Springs

Frontera Cocina is the latest Table Service addition to the Disney Springs dining scene!

Frontera Cocina is headed by Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless. It’s located in the Town Center of Disney Springs, which still has a few eateries on the way throughout the summer; among them, Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine and Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza.

Chef Bayless may be best known as the host of the PBS show “Mexico—One Plate at a Time” (though he has received numerous accolades throughout his career), and Frontera Cocina likewise showcases authentic Mexican cuisine.

You’ll find Frontera Cocina right across from Sprinkles (though, since Sprinkles is still new itself, more familiar landmarks are seen just across the walking bridge — spots like Raglan Road and Morimoto Asia).

Frontera Cocina

Frontera Cocina

Now that we know where it is, let’s step inside…

Door handles at Frontera Cocina

Door handles at Frontera Cocina

…for our first visit to Frontera Cocina!

Atmosphere

Frontera Cocina stands out a bit from the rest of its Town Center neighbors. While most of the surrounding retail spots feature “Mediterranean Revival” architecture, Frontera Cocina’s outdoor color scheme is gray with splashes of red, complete with lots of windows to convey a more modern feel.

Frontera Cocina

Frontera Cocina

Upon stepping inside, the decor changes.  Though it still relies on clean lines, bright pops of color become another hallmark.

Main dining area, to the right upon entering

Main dining area, to the right upon entering

Main dining area, to the left upon entering

Main dining area, to the left upon entering

It’s this somewhat minimalist approach that really helps the eye focus on a few more striking features like the bright chandelier in the front dining room.

Chandelier

Chandelier

Chandelier

Chandelier

It also helps direct some of your attention to the open kitchen, where you can watch the busy chefs (yep, Frontera Cocina is already hoppin’!) preparing the plates.

Open Kitchen

Open Kitchen

Open Kitchen

Open Kitchen

Another fun element of the decor can be found all over the restaurant: you’ll spy bottles — primarily Tequila — just about everywhere, including all along what’s referred to as the “Wall of Fame” in the main dining room.

The Wall of Fame

The Wall of Fame

Bottles near the entrance of Frontera Cocina

More bottles near the entrance of Frontera Cocina

While the majority of the seating is in this main area, there is a small dining area in the middle of the restaurant, situated under unique blue lighting fixtures.

Middle dining area

Middle dining area

Lighting over the middle dining area

Lighting over the middle dining area

The final portion of the indoor seating features the bar (which is brightly lit underneath the counter), which is surrounded by further table seating.

Bar area

Bar area

Further Seating

Further Seating

Bar Area table for large party

Bar Area table for large party

The altogether effect indoors is simple and clean, but still comfortable and approachable. It’s also interesting to see how the overall simplicity plays a nice contrast to the bustling Town Center, which you can see from the windows that line much of the restaurant.

View of Disney Springs

View of Disney Springs

Stepping outside, the outdoor patio is small and tables are basic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a lovely space…

Patio seating

Patio seating

Lighting over Patio Seating

Lighting over Patio Seating

…especially given the view.

Waterfront view

Waterfront view with Homecoming on the left

Guests eating on the patio will literally be able to wave to the diners directly across the water at Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine when it opens!

While we’re outside, we definitely want to point out the walkup window, which is a great place to try some tacos or margaritas without taking in a full sit-down meal. (It’s located at the back of the restaurant, next to the patio).

Walk-up Window

Walk-up Window

Frontera Cocina Walk-up Menu

Frontera Cocina Walk-up Menu

But it’s time to head back in for the full experience!

Eats

As expected from Chef Rick Bayless, the menu at Frontera Cocina is based on authentic and modern Mexican cuisine.

Beverage menu

Beverage menu

Our server walked us through the Cocktail menu first, and of course we noticed some similarities to the menu at La Cava del Tequila right away (Hello, La Cava Avocado!).

Closeup on Cocktail menu

Close-up on Cocktail menu

That’s because the team at La Cava has been working in partnership with Frontera Cocina since well before the opening. You may even spot Hilda Castillo, one of our favorite Tequila Ambassadors, on your visit to Frontera Cocina!

Hilda, Tequila Ambassador

Hilda, Tequila Ambassador at a Tequila Pairing Lunch

It seems that lots of creativity has gone into the drink menu, which also features plenty of its own beverages, like the Lucy, which begins with pieces of candied mango presented on the bottom of a martini glass.

Lucy Cocktail

Lucy Cocktail

The mango is poured over with a shaken mix of Por Siempre Sotol (a strong trend in the cocktail arena right now) with fresh carrot juice, Torres orange liqueur, ginger cordial, and fresh lime.

Pouring the Lucy Cocktail

Pouring the Lucy Cocktail

From the color to the flavor, there is nothing shy about this intense drink, which carries something of a bite. Though my friends both found it too “carrot-y” for their liking (it’s definitely not for everyone), I enjoyed it.

Lucy Cocktail

Lucy Cocktail

My favorite mix of flavors, though, came together in People Watching: Montelobos blanco mezcal, pineapple juice, mint cordial, and Luxardo cherry liqueur with a hormigas negras salt rim. In case you’re unfamiliar with the translation, that would be a blank ant rim. Yep — there are crushed up black ants mixed with the salt. If you look really closely, you can see little legs and antennae.

People Watching Cocktail

People Watching Cocktail

Yep. My personal preference is to order my drinks without salt (black ants or no ;) ), but I tend to order as-is for the DFB so you can see items the way they are served. And you want to know the funny thing?

Closeup on Black Ant Rim

Close-up on Black Ant Rim

I still can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually kind of liked the rim! Basically, I tried it once, then did the rest of my sipping through the un-rimmed side (La Cava and Frontera are both serving their margs with a half-rim these days, so customers can sample with and without salt)… but going on taste alone, I actually preferred it over regular salt. It was the basic idea of actual ants in the mix that I couldn’t get my head around, more then the flavor. Once you get past that whole thing ;) , the drink itself carries the fruity flavors with just a hint of mint very well.

(FYI – you can find this same drink, called a Pineapple Margarita, at La Cava.)

All the Pretty Girls is a pleasant mix of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, fresh grapefruit, and cava.

All the Pretty Girls Cocktail

All the Pretty Girls Cocktail

I was expecting it to be really tart due to the grapefruit, but it was actually very smooth, with an emphasis on the sweet sparkling wine over the citrus.

All the Pretty Girls Cocktail

All the Pretty Girls Cocktail

But since neither man nor woman can live by tequila and sparkling wine alone, it was time to dive into some of the Starters, and there’s no shortage of them here! After all, what beats chips or corn tortillas with… well, just about anything?

Starters Menu

Starters Menu

The Queso Fundido is melted jacked cheese over roasted poblano peppers and caramelized onions.

Queso Fundido

Queso Fundido

It’s served with warm corn tortillas for dipping.

Corn Tortillas served with Queso Fundido

Corn Tortillas served with Queso Fundido

Though the poblano peppers add a hint of smokiness and the onions carry a bit of sweetness adding depth to the flavor, it’s really all about the hot, gooey melted cheese.

Queso Fundido

Queso Fundido

With an appetizer this rich, the smart move would typically be to indulge a little, but save some room for everything still to come. In this case, though, the smarter move — which is the one we made — is to Eat. It. ALL. It was just too good not to.

We also tried the Bacon Guacamole served with tortilla chips.

Bacon Guacamole with Chips

Bacon Guacamole with Chips

The guacamole was incredibly fresh and rich, and my only suggestion would be… more bacon.

Bacon Guacamole

Bacon Guacamole

Now, I know that comes off like an easy little joke to throw out, but I really I would have loved to have had the bacon dispersed throughout the whole dip, as opposed to just sprinkled on top, because the salty bacon with the creamy avocado pairs together so well. It’s totally addictive.

We also received the house salsas on the side, which were a smoky chipotle and herby salsa verde.

Salsa Verde and Smoky Chipotle Salsa

Salsa Verde and Smoky Chipotle Salsa

Both were tasty (the chipotle isn’t smoky in name only — it really has a great smoky flavor), but we had a bigger challenge to tackle.

Because we couldn’t resist the chance to try the Atomic Guacamole with habanero salsa, which is also served with chips. After all, this is Disney World, where most menu items shy away from very much spice… how “atomic” can it really be?

Atomic Guacamole

Atomic Guacamole

As it turns out… VERY! Our server gave us plenty of warning regarding the level of heat, emphasizing that the goal was to provide a very authentic experience with the amount of habanero salsa present with the guacamole (which helps to cut the spice a bit). The intense heat kicked in instantly.

Atomic Guacamole

Atomic Guacamole

I enjoy some good kick, but this dish is made for the tried-and-true fans of heat out there. That said, I had a lot of fun trying it. My friend brought up the good point that it’s very much a pepper-y heat, as opposed to a hot-sauce heat (the kind that draws sweat out of your pores). It stays on the tongue for a bit, but dissipates after a short time so you can enjoy the rest of your meal. So, Heat Seekers rejoice! There’s something for you here!

Even after all that, it was time to move on to our Entrees.

Entree Menu

Entree Menu

The Shrimp Mojo de Ajo features Mazatlan blue shrimp with mojo de ajo sauce served over plantain rice.

Shrimp Mojo de Ajo

Shrimp Mojo de Ajo

The plump shrimp were incredibly savory, thanks to the hefty dose of garlic in the sauce.

Shrimp Mojo de Ajo

Shrimp Mojo de Ajo

This is a great find for shrimp lovers, and makes me suspect that the Shrimp Enchiladas Suizas are likely another winner.

More than anything, though, I had been looking forward to trying the Carnitas, since the first episode of “Mexico–One Plate at a Time” I ever saw focused on the dish. The slow-cooked pork shoulder is served with refried black beans and guacamole.

Carnitas

Carnitas

The nicely crisped, mildly seasoned edges surrounding the flavorful pork was everything I had hoped it would be. And the portion here, which looked fairly standard at first glance, was HUGE once we started digging in.

Carnitas

Carnitas

My takeaway here… I guess you don’t become a celebrity chef for nothin’ ;) .

We included a selection from the Tacos and Tortas section of the menu among our entrees.

Salads and Tacos and Tortas menu

Salads and Tacos and Tortas menu

We chose the Carne Asada for Soft Tacos (though it’s worth noting that our neighbors at the next table raved about the Mushroom Torta). As expected, more warm tortillas came alongside for the taco makings, along with guacamole (non-atomic ;) ),  salsa verde, and a heaping helping of peppers. Refried black beans are also served on the side.

Carne Asada for Soft Tacos

Carne Asada for Soft Tacos

The meat was well prepared; nicely tender with a hint of pink center. And the guacamole and salsa all came together to make for some pretty stellar tacos.

Carne Asada for Tacos

Carne Asada for Tacos

But if you’re going for meat, I still have to hand my recommendation to the Carnitas, which were just such a standout.

No matter which entree you choose, I can’t suggest strongly enough that you pick up some sides to share at your table.

Sides Menu

Sides Menu

We opted for the Fried Plantains and Queso Anejo Mashed Potatoes.

Queso Anejo Mashed Potatoes and Fried Plantains

Queso Anejo Mashed Potatoes and Fried Plantains

Actually, you may want to disregard what I said about sharing once you take your first bite of the Queso Anejo Mashed Potatoes, made with Yukon potatoes and aged Cotija cheese.

Queso Anejo Mashed Potatoes

Queso Anejo Mashed Potatoes

Even with the great texture variations from the chunks of potato and skin throughout the dish, the potatoes are still somehow melt-in-your-mouth smooth, with just the right amount of cheese pumping up the flavor. Do yourself a favor and order these. Even though it’s simply a side item, it’s memorable.

The Fried Plantains also utilize the Cotija cheese, which tops the plantains along with cream.

Fried Plantains

Fried Plantains

The rich and creamy topping provided a nice contrast to the sweet, slightly caramelized plantains.

Fried Plantains

Fried Plantains

This does make a great side dish, but you’ll see the fried plantains again on the next menu that comes your way, so you may want to hold off once you find out where they show up next…

When the menu for Frontera Cocina was first revealed, I was a little surprised by the small dessert menu, which only has three choices accompanied with some coffee options using Sparrow Coffee.

Dessert Menu

Dessert Menu

I would have been seriously tempted by the Platano Sundae had we not chosen the plantains as a side item. We went with the Coconut Lime Quatro Leches instead.

Coconut Lime Quatro Leches

Coconut Lime Quatro Leches

Coconut milk is what turns the typical Tres Leches cake into a Quatro Leches cake in this case, which is great news for us coconut fans (along with the generous slices of toasted coconut on the top).

Coconut Lime Quatro Leches

Coconut Lime Quatro Leches

The moist sponge cake and whipped topping provided a nice, lighter ending (speaking about texture, that is — not calories) to a meal where we had come very close to eating every bite on our well-packed table. But, of course, we didn’t stop there!

I have to admit, when I read the words Pecan Pie Bar on the menu, my initial reaction was… “Huh?” It just didn’t seem to fit in among the other options, which are more naturally associated with the restaurant’s cuisine. But the presence of the Pecan Pie Bar made much more sense once our server explained that the original recipe belonged to Rick Bayless’s grandmother.

Pecan Pie Bar

Pecan Pie Bar

My hesitations about the Pecan Pie Bar disappeared right after I took my first bite. My thoughts went from “meh” to “WOW.” Though I would’ve preferred the ice cream to be a hard-scooped vanilla bean (as opposed to soft-serve — seriously?! soft-serve at this level of restaurant?), there are no complaints at all about the fudgy, dense bar itself, with the pecan providing just a bit of crunch along with an aftertaste that really did bring to mind pecan pie.

Pecan Pie Bar

Pecan Pie Bar

With thanks to our server and the clearly enthusiastic and fun staff, it was time to grab our leftover bag holding what little remained on the table, and say goodbye to Frontera Cocina.

Overall

As always for a first run, we’ve got some logistics to give ya! Frontera Cocina does not yet accept Tables in Wonderland, but it is a participant on the Disney Dining Plan as a one-credit Table Service meal.

The rollout for reservations at Frontera Cocina has been… less than smooth. Originally, reservations were available through Open Table. However, it appears the release of tables came earlier than the restaurant intended, and original reservations for late June via that system were cancelled with options not showing up again until July 21st. Our original Open Table reservation, though, was still in the system and was honored. So if you do have an Open Table reservation for these first weeks, you may want to give Frontera Cocina (407-560-9197) a call to verify that you’re still in the system just to be certain.

Primarily, though, the location will remain very walk-in friendly in these opening weeks. Advance Dining Reservations are now available through the Disney World reservation system for dates beginning July 23rd. Though the opening reservation situation was frustrating, I’m glad to say that it didn’t ruin what was ultimately a truly terrific dining experience.

Because that’s what I’ll remember about Frontera Cocina: terrific food, a lively staff, and a great place to enjoy a really wonderful meal with friends or family. It’s an excellent addition to the Town Center, and definitely worthy of receiving a LOT of consideration among your ever-expanding list of options in Disney Springs!

Contributing to this post: Tina, Wendy, and AJ

Are you hoping to dine at Frontera Cocina? Please let us know with a comment!

Comments

  1. Mike V says

    Happy 4th AJ and great article, really looking forward to trying in a couple weeks.
    My little beef would be why no Chef Bayless?
    I get that these chefs have locations all over but for opening night / week would have been nice for him to show.

  2. Dana says

    The menu looks pretty darn similar to the Frontera (Chicago) menu, which is good and bad. Good, because the food is delicious. Bad, because I was hoping he’d be trying to do something a little different with this restaurant. Either way, I’ll be eating here next time I’m at Disney!

  3. Essie says

    I’m not sure if I would like this spot or not, but I would try it once. My friends, however, would def veto this menu.

  4. Ashley says

    Seems like this whole Disney Springs complex is just a bunch of chainy type restaurants and shops. What a snooze-fest. I kind of miss the old days of Pleasure Island/Adult Disney… at least it was something different and a reason to go there, even if the execution was cheesy and/or lacking. The last thing I want to do is walk around a glorified shopping center in the florida heat.

  5. Julie says

    Ive been waiting for your review on this ever since I heard it had opened. It didnt dissapoint! It looks as good as I was hoping. Looks like I’ve got another place to try in oct. thanks

  6. John says

    This sounds so good!! Sadly our next trip is not until next June, but it will be the first place we dine. The challenge is to not over indulge so I can savor the pecan pie.

  7. Redheadjamie says

    YES vanilla soft serve on the pecan pie bar!~! Melts faster filling it with om nom vanilla goodness!~!

  8. says

    Mike V — He was there the weekend before, and has posted a few videos and pictures on social media channels. A manager with whom I spoke on opening day indicated that he would have a presence. (I was there a couple of hours before the rest of the DFB crew arrived.) It may be that all that happened during the last few weeks in Orlando had an impact on how this was handled, but that’s purely, totally speculation on my part.

  9. Dr. Leonid K. Soup says

    I went with three friends on Friday and had an outstanding experience. The food was great, and I’ll be exploring that drinks menu in depth. What really struck me was, despite being prime time (8:00PM) on a Friday, and a full house, in a brand-new place, service was polished and flawless.

    Our server was knowledgeable about everything on the menu. Food runners didn’t “auction” the main courses, knowing who got what. Multiple manager-types stopped by and asked at length if we were satisfied. It may sound corny, but there was obvious pride in what they were doing.

  10. says

    Can you please confirm for me that the guac only has bacon in (or on) it when you specifically order the Bacon Guacamole from the starter menu? As in, someone who ordered one of the taco dishes that comes with guac on the side, that wouldn’t have bacon in it, right? (I’m just imagining a vegetarian or someone who practices Judaism or Islam ordering what looked like a perfectly acceptable dish being delivered something with a pork-product laced throughout it, and the troubles that would cause…)

  11. Madoka says

    Thanks for this review! I’m a big fan of Rick Bayless and am really looking forward to trying his carnitas!!!

  12. Dr. Leonid K. Soup says

    Relax, Itty, you only get the bacon guacamole if you specifically order it as a first course.

  13. Kaytee says

    I’m really surprised to see such glowing reviews. My husband and I had lunch here the day after opening.
    While it wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t especially good.
    We had the bacon guac, the guacamole was good, but i was surprised the bacon on top was bacon bits. I thought for $10 surely I could get some fresh bacon. I had the tacqueria salad with chicken. It also was not very good. The dressing that was supposed to be a vinagerette was creamy and very oily tasting. The toppings it said it came with were miniscule. It was basically a bed of lettuce with a decent amount of avacado slices. Was glad I had added chicken, except it was over seasoned, think it was supposed to be chipoltle but was so salty and strong it was hard to tell. My husband had the Tacos de Carne, they were good not great. Overall, we left wishing had tried deluxe burger instead.

  14. Beth says

    I’m with you Ashley. I miss the old Pleasure Island. Yes some of it was corny but at least it was different and still felt like part of Disney. This new stuff could be anywhere.

  15. Rocksmith says

    Beth & Ashley,
    Not to be a downer, cause we love Disney but…

    If you have eaten at any of the Epcot World Showcase restaurants, surprise surprise, they are all owned by outside chains. As well as Tony’s at the MK.

    Coronado’s restaurants are owned by the same company that runs the Mexican joints in Epcot.

    For our Mexican fix we go 6 minutes away from Disney Springs to a place on 535 Much cheaper and run by real Mexicans.

  16. Estefany M. says

    I went on Friday evening with my husband, I really didn’t like the restaurant decor expected a woa’ look. It Have like a modern cafeteria look and when it’s busy u can hear all the guest talking at the same time! Music was playing Reggeaton it seem like the employee had a favorite because every time the music change it was louder at times, I didn’t know what to order to drink because they didn’t have a big selection of drinks and Hennikien had ran out! On a Friday really?? Anyways we order the fonteria Margaritas it wasn’t a big deal no Woa’ factor we also oder shortribs torta and cochinita torta. Our drinks take forever and the food too. First the bussers gave us the wrong food thanks to our waiter she fix the orders, then after a more waiting time we finally got the tortas. The meat was tender but needed more flavor or salt, my beard was sawggy and had no beans like it said on the men, it was lame no Wow factor since it’s from a iron Chef restaurant. Tortas came with a side salad again nothing special about it had no dressing only a habanero sauce that was too spicy to eat and had no flavor. I’m sorry but I am disappointed from a iron chef restaurant, I really didn’t bother to order more. I’m Mexican American and I truly believe that Tex Mex/Metro food taste better than that!

  17. Jim says

    Went to this restaurant with family and friends because they Love Mexican Food. Dinner was just okay but what really upset me was the dinner my daughter ordered. marinated Steak was Tough. She choked on it because it was tough. Not one of the staff members noticed this. The steak was not good. Not Chewable, they cut it wrong. It wasn’t sirloin steak it was skirt steak. The Manager said a Very Silly comment like We don’t grow our own cows. Really what an amateur comment. I know most places don’t grow their own cows. How about you inspect and taste the steak yourself. I would not recommend this restaurant to others.

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