Does Disney World’s Sanaa Restaurant Still Got IT?

Animal Kingdom Lodge is a mecca for unique dining at Walt Disney World.

Whether you’re sampling the buffet at Boma, selecting stellar wines at Jiko, or digging into soulful food at Sanaa, Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House and Kidani Village have always been destination eating.

And it’s clear to see why. From the moment that you set foot into one of these restaurants, you are embraced by the warm atmosphere and intrigued by the art of Africa all around you. And then there’s the aroma, which you know means amazing eats await.

Sanaa is the newest of the three Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurants, and it’s made its mark on guests since day one. We’ve loved the Indian-Style Bread Service every time we’ve tried it, and the Butter Chicken has stood the test of time.

But I’d been hearing from some of our readers and followers that Sanaa’s time was up. That the experience there wasn’t living up to the hype and the food just wasn’t what it used to be. So I made a reservation and headed over ASAP to experience it again for myself.

Atmosphere

Sanaa is themed and highly visual, with artwork greeting guests from the moment they arrive. The sign outside the restaurant is surrounded by woven baskets of various designs. And while they are stationary, something about their arrangement is still energetic.

Sanaa

Sanaa

Sanaa Lounge offers potential for walk-up guests who want to drink a little African wine or a unique cocktail — or who want to taste one or more of Sanaa’s signature appetizers!

Sanaa Lounge

Sanaa Lounge

Inside the restaurant proper, you’ll feel like you’ve entered an artist’s rendering of a cozy forest. Around and above you are trees, their canopies wide and dark. You’ll also see depictions of African art — like pillars that look like stacked drums — and lovely woven and wooden pieces.

Inside Sanaa

Inside Sanaa

Seating varies, including cozy banquets upholstered in beautiful batik fabrics and carved wooden tables and chairs.

Sanaa Seating

Sanaa Seating

Sanaa Seating

Sanaa Seating

And don’t be surprised if you’re joined by some of Animal Kingdom Lodge’s permanent residents — including zebra, giraffe, and crowned cranes. All saunter by on the savannah throughout the day.

View of Animals from Sanaa

View of Animals from Sanaa

But while the animals are content to munch on the grasslands, what should the humans eat? Come, I’ll show you!

Eats

Sanaa features a terrific selection of specialty cocktails, non-alcoholic specialties, draft beer, bottled beer, and typical soft drinks on its drink menu.

Drinks Menu at Sanaa

Drinks Menu at Sanaa

You can see on the bottom of the Drinks Menu the listing for Indian-Style Bread Service. That was my first stop. And it was an easy choice to make. The Indian-Style Bread Service gives you a choice of five breads and three accompaniments — unless you’re like me and you just have to try them all. That option exists, too!

Bread choices include Traditional Naan, Garlic-Ginger Naan, Spiced Naan, Onion Kulcha, or Paneer Paratha. On this visit I went with three traditional naan with three different butters — regular, garlic, and sriracha (!!!) — one paneer paratha (flatbread with Indian-style cheese in the dough), and an onion kulcha.

Bread Service

Bread Service

When I say all the accompaniments, this is what I mean: nine specially prepared Indian-style sauces to eat with the bread. The sauces include (on the right, front to back) Garlic Pickle, Coriander Chutney, Spicy Jalapeno-Lime Pickle, and Red Chile Sambal and (on the left, front to back) Red Pepper Hummus, Tomato-Date Jam, Tamarind Chutney, Mango Chutney, and Cucumber Raita.

The sauces are complex and exceptional. And each has a unique flavor profile, showcasing the wonder that is the world of Indian sauces. I like to combine flavors, making this a fun, interactive part of the meal at Sanaa. For example, the cooling Cucumber Raita pairs well with the spicier Red Chili Sambal, and the tart Tamarind Chutney goes well with the potent Garlic Pickle.

Bread Service Accompaniments

Bread Service Accompaniments

And as if that Bread Service wasn’t marvelous enough, look who joined me. I figured this crane was ready for its close-up (and wanted in on my bread!). But in reality, the Sanaa windows have a mirror-like coating on them that makes it difficult for the animals to see inside (makes sense), so this fella was actually just preening at a view of himself.

Hello, friend.

Hello, friend.

My server said that this particular location was kind of a “home base” for these birds, since the larger animals can’t get to the area so close to the building.

Anyway, back to the food. The Bread Service is quite filling, but you’ll want to eat all of it because it’s just that good. And it’s STILL that good. No drop-off in excellence with the Sanaa cult classic appetizer IMO. Still, sharing might help you to save space for the entrees here because they are also fantastic.

Lunch Menu at Sanaa

Lunch Menu at Sanaa

First up is Mishkaki. This dish consists of Gingered Braai Beef Kabab with Kenyan Mukimo and Braised Greens. Braai refers to the cooking process for the beef, which entails using tongs rather than forks to turn the meat, thus preventing the escape of the meat’s succulent juices.

Mishkaki

Mishkaki

The Kenyan Mukimo is the green mashed side in the background, which is traditionally a combination of Potatoes, Pumpkin Leaves (or other greens), Peas, and Corn. This version was delicious and a nice partner to the flavorful beef. Meanwhile the Braised Greens were terrific — a savory combination of chopped collard greens, tomatoes, and spices.

This was easily one of my favorite dishes of the day. The meat was cooked just right, the flavors were great, and I loved the uniqueness (but still totally picky-eater-friendly) Mukimo.

Mishkaki

Mishkaki

The Sanaa Burger looks simple — but there’s a little more to it than you’d think. It’s a thick, juicy beef patty served on a Naan Bun and topped with Spiced Mustard and Peppadew-Goat Cheese. Sides include Sanaa Chips and pickle spear. You’ll also get a little red onion and lettuce on the side in case you want to add them to the burger.

Sanaa Burger

Sanaa Burger

The bun itself was soft enough to enjoy but sturdy enough to control that thick patty. And the meat was flavorful and perfectly cooked. Picky eaters might be able to get by with this — but ask for the sauces on the side because they do have unique flavors. For those with more adventurous tastes, skip the burger — there are other great options on the Sanaa menu that are worth your while.

Perfectly cooked Sanaa Burger

Perfectly cooked Sanaa Burger

My final entree of the day was the Boerewores Sausage Sandwich. This traditional South African sausage consists of various cuts of meat mixed with spices like cloves, nutmeg, and coriander. This version was good, and the texture was there. The sandwich comes with and benefits from the Balsamic-Glazed Red Onions and Confit Cherry Tomatoes that accompany it.

But I wanted the sausage itself to be a bit more flavorful than it was. It didn’t capture me like the Mishkaki did.

Boerewores Sausage Sandwich

Boerewores Sausage Sandwich

One of the more popular options at Sanaa is the Potjie Inspired. This dish allows diners to select two (not so) small dishes alongside a serving of Basmati Rice. Diners choose one item from Journey (Goan Seafood Curry, Butter Chicken, Braised Beef, or Spicy Durban Shrimp) and one item from Harvest (Aloo Masala, Chickpea Wit, Lentil Dhal, Paneer Tikka, or Cilantro-Coconut Vegetables).

I went with Butter Chicken and Paneer Tikka (Chicken and Cheese — my favorites! ;-D). The Butter Chicken is a heavily spiced (flavor spicy, not hot spicy) sauce in which chicken has stewed. The sauce includes butter (or ghee) and is super rich. This has been a favorite of mine at Sanaa for YEARS.

Paneer Tikka is another flavorful sauce, this time with a tomato and yogurt base. The paneer is soft, mild Indian-style cheese, cubed, and often described as a solid cottage cheese.

Butter Chicken (Left) and Paneer Tikka (Right)

Butter Chicken (Left) and Paneer Tikka (Right)

There’s a reason these are some of Sanaa’s most popular dishes. They’re still incredible and well worth an order.

You might think all of that was sufficient, but on this visit, I wanted to try several desserts. And so I did! All of them save for the Letite Creme.

Lunch Desserts at Sanaa

Lunch Desserts at Sanaa

African Triple Mousse consists of layers of Manjari 64% Dark Chocolate Mousse from Madagascar, Jivara Chocolate Mousse, and Ivoire White Chocolate Mousse. These top a Chocolate Biscuit. Strawberry compote and fresh berries garnish the dish. There’s also some tasty crumble on the plate, which helps to break up all the soft textures.

Overall, this was kind of meh. It’s beautiful, but the flavors weren’t there for me and I really wasn’t impressed. So I’d say skip this one.

African Triple Mousse

African Triple Mousse

The Chocolate-Orange Tart comes in a stunning tart shell and consists of Blood Orange Crémeux, Chocolate Mousse, Candied Blueberries, and Orange Gel. The plating is artistic, with chocolate mousse domes accenting the top of the tart.

Chocolate-Orange Tart

Chocolate-Orange Tart

The Orange Cremeux is beautiful: smooth, tangy, and sweet. It paired well with the chocolate, and those blueberries were a really interesting foil. Overall, this one was fine, especially if you like stronger flavors. But still wasn’t a favorite.

Chocolate-Orange Tart Interior

Chocolate-Orange Tart Interior

Serradura is plated simply with Butterscotch Pudding, Almond Coffee Streusel, Pineapple, Mango, and Breton Shortbread. It’s kind of a small portion, but the pudding itself was killer. Smooth and rich, I basically couldn’t stop eating it! Definitely should be a consideration for you!

Serradura

Serradura

This last dessert is the most fun — and the most delicious — of the four I tried.

Now to preface, “candy bars” have been common on many dessert menus lately. Most of the time they’re cake or mousse based without any real resemblance to “candy,” and without a whole lot of flavor. So much so that I’ve actually avoided ordering these candy bars on most dessert menus because they’re always a disappointment.

But THIS WAS DIFFERENT, MY FRIENDS. The Spice Road Candy Bar is a Coconut, Apricot, Caramel, Pistachio, and Cashew Bar coated with Milk Chocolate, topped with Chai Cream, Pistachio Crumb, and Apricot Gelee. It definitely sounds like a lot, right? But it’s basically the best Snickers bar I’ve ever eaten.

Spice Trade Candy Bar

Spice Trade Candy Bar

This is no cop-out. It’s a straight up candy bar, and a gourmet one at that. Caramel, nuts, coconut, and a milk chocolate coating — it’s truly amazing. And the fruity elements with the chocolate — again in this dish! — work well. Particularly with the coconut inside, which is slightly sweet and a nice addition to the bar.

Spice Trade Candy Bar Interior

Spice Trade Candy Bar Interior

Excellent way to end the meal! THIS is the dessert you choose when you’re at Sanaa.

Nosh or Not?

Embrace Sanaa if: 

  • You love the feeling of Animal Kingdom Lodge and want to spend time in its warm, welcoming restaurants.
  • You enjoy trying foods that are a little more uncommon in this country.
  • You like consistently awesome food and unique dining experiences.

Skip Sanaa if: 

  • You don’t plan on spending any time at Animal Kingdom Lodge and don’t want to go out of your way to dine here.
  • You prefer food that’s less adventurous.
  • You don’t care for table service dining during your WDW vacation — you just wanna ride Expedition: Everest already!

Overall

Welp, in my experience, Sanaa still got it. I’m not discounting my readers’ and followers’ less-than-stellar experiences, and those should definitely be noted and considered since I heard from several people that Sanaa wasn’t living up to expectations. But on my recent visit, it was just as charming and delicious as always, and the service was attentive, knowledgable, and personable.

Great food, good service, a view that’s 100% unique to this restaurant — absolute bonuses that create a recommended dining experience. But the food itself has the power to transport diners to another place. And that’s what Sanaa’s all about. It means “work of beauty” in Swahili, and, for me, it still rings true.

Don’t Miss Out on Any Disney Fun!

The 2018 DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining, is now available!

2017 DFB Guide to WDW Dining Cover March 6

With more than 650 pages, the 2018 DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining is full of tips and planning tools developed by Disney World experts over 20+ years of visits. We’ve done the research for you, so you’ll know just which spots will uniquely suit your family’s needs!

With mini-reviews of every single restaurant, bar, lounge, kiosk and more; an entire chapter on the best snacks in Disney World; full Disney Dining Plan analysis (and how to get FREE dining); and a full chapter on discounts and deals; you’ll have everything you need to plan your best vacation yet. Click here to order your copy of the 2018 DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining E-book with code WDW2018 to save 25% today!

Use code WDW2018 at check-out for a 25% off the cover price! Our guides are backed by a 100% money-back guarantee, so you have nothing to lose. :-)

ready-to-shop-button

What’s been your experience with Sanaa? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

  1. Lisa C. says

    I ate at Sanaa about a year ago, and it was fantastic. I have a question–do the restaurant cast members know that you are a food blogger? I am thinking that if so, your experience may be different from that of the average guest. People perform better when they know that a review is being published, including pictures!

  2. Mark C. says

    We ate at Sanaa for the first time in October 2017. It was a great experience. The bread service was wonderful. My wife loved the hummus and my son and I enjoyed trying the variety among the 9 accompaniments. When we asked the waitress what she recommended, one of the items was the burger. This surprised me. However, my wife got the burger, which I got to taste, and it was fantastic. The way it is spiced is incredible. My son and I also enjoyed our meals. I found Sanaa to be well worth the visit and it is now on our “must do” list.

  3. Jessica says

    AJ, I hate to be *that* person, but I believe you mean the Crowned Crane, not the Whooping Crane. Whooping Cranes are critically endangered North American birds – it would be absolutely amazing to see them walking around the savanna! Although from time to time, you do see Sandhill Cranes roaming around, they too are native to North America and just visiting. :-)

  4. Kassia says

    We ate there during our week long first trip to WDW earlier this month. We had a really good time there and would rate it very good. But our favorite meal was Ohana. I could eat ohana for every meal and be happy.

  5. AJ says

    Lisa — Awesome question; thank you for asking as it gives me the opportunity to talk about something that’s really important to the function of our brand. I purposefully don’t tell anyone that I’m a food writer, and I keep my identity anonymous on social media as well so that I’m not recognized in restaurants. It’s usually my goal to be 100% anonymous when I dine at Disney World specifically so that I don’t get special or preferential treatment. This website is about sharing the reality of what you’ll get when you order, versus a cleaned up, ready-for-its-closeup presentation. That’s how we provide value to you, the reader. There are times that I go to media events or dine in a restaurant as a guest of the chef, but that’s always shared with my readers explicitly so they’re aware of the circumstances. Otherwise, nobody knows who I am and since people often take pictures of their food these days, I’m not as much of an anomaly as I used to be. Usually I can blend in pretty well.

  6. Fritz says

    Sanaa is possibly the most hidden gem in all of Walt Disney World. It is both family friendly and date friendly with wonderful food for those that are a little adventurous. Boring people should skip this restaurant and go to McDonald’s. I would also say that Jiko is incredible as well and Boma is a wonderful way to introduce youngin’s to new foods. Sanaa is definitely my favorite of the three.

  7. Jennifer says

    I’m so glad to hear its still got IT. It’s been my #1 fave restaurant since I first went shortly after it opened in 2009. I’ve eaten there countless times, since. Most recently in my honeymoon in September. We’ve always had great service there, and the last trip was no exception. Our server was Michael, and he was great and my husband went and asked for the manager to rave about Michael and tip him extra.

  8. Amanda says

    We were there about a month ago for the first time. We ordered the bread service and Butter Chicken with Paneer Tikka AND Cilantro-Coconut Vegetables. And paid an additional like $12 just because I wanted to try both. I thought the portions of the butter chicken and sides were very small for the price. They never offered more rice or anything like that. And the bread service wasn’t THAT good in my opinion. Most of our bread was very thin and flimsy so it made it awkward to eat the sauces.

    Overall it was a good experience and of course the animals are amazing. We were staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge (my favorite resort!) and ate here, Boma and Jiko. But my favorite meal during the trip was at Yak & Yeti – the Ahi Tuna Nachos are to die for.

  9. Mark says

    Sanaa is our favorite restaurant at Disney. I did like the menu from 4 or 5 years ago over today’s, but it’s still excellent. Took most of the bread service back to our timeshare on last year’s staycation and enjoyed it for days. Never had room for desert. If you are a local, Kidani Village is a great place to park, have lunch at Sanaa, and then take the bus over to Animal Kingdom.

  10. Melissa says

    Ate there four years back and still obsessed with the naan so I have a return visit planned for my upcoming summer trip. Last time you automaTically got all five breads, the choice was three sauces or nine. You said you got to pick breads and butters. Can I now just get all traditional naan and say regular or garlic butter?

  11. Kayleigh says

    I love Sanaa and have reservations for our trip next month! I recommend it to everyone since it’s such a hidden gem!
    Last time I was there was a while back and you were able to get two servings of any of the Potjie dishes, do you know if you can sub one of the ‘veggie’ options for an upcharge?

  12. DFB Sarah says

    Kayleigh, you can request two Journey options rather than one Journey and one Harvest — but there’s an upcharge of $11 (last we heard). We have also heard of guests on the Disney Dining Plan receiving two Journey with no additional charge.

  13. Erma Washington says

    We were staying at the AKL and made 3 ADR’s for Sanaa. After our first miserable experience, on March 12, 2018, we canceled the others. The service was lousy (the server seemed put off by the fact that we are vegetarian, I was so surprised by this); the Naan bread was a greasy mess and the menu was too restrictive for our 4 year old grandchildren. JIKO, on the other hand was Delightful! Well worth the 2 meal credits. I would not recommend Sanaa to anybody.

  14. Jojo says

    We will be at wdw in September. I’d like to do dinner at Sana a after an close day at MK. We will be staying at POR. Do you recommend still? If park closes at 6, what time should i make ADR?

  15. DFB Sarah says

    Jojo, we pretty much always recommend Sanaa. ;) If you leave Magic Kingdom at six o’clock, you will want to factor in a potential wait for a bus at the Magic Kingdom bus depot, plus time to travel to the resort and to locate Sanaa at the resort, plus some time to explore the resort, if you’re interested in doing so. I probably wouldn’t schedule my ADR for any time before seven, and even seven might be pushing it a little. Hope this helps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *